The Needles Battery is a military Battery built above the Needles stacks in 1861–63 to guard the West end of the Solent. Its field of fire was from approximately West South West clockwise to Northeast and it was designed to defend against enemy ships.
The Needles Old Battery on the Isle of Wight is surely one of the more unusual properties. Perched on this exposed, windswept headland, looking out onto the iconic Needles Rocks, the Battery is a stark reminder of an age when England feared attack by the French under Napoleon III. The Old Battery dates from the early 1860s. It was part of a chain of defences built to protect the naval dockyards at Portsmouth on the orders of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. Britain was vulnerable to a sea attack by France, especially after the launch of the first iron-clad French warship, so something had to be done. The Battery was surrounded by a dry ditch to prevent invaders climbing up from the beach. But the invasion never came, so the Needles Old Battery became known as one of ‘Palmerston’s Follies’. Many of Palmerston’s Follies are forts - Bembridge Fort and St Helen’s Fort for example. A ‘fort’ commands a group of two or more batteries and has a permanent garrison of troops, while there are normally no permanent troops at a ‘battery’ such as this one. Both were important parts of our coastal defences.
In 1873 the original guns at the Battery were replaced with six Armstrong 9-inch rifled muzzle-loading guns. Two of these guns are displayed today in their original positions on the Parade Ground. They were designed by Sir William Armstrong, a leading 19th-century industrialist. He originally designed a gun that was loaded at the back, but this was replaced by a superior muzzle (front-loading) weapon. Sir William later built himself a state-of-the-art house, Cragside in Northumberland. Soldiers based here were Gunners from the Royal Artillery. It took nine men six minutes to fire a gun just the once - certainly no mean feat. During peacetime the Battery was looked after by a lone Master Gunner who lived here with his family. The Armstrong guns were soon obsolete. More powerful guns were needed but they would be too heavy for the Parade Ground and may even have caused the cliffs to collapse if they fired. So in 1893 the Needles New Battery was built to house the new guns and the Old Battery then became just a look-out post, the ‘eyes’ of the New Battery’s Gunners.
Unfortunately, there were subsidence problems and concerns that the concussion from firing the guns was causing the cliffs to crumble. This was solved by building the New Battery higher up the cliff, at a height of 120 metres above sea level. The New Battery was completed in 1895. Three 9.2-inch Mk IX breech-loading guns were installed at the New Battery : two in 1900 and a third in 1903. A crew of 11 was required to fire one of these guns. Each shell weighed 380 pounds (172 kg). The New Battery guns remained in place until 1954, when they were scrapped. The Old and New Batteries were manned during the World Wars. German U boats sank two ships off The Needles during World War I. This facility was also the site of early trials of anti-aircraft guns. In World War II, anti-aircraft guns defended the Isle of Wight against air attacks but repeated German air attacks necessitated improvements in the fortifications at the site. The guns at the Batteries also fired on German torpedo boats attempting night landings. Troops trained for the D-Day landing on the neighbouring cliffs. After the war, the Ministry of Defence deactivated the batteries. Like the Old Battery, the New Battery has also been listed at Grade II. When the site came into the possession of the National Trust, it was decided to restore the Old Battery so that it could be opened to the general public. The National Trust Youth Group comprising local schoolchildren and teachers assisted in getting the site ready for its official opening in 1982.
A tunnel leads to a searchlight emplacement with good views towards the Needles lighthouse. Along with a series of exhibition rooms and the tunnel there are a number of visitor facilities including a tearoom. Limited disabled parking at Needles Old Battery: small parking area close to the gate. Please contact property for prior arrangement. Adapted toilet at Needles Old Battery. No toilet at Needles New Battery. Wheelchair available. Sensory experience. Induction loop available. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : West High Down, Alum Bay, Isle of Wight, PO39 0JH
Transport : Yarmouth (National Rail) via ferry. Bus Routes : Needles Breezer (March to October) otherwise 7 then 15 minutes
Opening Times : From March 10th 2017, Daily Old Battery 10:30 to 17:00; New Battery 11:00 to 16:00
Tickets Whole Property : Adults £6.20; Children £3.10
Tickets New Battery Only : Free
Tel. : 01983 754772