Part of Hurst Castle – which sits at the closest part of mainland Britain to the Isle of Wight – has collapsed into the sea.
A wall on the east wing collapsed on Friday afternoon following erosion from the sea, with the waves undercutting the foundations over time.
Amazingly, no one was injured in the incident, which English Heritage has blamed on rising sea levels due to climate change.
Work is now underway to assess the damage and identifying works that are required in order to stabilising the surrounding masonry.
Rob Woodside, Director of English Heritage Estates, has said:
“This is a devastating blow to a Hampshire icon and for all of us whose life’s work is to protect England’s historic buildings. Hurst Castle is the most challenging of our sites to protect – a coastal fort built on a shingle spit directly facing the hammering sea.
“Faced with more frequent storms and rising sea levels, Hurst Castle is emblematic of the issues posed by climate change to our heritage.”
Hurst Castle was originally built by Henry VIII between 1541 and 1544 to guard the Needles Passage. In the 1860s,2 huge wings were added and then in the First and Second World Wars the castle was fully garrisoned and its searchlights and guns guarded the entrance to the Solent.
The castle is in an extremely vulnerable position. Located on a shingle spit – itself part of sea defences for the people and places inland – the castle faces the full force of the wind and waves.
With changes in longshore drift, rising sea levels and more frequent storms, Hurst Castle is amongst the most difficult heritage sites to protect in England. It is estimated that sea levels will rise by as much as 1.5m by 2120.
In 2019, English Heritage undertook an extensive programme of works totalling £750,000 to stabilise the foundations of the west wing of the castle and to reinforce its sea defences. The organisation was just days away from beginning works to carry out similar work on the east wing.
A storm on 23rd February is said to have deteriorated things at a rapid pace.
In 2017, English Heritage invested £1million in a major project to repair and conserve the castle’s roof.