Digging into Henry VIII’s defences

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Archaeologists are about to start excavating the site of a blockhouse thought to have been built by Henry VIII on the Angle Peninsula to defend against French invasion. 

Excavations will begin at the site of the East Blockhouse, Angle, on July 19th [Credit: Pete Crane]

Clinging to the edge of a sea cliff in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the blockhouse is a crumbling reminder of a bitter feud between Britain and France. 

It was probably built as part of Henry VIII’s coastal defences after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, when Britain was left politically isolated by a treaty between France and Spain – and the King was determined to defend his country from attack. 

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Dyfed Archaeological Trust and local volunteers will start excavating the site from July 19th. 

National Park Authority Archaeologist Pete Crane said: “We don’t know much about the blockhouse; we just know there were two buildings on this East site in Angle, while another on the other side of the entrance to the Haven was destroyed when the Victorian West Blockhouse was built. 

“One of the East buildings has already fallen away, so we want to look at this last bit, which is hanging on to the cliff edge, as we think this is probably the last opportunity we’ll have before it becomes too dangerous to excavate.” 

Henry VIII built a series of blockhouses and other defence towers around the coast of Britain, from the Thames Estuary to Milford Haven. They were made to suit each location, and the fort at East Blockhouse is very small in contrast to some of the better known and larger defences such as St Mawes Castle in Falmouth and Southsea in Portsmouth. 

Pete added: “Although this structure is several hundred years old, we are not expecting spectacular results during the dig, but if we don’t look we’ll never know what we may have been missing. 

“This really is archaeology on the edge: we may have 50 Iron Age forts here in Pembrokeshire but we only have one of these Henry VIII blockhouses remaining – and probably not for much longer.” 

Source: News Wales [July 12, 2011]

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