Images at the Fort

Lieutenant Ardagh - The man who built the Fort

Newhaven Fort is an innovative design concept - formed in the fertile mind of its brilliant 22-year-old designer Lieutenant John Charles Ardagh.

After just three years in commission, Ardagh, son of a parson, was placed in charge of building Newhaven Fort and arrived at the engineer office in Brighton in May 1862 to commence design work.

Building work started in 1864 and Ardagh was allocated a work force of 250 men, many horses and three steam engines to aid construction. Normal procedure was to flatten the land and build a fort on top, but Ardagh opted to blend his design into the contours of the land; this he did very successfully and today it is still very inconspicuous from the surrounding area.

Surrounded on two sides by a deep, wide moat and on the other two sides by a cliff, Newhaven Fort must have been an impregnable bastion against attack, especially when the new guns were installed.

One of the reasons why the Fort is of great national importance and scheduled as an ancient monument is because Ardagh used concrete for the first time in a military structure. The shingle from the beach below was lifted by a hoist to the top of the cliffs, 120 feet above and used to make the concrete. His innovations continued at the fort’s main entrance where he built and patented his “Equilibrium Bridge” which was raised and lowered by the means of counter weights, completely covering the entrance when closed so that attack was much more difficult than against a traditional drawbridge. 

In addition to his undoubted engineering genius, Ardagh also had considerable artistic talent - this was evident by the beautifully executed design drawings produced for the fort. Most of the six million bricks used in the fort’s construction were made using clay dug in Newhaven close by the fort. When fired, those bricks closest to the heat were red coloured whilst those further away were yellow. Ardagh used this colour variation to create “pleasing patterns”, most obviously seen over the casemate windows.

Ardagh remained personally in charge until 1868, when he left to take up an appointment as secretary to the Committee on Coastal defences. Work on the fort was completed in the summer of 1871 and the guns fired for the first time in 1873.

Ardagh died on September 30th, 1907 with the rank of Major General.