All information in this blog post is correct as of the publishing date, 21.08.14.
During 2014, we are celebrating 30 years of bringing customers from the UK to the Channel Islands. As part of this celebration, we will be writing about 30 Guernsey essentials, from attractions and outdoor activities to special local food and some lesser-known island treats.
Part 7: Fort Grey Shipwreck Museum
Known locally as the ‘Cup and Saucer’, Fort Grey Shipwreck Museum is located in a Martello Tower on Guernsey’s rugged west coast. The building dates back to the 19th century, when invasion by the French was a very real threat. Today the tower houses a museum dedicated to those who have lost their lives at sea over the years, as well as offering spectacular views of Rocquaine Bay and the Hanois Lighthouse.
Defences are dotted along the coastlines of the Channel Islands. Fort Grey is one such defence, constructed in 1804 to protect the island from French forces. The tower was built under orders from Sir John Doyle, Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey during the Napoleonic Wars, who also instigated the construction of Fort Saumarez and Fort Hommet. The tower was named after General Charles, Earl Grey of Howick, K.B., the Governor of Guernsey from 1797 to 1807.
The fort was used as a coastal defence by the occupying German forces during the Second World War, housing an anti-aircraft battery. After decades if disuse, the fort was restored and opened as a shipwreck museum in 1976. The distinctive white tower at the centre of the fort is a well-known landmark for those at sea.
Shipwrecks of the West Coast
Between 1734 and 1978, more than 100 ships are known to have been wrecked in the Hanois area near Rocquaine Bay and Fort Grey. The seas to the west of Guernsey are littered with reefs, many close to the surface of the water, presenting hazardous sailing conditions in the days before GPS navigation. The George III cannon that stands at Fort Grey was recovered from the frigate HMS Boreas, which sank on the Hanois reef in 1807 with the loss of 127 men.
More recent wrecks include the giant ore-carrier Elwood Mead, stranded on Christmas Eve 1973 and refloated six weeks later. The crew of the freighter Prosperity were less fortunate, as the ship sank only one month after the Elwood Mead, with the loss of all on board.
The last ship to suffer at the hands of the reefs was the unfinished hull Vermontborg, which ran aground in January 2003. The giant red ship remained stranded until it was salvaged later that year.
Today Fort Grey hosts the shipwreck museum and an Interpretation Centre featuring information about the natural history of the West Coast. The museum offers a fascinating insight into the lives of sailors over the years, with salvaged relics from shipwrecks on display throughout the spring and summer months.
Fort Grey is closed during the winter. These is a small admission charge to the main museum. Parking is available at Guernsey Pearl, directly opposite the causeway. The fort is unfortunately unsuitable for push chairs or wheel chairs.