St Catherine’s Castle
St Catherine’s Castle is an early artillery fort, probably built during the 1530s. A two-gun battery was added below it in 1855 at the time of the Crimean War, and as late as the Second World War the fort was modified again to form part of a more extensive battery. It demonstrates well how military architecture, technology and defensive tactics developed over a period of 400 years.
The castle formed part of the comprehensive system of coastal defence begun by Henry VIII after his break with the Church of Rome resulted in England’s isolation from Catholic Europe. It is shown as part of the defences of Fowey harbour on a map of 1540 as ‘half-made’. The building work was supervised by Thomas Treffry, whose family had played a leading role in the town for several generations. Treffry went on to supervise the building of Pendennis and St Mawes castles in the 1540s, and the design of St Catherine’s seems primitive by comparison.
St Catherine’s Castle takes its name from the rocky headland on which it stands. Its position, high above the entrance to the Fowey estuary, is spectacular: from the terrace there are superb views across the attractive town and harbour. It was kept in repair throughout the Tudor period and manned during the first English Civil War (1642–6), when Cornwall as a whole declared for the king, but by 1684 it was described as ‘ruinous’.
In the mid-19th century the fear of invasion returned during the Crimean War, leading to a general refortification of the south coast. At St Catherine’s a battery for two guns was built on the levelled platform on the tip of the headland below the fort, protected behind a parapet wall. A magazine was built into the rock beside the curtain wall entrance.
By the end of the 19th century St Catherine’s Castle had again been abandoned, but it was to be put back into military service once more during the Second World War. From June 1940 St Catherine’s Point became a gun battery and observation post, stretching from the castle itself to the higher ground to the west.
One of the Crimean War gun emplacements became the site for one of two anti-aircraft guns, and a concrete pillbox was built beside it. The magazine beside the gateway was brought back into use to store ammunition and the 16th-century tower served as the firing point for a controlled minefield laid across the mouth of the Fowey estuary.
Most of the 1940s concrete defences were dismantled after the war, bringing to an end this most recent chapter in the military history of the castle.
Today the castle provdes a great viewpoint for visitors to Fowey.