The artillery fort at Tilbury on the Thames estuary protected London’s seaward approach from the 16th century through to World War II. Henry VIII built the first fort here, and Queen Elizabeth famously rallied her army nearby to face the threat of the Armada. The present fort was begun in 1672 under Charles II: it is much the best example of its type in England, with its complete circuit of moats and bastioned outworks still substantially surviving. The fort mounted powerful artillery to command the river, as well as landward defences. Later, two magazines were constructed to store vast quantities of gunpowder. In one of these a new exhibition traces the role of the fort in the defence of London. Perhaps because of its strength, Tilbury Fort has never been involved in the kind of action for which it was designed. The worst bloodshed within the fort occurred in 1776, when a fight following a Kent-Essex cricket match left a cricketer and the fort’s sergeant dead.
Visitors can now enter north-east bastion. For those with an interest in military history there are new displays of guns and gunpowder barrels, and information on advances in military engineering. The recently revised audio tour includes Elizabeth I’s Armada speech, and a description of life at the fort by Nathan Makepiece, the fort’s Master Gunner. The interpretation scheme in the north-east bastion magazine passages and an interactive oral history programme provide every visitor with a fascinating new insight into Tilbury. Sharpe, the TV historical drama set during the Napoleonic Wars. (E.H.)
In the parish of West Tilbury, upon the N. bank of the Thames, opposite Gravesend. Some ancient work is said to have stood here in 1402, but the original blockhouse was erected by Henry VIII. in 1539, at the same time that similar defences were placed by him on the south coasts to protect them from an expected hostile invasion by the Catholic Powers. This work was afterwards enlarged into a regular fortification by Charles II. after the daring attack made in 1667 by the Dutch, who sailed up the Thames and burnt three English men-of-war at Chatham (see UPNOR). But the chief interest of this fortress is derived from the visit paid by Queen Elizabeth in 1588, to review the troops assembled at Tilbury under Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, to meet the anticipated attack by the forces of the Spanish Armada. The fort had been strengthened by the Italian engineer, Gianibelli, and the English army, hurriedly got together, was encamped near the church of W. Tilbury, at some little distance from the river, where remains of earthworks are still shown as traces of that occupation, but which may possibly have a far earlier origin.
When in July of that year the warning beacons flashed the alarm of war to London, Tilbury was chosen for the assembling of the army intended to cover the capital. It was the lowest point where the Thames could be easily crossed, and no one could tell on which side of the river the enemy might approach. Leicester had 16,000 men with him there, while 30,000 were forming rapidly in his rear from the Midland counties.
The patriotic address by Elizabeth to her soldiers is a model for speeches of. this nature, and should bear repeating ; it was as follows :
My loving people,—We have been persuaded, by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you that I do not live to distrust my loving and faithful people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects. And I am therefore come amongst you, as you see at this time, not for any recreation or disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of battle, to live or die amidst you all; to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm, to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and record of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness you have deserved crowns ; and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the meantime, my lieutenant-general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded more noble or worthy subjects ; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a most famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
Since the seventeenth century various alterations and additions have been made to the fortress; it is surrounded with a double wet ditch, the inner one being 180 feet wide, and haying a strong counterscarp. The face of the curtain fronting the river contains the entrance, or wader-gate, and before this is a gun platform. The bastions at the angles are large and command the country in rear, which indeed can by means of sluices be readily inundated. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)