Godwin Battery, Kilnsea
The build up to conflict in the First World War saw a huge amount of effort put into military defences on the coastlines of Britain. Attack from the sea was a very real fear in 1914, as foreign an idea as it seems now. Many Victorian forts were upgraded to meet the threat, and a number of brand new coastal batteries were constructed. One of these was Godwin Battery.
The pummelled remains of Godwin Battery can today be found just to the north of the Spurn peninsula, and to the east of the village of Kilnsea, looking out into what was then called the German Sea. In conjunction with Haile Sand and Bull Sand, huge forts in the mouth of the Humber estuary, and other batteries dotted along the coast, it was designed to prevent enemy vessels getting in and damaging the Humber shipyards and ports, vital components to Britain’s war effort.
Plan of the battery and outlying buildings during WW1
© J. Dorman, Guardians of the Humber
Construction was quickly completed and the battery was open for business in 1915. The scale of the battery is hard to overestimate, with two huge concrete bastions built to house 9.2-inch Mark X guns. Whilst the guns and the area of sea they deny the enemy is the main purpose of the battery, plans show a range of other structures. A section of sea defence was built to shore up the coastline and stop the whole structure falling into the sea, two Battery Observation Posts (B.O.P.) keep watch over the firing zone, defensive trenches, redoubts and barbed wire spread out from the battery and even a hospital was attached to the western side. It is also worth mentioning that at this time the gun emplacements lay over 300 feet (c.100m) from the North Sea…
The guns of Godwin never saw action in the end, although the gun crews manning them would not have rested easy. The Imperial German Navy had already launched raids on the British mainland in 1914 at Scarborough, Hartlepool, Whitby and Lowestoft by the time the battery was operational, and again attacked the Suffolk coast in April 1916. The east coast was the frontline for many people during the first years of the war, and lives were lost on British soil for the first time in over a century. After the Battle of Jutland the German ability to raid the coastline was diminished, although training and observation would have continued to the end of the war.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, invasion became a reality for Britain, and Godwin Battery once again found itself busy with defensive preparations. The older guns had been removed, and so a new 4-inch Mark IX was installed on a naval mounting, and a pair of searchlights added to the complement. In the event, Godwin once again had a relatively quiet war, although the drone of bombers and clatter of nearby anti-aircraft guns would have been familiar to those stationed on the east coast. Despite a brief flurry of activity in the early 1950s thanks to the Cold War, the site was finally sold off by the military in 1959, and was soon converted into a caravan park.
The battery site in use as a caravan camp
© J. Crowther, The People Along the Sand
So why are we interested in the battery today? Apart from the great example of First World War coastal defensive structure and Second World War re-use, the site is under extreme threat of erosion. The Holderness coast suffers from around 2 metres of erosion by the sea every year (Boyes, S., Barnard, S. and Elliott, M. 2017, 20). This incredible rate means that large amounts of coastal heritage is at risk, and Godwin Battery gives us an excellent chance to observe, document, and hopefully better understand the processes in action. So we know that when the battery was constructed the gun emplacements were around 300 feet from the sea, and now, a century on, the same structures can be found broken and collapsed, on the point of disappearing into the waves. Several associated buildings are actively falling off the cliff face, as can be seen in the TV show Britain at Low Tide (S2 E5). Erosion and re-use threaten the survival of much archaeology around Britain, but perhaps nowhere as spectacularly as Godwin Battery.
CITiZAN staff and volunteer identifying WW1 remains in bad weather
The efforts of our volunteers, through repeated visits, documentary research, photographic and written records, is invaluable to our study of Godwin Battery and all our sites across England. Regular updates and photographs provide a detailed record of sites which we do not have the resources to monitor alone. If you want to get involved further, please look around the website and get in touch. When visiting Godwin, take great care with the remains as of course they are dangerous: do not enter the ruins!
For further information about this site, or the current erosion research:
Boyes, S., Barnard, S. and Elliott, M. 2017: The East Riding Coastline: Past, Present and Future. University of Hull.
Crowther, J. 2006: The People Along the Sand: The Spurn Peninsula and Kilnsea, A History, 1800-2000. Andover: Phillimore
Forman, J. 1990: Guardians of the Humber: Humber Defences, 1856-1956. Humberside Heritage.
Godwin Battery gun emplacements on a recent rainy day