Victorian coastal defence and secret rocket testing site perched high above the Needles Rocks
Photo credit: National Trust
Sitting high above the Needles at the very western tip of the Island, with bird’s-eye views of the Solent and unspoilt countryside, is the Needles Old Battery. A Victorian fort built in 1862 for a war that never took place, it became known as one of ‘Palmerston’s Follies’ after the politician that commissioned it, but was called into action during both World Wars.
The Battery’s multi-layered story is brought to life in a series of atmospheric rooms that show just what it was like to work here for Victorian gunners through to Second World War officers. Vivid cartoons by comic book artist Geoff Campion illustrate the part it played in the history of modern Britain too. On the Parade Ground stand two original guns, hauled up from the seas below where they were thrown years ago. Follow the underground tunnel as it twists and turns deep into the chalky cliffs and you’ll find a searchlight emplacement with views high above the Needles rocks and as far as Dorset on a clear day.
Further up the headland stands the New Battery. Here a small exhibition and a recreation of one of the rooms, reveals the astonishing and little-known story of Britain's Cold War 'race for space', when British-made rockets were tested here under conditions of great secrecy.