Fort Widley Midden

 Created 12-01-2003   Last update 08-08-2003

This is an extract from the "The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle" of 23 August 1871, which was taken from REDAN 55, the magazine of the Palmerston Forts Society:

Sir - having for months listened to the cry “It is a nuisance” I have been anxiously waiting to see whether someone in the village of Cosham would call the attention of the proper authorities to this most serious matter. For a lengthened period this village has had a continual stream running through our street, tainting the very atmosphere, and caused by an overflow of two tanks placed at the foot of the hill, as a receptacle for the drainage of the whole fort, and which is about large amount (sic) for a pig cistern. This is a new phase of sanitary improvement with a vengeance, and I venture to state that if a private individual had displayed the like ingenuity and neglect of the public health he would have quickly felt the arm of the law. While writing, the green fluid arid stench are at our doors; and how soon fever and its attendant sad effects may be in our homes I cannot tell; but surely the question of the immediate removal of the cause is of such grave importance, that it becomes the duty of those cognizant of the danger, to give the matter attention, and a sufficient reason for troubling you with this call to action.

The two tanks mentioned in the above text were rediscovered quite by chance when an unrelated piece of research was taking place at Fort Widley Cottages. The Victorian Cesspits are located directly beneath the Cottages directly opposite the  Queen Alexandra Hospital on the Southwick Hill Road.

They are of brick and stone construction and have been filled in and covered over by builders rubbish, possibly during the renovation of the Cottages. The internal dimensions are 16 x 6 feet with an unknown depth. The roof is made from cut stone 4 inches thick. The retaining walls are 2 feet thick, and in the centre of the longest wall is an opening containing a sluice gate. This is made from half inch thick iron with a large handle riveted to it. The opening has a channel carved in either side allowing the gate to be drawn upwards.


With thanks to

Michael Cox and the residents of Fort Widley Cottages


Aerial photo site location    Grid Ref SU657063

map showing Fort Widley Cottages

This map shows the relationship between Fort Widley and the Cottages marked here as "Fort Widley Married Quarters"

Fort Widley Cottages

Fort Widley Cottages. Around the late 1920s / early 1930s eight of these cottages were built directly below the south side of Fort Widley for use as Officers Quarters.

View of the Victorian Cesspit

This is one of  two cesspits. The area has been partly filled in with builders rubble and is extensively overgrown. This front wall is 2 feet thick and extends for 8 feet  in both directions. The gap in the wall contains a sluice gate. 

The sluice gate

The gate is 1 foot wide but the depth is unknown. The stone roof lintels can just be made out in the top right corner. 

 Close up of the sluice gate

The thick iron handle is attached to the gate by rivets. This together with the extensive use of stone indicates Victorian era manufacture. There are runner slots cut in either side of the wall allowing the gate to be raised.


The infill inside the pit stops 1 foot short of the roof. A camera utilising infra-red light was lowered down behind the sluice gate giving this murky photograph.