Today, Harwich Haven in Suffolk is a thriving port, with the docks on the Felixstowe side of the estuary forming the largest container port in the British Isles. Over the coming years, a huge expansion of the commercial port is planned, which will have a major impact on the region. As this rapid progress takes place, it is vital that the heritage of the area is not forgotten.
The Haven is one of only a handful of good natural harbours on the east coast of England. This, together with the port's ease of access to mainland Europe, has always made it vital for international and coastal trade, and therefore a key place to defend and hold.
The loss of the Haven to an enemy would effectively open a back door to London. So, in historic terms, Harwich Haven has played many roles: it was a naval dockyard during the Dutch Wars in the 17th century; a naval base in both the First and Second World Wars; and, in the late 19th century, a testing ground for the new weapons which were to form the core of coast artillery defence for the British Isles in the following 70 years.
The Landguard peninsular stretches out into the mouth of the Haven and for more than 400 years, between 1540 and 1956, the importance of this bleak shingle spit has lain in the protection it afforded the port. From the time of Henry VIII onwards, the peninsula has been the site of a major part of the fortifications of Harwich Haven. Several forts have been built, demolished and modified, leaving the present hybrid structure, which dates partly from 1717-20, but mainly from 1745-50 and 1870-8.
Attached to the fort is a group of later 19th - and 20th-century installations, which were involved in the protection of the haven by coast artillery and submarine mines. In addition, the shingle spit contains the remains of practice trenches, artillery emplacements, rifle ranges, D-Day embarkation platforms (or 'hards') and other military structures, all interwoven with each other to form an incredibly complex tapestry of brick and concrete.
And if the survival of all these standing historic buildings was not enough, the potential for buried archaeological remains was demonstrated recently when a trial excavation located the well-preserved defences of the early 17th-century fort. In short, the military remains at Landguard represent one of the best preserved multi-period coastal defences anywhere in England.
Together with other defences on the Haven - Martello Towers in Shotley and Felixstowe, and the Napoleonic Circular Redoubt and the late 19th-century Beacon Hill Fort in Harwich - Landguard's archaeological importance is enhanced as one element of a complex defensive scheme which can still be seen and understood.
English Heritage's Landscape Investigation Team is currently involved in a programme of survey and research to discover, understand and communicate, in a clear and simple way, the importance of Landguard Fort and the other defences of Harwich Haven. The work is being undertaken in parallel with an extensive programme of conservation of the fort and associated buildings.
To date, we have investigated the whole of the shingle spit and all of the military installations around the fort, including three large coast artillery batteries - Left Battery, Darrell's Battery; and Right Battery. Our work is already playing a key role in influencing the development process and making the case for the protection of the historic defences.
Full reports on Right Battery and Darell's Battery can be ordered on-line. To find out more, contact Wayne Cocroft in English Heritage's Cambridge Office on: 01223 582700 or email: email@example.com.