Spit of Grain Tower

More commonly referred to as ‘Grain Tower’, this 19th Century fortification stands on a sand/shingle tongue of land that projects into the Medway from the Isle of Grain opposite Garrison Point Fort at Sheerness and followed the design pattern of the earlier Martello Towers that line the southern Kent shore. The intention was to close the Medway to hostile shipping by providing a fire base that would work in conjunction with the fortifications along the shoreline at Sheerness.

Construction was begun in around 1848 when the foundations were constructed – due to the instability of the spot chosen for the fort, over two hundred timber piles of 30’ length were driven into the sand (which is only exposed at low tide) and a base of timber, concrete (depth about 3’) and stone paving layed over it. Over £4000, a considerable sum of money in those days was spent on this part of the construction but work then tailed off as the risk of conflict receded and was only restarted when anxiety grew in 1851 over the possibility of a French invasion.

By 1855 the Tower had been completed but not armed as once again the need for defending the Medway had become less urgent – nevertheless it was an imposing structure with its embrasures giving a good field of fire from the safety of the 42’ high fortification. Unfortunately for military planners the rapid technological advance of gun design (especially the introduction of more accurate and harder hitting rifled barrels with breech loading as opposed to smooth bored muzzle loaders) made this type of Fort obsolete despite the huge thickness of the masonry which had once been thought to be proof against direct hit. Consequently the arming was carried out in a leisurely fashion and three guns were installed consisting of a single 56pdr and two 32pdrs, these guns remaining throughout the next few years of inactivity.

From 1892 until the early part of the next century Grain Tower saw use as a mining station and the guns were removed but once again war clouds were looming and the fear of a new enemy in the guise of the German nation caused the people charged with defending our shores from invasion or incursion to reconsider the use of the existing forts, and it was decided that the Tower was a suitable spot to mount two of the 4.7” QF (Quick Firing) guns that were entering service. 1911 saw the emplacements constructed on the top level with a higher concrete wall (faced with granite to blend in with the original masonry) and the interior was remodelled to suit the needs of the new weapons and the garrison of 31 men that manned the structure.

When the First World War began in 1914 the Tower was used as an anchor point for the Medway boom defence that had been moved from Burntwick – a floating boom stretched between the Tower (by now officially referred to as Martello Battery) and Garrison Point Fort to inhibit U-Boats. A vast chain was wrapped around the base of Grain Tower to which the boom lines were fixed and this can still be seen today. Many websites have commented on this chain and drawn the wrong conclusion from it by assuming it was to strengthen the structure and prevent the walls from exploding outwards in the event of a direct hit…

After the ‘War to End All Wars’ had concluded in 1918 Grain Tower, like most other forts, went onto ‘care and maintenance’ with just the bare minimum being done to ensure that it could be pressed back into service if needed. By 1929 it was decided that the Tower was no longer needed and the 4.7” QF’s were removed along with any remaining warlike stores and the fortification was virtually abandoned. But… along came yet another need for defence with the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and so once again Grain Tower was given ‘teeth’ with the installation of two Hotchkiss 2pdr QF’s which were soon superseded by twin 6pdr QF’s for anti E-Boat use, and it was the fitting of these weapons that caused the largest modifications to the Tower that give it the unique look that it preserves to this day. The top third of the landward facing wall was removed to allow room for the construction of four storey Observation Tower, this also allowed the space necessary for the gun pits and blast wall. The interior of the tower, while being suitable for a 31 man garrison only a quarter of a century previously, was deemed unsuitable for this war and additional accommodation was urgently needed. Ignoring the aesthetics of the Fort, a two storey high block was built alongside the Tower on concrete piles and linked by a concrete bridge.

Another war finished with, another chance of peace… although 1945 saw the end of hostilities the Government were in no hurry to disarm the batteries that had served their purpose so well and most, including Grain Tower, retained their ability to bite until Coastal Artillery and coast defence as a whole was disbanded in 1956 due to the reliance on missile technology.

Designed & built by - Kevin Ali