Stack Rock Fort: Victorian island reclaimed by natureon July 29, 2023 at 6:17 am

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A rare glimpse inside a 19th Century island structure disturbed only by gulls and creeping weeds.

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Just off the Pembrokeshire coast lies a long-deserted island fort that has slowly been reclaimed by nature.

For decades Stack Rock Fort off Milford Haven has been disturbed only by gulls and creeping weeds, but its new owner invited photographer Steve Liddiard to take a look inside the 19th Century time capsule.

“When you first walk through it takes your breath away,” said Steve.

“It’s like a huge cathedral, an oval shape, completely overgrown with these sea birds circling it.

Stack Rock Fort

Image source, Steve Liddiard

“It doesn’t seem real… it looks like a film set, something from Jumanji or something like that.”

Steve, who works in the IT department at Swansea’s Morriston Hospital, started taking photos as a hobby five or six years ago.

Seagulls on top of the fort

Image source, Steve Liddiard

He spotted the long-abandoned fort on the Milford Haven Waterway, took some photos and shared them on social media.

Steve said he then received a message from the owner, who said he loved the photos.

They began chatting and a few weeks later he and a handful of other photographers were invited to visit the fort by boat and take photos from inside.

Exterior of fort

Image source, Steve Liddiard

“When you start walking around it you can see the actual scale of it, it’s over three different levels,” said Steve.

“It is a complete time capsule with massive cannons inside.

“There’s weeds and ivy growing all over it which sort of adds to it more than anything, I think.”

The property has been bought by Anoniiem, a community interest company, which plans to preserve it as a “living ruin”.

“We want to preserve it in its current state, not in its formal use, so if it can be stabilised as it is, in this amazing combination of nature and architecture, that’s the goal,” said the company’s director Nick.

A shot out to sea from inside the fort

Image source, Steve Liddiard

The project began after Nick and his wife were watching the BBC series Coast and found themselves captivated by this part of the Pembrokeshire coast.

They began looking into the area, stumbled upon the fort and were blown away by its “fantasy and magic”.

The fort

Image source, Steve Liddiard

They discovered there was a company looking to turn it into a community space and despite never having taken on a project like this before decided to partner with them.

“It’s definitely a passion project, it’s definitely not a money earner, there’s no plans for a five-star hotel or any of these kind of things,” he said.

“It’s a stabilisation accessibility project and preserving it for the future.”

The island fort was built between 1850 and 1852 to protect against an invasion by sea.

The original idea for a fort on Stack Rock goes back to Thomas Cromwell in 1539 but it was not until the mid-1800s that any plan came to fruition.

Inside the fort

Image source, Steve Liddiard

The Royal Dockyard at Pembroke Dock was deemed in need of further defences in case of an invasion from France under Napoleon III.

During World War I it was manned by just a small number of soldiers and eventually disarmed in 1929.

Looking out to sea from inside the fort

Image source, Steve Liddiard

Taking on a building with this history and in this location presents a myriad of challenges – it is a scheduled monument, part of the national park and can only be accessed in certain conditions by boat.

There are also issues around security, which have been referred to the police.

“People have been lighting bonfires on there. It’s not safe for the schedule monument itself but also for the people who are breaking in,” said Nick.

Nick has a team of volunteers working to help secure the structure but admits they are “a lifetime away” from being able to open it up to the public.

“In the meantime, we’re looking to allow for some explorers, such as Steve to safely access it in a way that lets it kind of live,” he said.

The fort

Image source, Steve Liddiard

Despite the overwhelming scale of the project he is undeterred.

“It’s a hell of a project,” he said. “It’s been effectively untouched for 100 years so the preservation is on another level.

“The fact that that nature is taking over again is part of the appeal of it, it’s all aesthetically so incredible.”

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