Newhaven Fort Story

Cloaked in mystery and protected by impressive ramparts, Newhaven Fort has been keeping its secrets safely hidden for 150 years.

Now run by Wave Leisure Trust Ltd, Newhaven Fort welcomes you across the newly installed drawbridge to explore the story from within the grounds of this historic building.

A bit of History

Built in the 19th Century, Newhaven Fort is the largest work of defence ever built in Sussex and is the last of a long series of coastal defences built on the cliffs overlooking Seaford Bay, dating back to the Iron Age.

Back then, the River Ouse flowed into the sea at Seaford, but over the years the river silted up and in 1539 a new cut was made for the river to come out at the fishing village of Meeching. This quickly became known as the ‘New Haven’ giving the town and subsequently the Fort the name we know today.

Newhaven Fort was one of 72 coastal forts to be commissioned by the British Government under Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, following the apparently threatening behaviour of Napoleon the Third, who was busy building his navy and strengthening his own coastal defences.

Designed by 22-year-old Lieutenant John Charles Ardagh of the Royal Engineers, construction of Newhaven Fort began in 1862 and took ten years and 6 million bricks to complete. The total cost of the 72 coastal forts is thought to have been around £12,000,000.

The first of its kind, Newhaven Fort has several novel design features, including:

  • The first mass use of concrete in a military fortification
  • A new type of drawbridge
  • Built into the contours of the land, rather than being built above ground like a traditional fort or castle

By the end of the 19th Century, the Fort needed updating and was practically rebuilt. New modern guns were installed and, amongst other things, baths for the soldiers (no more excuses!).

In the First World War, the harbour assumed huge importance, shipping 6 million tons of supplies to France. This meant that the Fort established itself as a part of a larger network of defences that included gunboats, thousands of soldiers and a seaplane base in Seaford Bay.

When war broke out again in 1939, Newhaven Fort was a vital element in the defence against the very real threat of German invasion. A coastal radar site was built just outside of the Fort, linked to a large underground naval communication centre nearby.

In the harbour were gunboats, minesweepers and boats of the RAF Air Sea Rescue, whose soldiers used part of the Fort as a rest area.

Post-war, the last unit to be stationed here was the Ukrainians of a Battle Area Clearance Unit, tasked with the removal of mines and unexploded ordnance from beaches and the surrounding areas. When Coastal Artillery was disbanded in 1956, all the guns at Newhaven were taken away and scrapped.

In 1962, control of the Fort passed to the local council and many schemes were proposed for the use of the site. Although nothing came of these plans, the preparation that was done took its toll on the original features of the building. Fortunately, in 1979 the Fort was declared an ancient monument and a private developer took the Fort on, taking care to restore it and run it as a tourist attraction.

Where are we now?

In 1988, Lewes District Council decided to run the Fort itself and opened it as a military heritage attraction. Fast forward to 2015, Wave Leisure Trust Ltd took on Newhaven Fort, and we haven’t looked back since!

Offering a completely immersive experience, adventure playground and the ability to get up close to a number of ancient artefacts, there is something for everyone!

Why not book your trip now and continue your journey learning about the secrets of the Fort?