FEARS over the future of Hurst Castle have been heightened after storm damage forced the historic building’s closure at the weekend.
English Heritage, which owns the scheduled monument near Milford, has shut a number exhibition rooms for the foreseeable future after large cracks appeared in the walls and ceilings.
Former site manager Keith Morton, who is now a volunteer member of the Friends of Hurst Castle, described the latest damage as “extremely worrying”.
He said: “Cracks have been appearing in the walls for the last few months but the storm on Saturday made them much, much worse.
“Currently the World War Two room, the laundry room, the searchlight room and the Friends of Hurst Castle rooms are all shut because it would be unsafe for visitors to go inside.
“These rooms have wonderful education opportunities for visitors so the fact that they cannot be used is very troubling.”
“I am very fearful that if the erosion continues the castle could be closed to the public for safety reasons.”
As reported in the A&T, millions of pounds of repairs are needed to prevent the structure, built in the 1540s by Henry Vlll, from falling into the sea as coastal erosion continues to threaten the stability of the historic building.
In May emergency meetings were held on site after conservation watchdog group the Solent Protection Society discovered that parts of the castle’s outer walls were being undercut by the tide despite various sea defences.
As a result, parts of the castle previously underpinned by the shale were left exposed and unsupported. Although contractors for English Heritage have been working on site since early October, many volunteers feel progress has been slow.
Keith said: “We have known about problems at the castle for several months so it is a real shame this work could not have been started sooner.
“It is now problematic because in the winter months there is much less opportunity to undertake the work because of tides and the much shorter daylight hours.”
Solent Protection Society chairman David Sizer shared his frustration at the delayed start of the work.
He said: “The society raised the matter of the erosion under Hurst Castle back in April, when the footpath around the shoreline was closed for safety reasons, and took up the case with English Heritage.
“My concern is that there was delay on the repair works while responsibility for shoring up the foundations of the castle and replacing eroded shingle had to be confirmed.
“It seems also that English Heritage had to get approval of other regulatory bodies and agreement on funding, which delayed the start of the repair works.”
The spit, which stretches from Milford out to Hurst Castle, has been breached by the sea many times since 1954. In 1989 a considerable sum was spent on stabilising it, and further costly defence repairs were needed when it was battered by winter storms in 2013 and 2014.
Early indications at Hurst Spit show that the weekend storm was the worst in terms of wind since 2014, with recorded speeds at the Needles of 109.4 mph.
A spokesperson for English Heritage told the A&T: “Following an unprecedented storm at the weekend, Hurst Castle has unfortunately suffered some damage to its structure caused by the extreme winds and rain.
“Some areas of the castle will remain closed while English Heritage carries out essential maintenance to the sea defences and external structure.
“A planned programme of work to strengthen the sea defences at the castle is already under way, but this sudden deterioration means that we must re-prioritise the works. Our contractors are on site repairing the sea defences to limit any potential further damage.”