The Needles Battery, later referred to as the Old Battery to distinguish it from the New Battery built nearby, was completed
in June 1863. Click here to see a plan view of the battery. A
more detailed plan showing the delopment of the Battery throughout its occupation can be found here
but it is a larger file to download.
The cost was £7,656 and was commissioned following the Defence Act of 1860 which was a response to an uncertain diplomatic relationship with France. The fort was first armed with six 7" R.B.L.(Rifled Breech Loader) guns, changed in 1872 to two 9" R.M.L.(Rifled Muzzle Loader) and four 7" R.M.L. The change to muzzle loading from breech loading was a technology step backwards but military die-hards favoured muzzle loading. In 1893 six 9" R.M.L. guns were installed, these remained until 1903 when they were disposed of by throwing them over the cliff. Eventually all were recovered and two are in place at the Battery on replica gun carriages. Other changes in fire power took place during the Victorian period before the main armaments were moved to the New Battery.
The fort was protected from land invasion by a deep ditch cut through the chalk, access was gained by a rolling bridge. On other sides the fort was protected by the precipitous chalk cliffs which surround it. The Battery had accommodation for one officer, 2 NCOs and twenty-one men. As well as the barracks there were buildings that housed a magazine, laboratory and stores; water was supplied from rain-water tanks. The fort was only to be garrisoned in times of need, the men living in a barracks on the parade ground. In peacetime a Master Gunner lived there to maintain it, whilst the garrison gunners were billeted at Golden Hill Fort.
In 1885 a tunnel was dug from the parade ground towards the Needles. By 1887 a lift shaft had been sunk from the ditch to sea level and five Q.F (Quick Fire) guns were installed to counter torpedo boats. Between 1890-92 experiments were carried out with searchlights, two steam engines and a generator, installed in a room in the ditch, provided the power source. In 1908 a Fire Command Post was added for all the Needles defences and in 1913 Britain's first AA (Anti-aircraft) gun, a 1 pounder Pom Pom, was installed in the parade ground and tested by firing at a kite towed by a boat.
The fort was manned during the 1914-18 World War but placed in care and maintenance until reactivation at the commencement of the Second World War. In 1954 the fort was placed in reserve until it became the property of the National Trust.