Tilbury Fort – an interesting English Heritage site

93 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do

Date of travel

March, 2024

Product name

Tilbury Fort, Essex

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Although it’s cheaper to purchase tickets online we bought our tickets on the day and a guide book in the old guard house which also has gifts, hot and cold drinks and snacks for sale. We started our tour by climbing the stairs to the chapel above the guard house; it’s one of the oldest surviving chapels built as part of a British artillery fortress and although plainly decorated originally the regimental colours would have added colour as they wer displayed there. Looking through the windows I could see the parade ground and also the gun lines where cannons were mounted to guard the Thames. It’s worth buying a guide book, or failing that a postcard, to see a plan or drone photo showing the unusual shape of the fort. Tilbury Fort was built in the late 1700s, although there was an earlier fort at Tilbury in Tudor times. It remained as a garrison during the 18th and 19th centuries and always had artillery that kept up with the times and advancing technology. From the end of the 19th century until the 1920s it was used as a storage base and was particularly important in the 1st World War; the Army had a presence there until 1950 when it was taken into the care of the Ministry of Works. Throughout the 1970s restoration was carried out and the fort opened to the public in 1982; since 1983 it has been looked after by English Heritage.

I won’t go into minute detail about the fortifications – the bastions, ramparts, emplacements, gunpowder magazines etc.– as I don’t pretend to know much about military history but I do like history and architecture so found much to interest me, particularly the lovely old buildings that remain there. The fort that we see today was designed by Charles II’s Chief Engineer, Sir Bernard de Gomme who was born in the Netherlands and the design was modelled on fortifications in the Low Countries where the terrain was wet, as at Tilbury. We didn’t read the guide book until we got home but while we were there and looked at the area around the Landport Gate we commented that it reminded us of the Netherlands, especially the moats crossed by bridges with drawbridges for extra security.

I particularly liked seeing inside the 18th century officers’ quarters where one of the terraced houses has some old furniture and household paraphernalia. I was surprised at how small the house was and apparently many of the officers preferred to have better houses in Gravesend and only stayed in their quarters when necessary.. The regular infantry and artillery soldiers were not so fortunate and had very cramped, primitive barracks. The barracks were damaged by bombing in WW2 and were demolished around 1950, however the foundations remain to indicate where they once stood next to the parade ground. We visited every part of the fort that’s open for viewing, including one of the two gunpowder magazines with their thick walls, heavy buttresses and copper doors, an underground magazine shell and cartridge stores, cannons and guns from before 1850 to the 20th century. I also visited the toilets which are behind the officers’ quarters!

It was a delight to see so many children enjoying their time in the fort, younger ones simply running up and down or playing roly-poly down the grassy slopes, Scouts being shown round by their leaders and others having picnics with their families. Even my adult son and husband reverted to their childhood and turned the handle on a gun to re-position it. Finally, we climbed the extremely steep stairs to see the room above the Water Gate and take one final look out of the windows at the views. On the way out we looked back at the impressive Portland stone facade of the Water Gate inscribed with ”Carolus Rex to commemorate Charles II; there is a empty niche that probably held a statue of him.

I’ve read reviews that say that there’s nothing at Tilbury Fort and my husband admitted on the way home that he had expected there would be little to see so I was happy that they were wrong. I suspect many people would like a proper small cafe there but in our opinion it’s a very interesting English Heritage site and well worth visiting. T


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