From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

The Heugh

55°40'05.8"N 1°47'46.8"W
NU 1291041660

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The Heugh is a late 17th century fortification located on Lindisfarne, Northumberland.

Holy Island Harbour, also known as The Ouse, was protected in the late 17th Century by two fortifications. Lindisfarne Castle on top of Old Beblowe to the east and Osborne’s Fort, also known as Steel End Fort, which stood on the Heugh to the west and is now in ruins.

From 1652 until 1674, England and the Dutch Republic fought a series of wars stemming from a fierce commercial rivalry. The English instituted the 1651 Navigation Act with the intent of barring the Dutch from involvement in English sea trade. This caused a series of sea battles that were fought with both sides suffering heavy losses, which consequently resulted in a peace agreement signed at the Treaty of Westminster in April 1654.

By 1665, however the same rivalry once again led to war with most battles being won by the Dutch, despite a heavy initial defeat. The disruption of the plague and Great Fire contributed to England’s difficulties which worsened in 1667 when, despite negotiations already taking place, a Dutch fleet sailed up the Medway, landed soldiers at Sheerness, stormed forts at Upnor and Chatham and destroyed or captured a significant part of the English Fleet. The war was ended soon after by the Treaty of Breda. Osborne’s fort was built during this period of uneasy peace in 1671 as a defence against Dutch raiders.

The Fort was designed and built in 1671, by Robert Trollope and Major Daniel Collingwood, who was the then Captain of Holy Island. It is one of a few remaining fortifications of this period. Others built at the same time are at Plymouth, Hull, and Portsmouth. It was far larger than a cursory glance at the remaining ruins would indicate. Why it was called Osborne’s Fort is not known.

War broke out again in 1672 when England supplied ships in support of Louis XIV of France’s invasion of the Dutch Republic. A series of naval encounters took place before in 1674, but while the land war continued, England and the Dutch made peace. The war itself which at its height involved France, Sweden, the Dutch Republic, Spain, Lorraine and the Holy Roman Emperor ended in 1678 when the huge financial cost and the imminent prospect of England re-entering the war on the side of the Dutch persuaded Louis to make peace.

The square building that remains is the Redoubt which stood a little to the east of the centre of the fort. It is 6.6 metres square and constructed with substantial stone walls up to 1 metre thick. The original fort was an irregular pentagonal shape approximately 64m by 32m. Seventy years after its construction, the threat from the Dutch had passed and the Fort was in decline. A drawing dating to 1742 shows the Redoubt in good condition but the perimeter walls are already decaying.

Despite its apparent current neglect Osborne’s Fort is considered to be of National Importance and is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Area Act.

Where the land under the original southern wall had been eroded it exposed stratified layers of a midden. Before the eroded area was repaired it was investigated and animal bones, charcoal, flint waste and plant remains were sampled and analysed. The plant remains may be associated with early medieval Scandinavian occupation of the Island and the charcoal was from possible prehistoric layers suggesting that the Heugh has been occupied over the last 8000 years.