On the Angle peninsula in Pembrokeshire (Wales), archaeologists are excavating a cliff side blockhouse that is believed to have been constructed by Henry VII.
In military science, a blockhouse is a small, isolated fort in the form of a single building. It serves as a defensive strong point against any enemy that does not possess siege equipment or, in modern times, artillery. A fortification intended to resist these weapons is more likely to qualify as a fortress or a redoubt.
Early blockhouses were designed solely to protect a particular area by the use of artillery, and they had accommodation only for the short-term use of the garrison. The first known example is the Cow Tower, Norwich, built in 1398, which was of brick and had three storeys with the upper storeys pierced for six guns each.
The major period of construction was in the maritime defence programmes of Henry VIII between 1539 and 1545. (Built to defend the coastline after Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon)
During this period of instability, Britain was politely isolated from the rest of Europe by a treaty between France and Spain and looked to its own defences. This threat stimulated the beginning of the first phase of the largest defence programme since Saxon times. This first phase was known as the 1539 device programme which was followed after renewed threats from the French by a second programme, the 1544 device programme.
Henry’s coastal defences ranged from earthen bulwarks to small blockhouses and artillery towers to state of the art Italianate style fortifications. Henry took a personal interest in the military engineering techniques of the time, and approved and amended the designs himself. Although they were built to defend England during Henry’s reign, many of them were used in the English Civil War and were refortified at various times during the Napoleonic wars, World War I and World War II.
The blockhouse on the Angle peninsula is being excavated by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, the Dyfed Archaeological trust along with a contingent of local volunteers.
As the last remaining blockhouse from the reign of Henry VIII still surviving, archaeologists are in a race against the elements before the site, which currently hangs on a cliffs edge becomes too dangerous to study. Part of the east building has already fallen prey to the erosion of the sea.
A spokesman for tourism body “Experience Pembrokeshire” said: “The strategic site in Angle has traces of defences dating back over 400 years. On the promontory are the remains of one of a pair of small artillery blockhouses built either side of the harbour entrance in the Tudor times.”