Work to save Hurst Castle wall was 'just days away' before collapse
WORK to strengthen Hurst Castle was just days away from starting when a huge section collapsed into the sea last Friday, New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne has revealed.
English Heritage has been accused of being too slow to act on urgent warnings, as reported in January by the A&T, that the historic monument on the coast of Milford was in imminent danger.
But Sir Desmond said he had received assurances that the agency had been “days away” from beginning work to underpin the foundations of the east wing, having undertaken a similar £750,000 scheme to shore up the west wing last year.
He said: “They say that there were no signs of major structural problems and that deterioration had been at a very slow rate until recent storm damage prompted a rapid collapse.
“Clearly, I have not the expertise to make a judgement as to whether English Heritage have been negligent in the face of warnings by volunteers and locals.
“What I’d rather concentrate on now is the will and the resources to restore this important historical attraction, and I am pursuing this.”
Eyewitness Denise Wood, from Lymington, confirmed workers were on site fencing off the southern side of Hurst Castle just hours before the wall crashed down.
She said: “We were on the other side of the castle when we heard a huge, terrible roar and then a wave came up 15ft above the castle wall. My partner thought a bomb had gone off – it was spectacular really, but also very sad.”
Before the collapse, Denise said she had been sitting for around 20 minutes just metres away from where the wall fell into the sea.
She added: “We saw two women from Hurst Marine go around the barrier to have a look. One of them returned in tears, so we knew it was very bad.”
In January the A&T revealed sources at the castle had also warned coastal erosion beneath the east wing was leading to “real fears” the whole wall could collapse without immediate action.
A spokesperson for English Heritage confirmed engineers were on site when the incident occurred and inspections have taken place to identify emergency stabilisation works.
English Heritage estates director Rob Woodside said: “This is a devastating blow to a Hampshire icon and for all of us whose life’s work is to protect England’s historic buildings.
“The castle is in an extremely vulnerable position. Located on a shingle spit – itself part of sea defences for the people and places inland – the castle faces the full force of the wind and waves.
“With changes in longshore drift, rising sea levels and more frequent storms, Hurst Castle is amongst the most difficult heritage sites to protect in England.”
The agency came under fire from Ben Collins, a member of the Friends of Hurst Castle, who lives in Keyhaven.
He said: “In the immediate term it is not clear why the site engineers at Hurst failed to put in place even emergency protection measures last autumn. Lack of awareness of the urgency by the funding authorities must be the cause of the delays.
“As for the future, there needs proper planning in place to ensure this breakdown of sea defences is not repeated elsewhere as sea levels rise in the coming decades.”
The castle, which is managed on behalf of English Heritage by Hurst Marine, remains closed to the public.
Jason Crane, Hurst Marine director, said: “Most importantly, no one was hurt and the castle was closed at the time. It was a tremendous shock but we have had lots of messages of support from the local community and that means a lot.
“I’d say to anyone to please avoid the area. The beach will remain fenced off for the foreseeable future.”