The walls of Charles Fort encompass 0 hectares 8093.7 square metres (two acres) of ground on the northwest coast of St. Kitts in close proximity to the northwest base of Brimstone Hill. According to Ordinance No. 1 of 1951 (Sandy Point Limits Ordinance), the northern walls of Charles Fort form the official commencement point for the southern boundary of the town of Sandy Point.
Components: Charles Fort is an irregular quadrilateral. Its front (seaward side) consists of a curtain wall atop a cliff. The rear of the fort is made up of three curtain walls and bastions. The centremost of these curtain walls faces a ditch and contains the entrance gate. At each end of the curtain wall with the gate are two full bastions each containing four embrasures for cannon. At the juncture where the side curtain walls meet the seaward wall are demi-bastions each containing five embrasures, two for artillery aimed along the curtain walls and three for artillery aimed seaward.The walls of Charles Fort are of rubble and earth construction, faced on the outside by stonework. The structures built within the fort during its period of use as a leper asylum are primarily of timber construction roofed with shingle or corrugated metal.
Late in 2012 the Cabinet of the Federal Government of St. Kitts & Nevis approved a proposal from the Brimstone Hill Society, recommending greater legal protection for Charles Fort. In response to this proposal Charles Fort has been vested in the St. Christopher National Trust.
Limits and Mapping
Charles Fort encompasses 0 hectares 8093.7 square metres (two acres) of ground. To the North it is bounded by housing built on the official limits of the town of Sandy Point. To the East and South by Romney Ground, a housing development which should be considered as an extension of Sandy Point. To the West by a rocky beach.
The site was surveyed and mapped between May and June 2000 by a team of archaeologists from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, led by Dr. Gerald Schroedl. An updated archaeological survey of Charles Fort shall be conducted in the near future by the Brimstone Hill Society. This survey shall be directed by Mr. Victor Smith and Mr. Cameron Gill.
History and Development
Construction of Charles Fort began by the British in 1670 and took 12 years to complete. Due to the size of the fort and the expense involved in its construction the King had to directly contribute funds to its completion. Charles Fort was originally known as Cleverley Hill Fort. St. Kitts was settled by the English in 1623 or 1624 and the French the following year. There was constant conflict between the two during the time the island was shared between them. In 1690 the French overran Charles Fort and the British, with the aid of enslaved Africans, dragged guns up to Brimstone Hill to fire on Charles Fort and rout the French. The British thereafter realized the strategic value of Brimstone Hill and started developing it as a fortress. Up to the early 18th century Brimstone Hill was seen merely as an adjunct to Charles Fort in defending the Sandy Point Anchorage, one of the largest and most strategically important anchorages in the Atlantic World due to the value of trade (including slave trading) which passed through this port. It was only when advances in artillery technology in the 18th century enabled Sandy Point Anchorage to be adequately covered by guns at Brimstone Hill did Brimstone Hill supersede Charles Fort as the main defensive position for the Sandy Point Anchorage. Despite being eclipsed in terms of defensive technology and sheer size by Brimstone Hill Fortress, an inland citadel fort, Charles Fort remained an important coastal defence up until it was abandoned as a military site in 1853, in the 1890’s it became a leper asylum named the Hansen Home. The Hansen Home was the most important leprosarium in the Leeward Islands, serving several neighbouring islands. The Hansen Home was closed in 1996 when the last leper passed away. Charles Fort is the largest coastal fort in St. Kitts and the second largest fortification, after Brimstone Hill Fortress, on the island. Charles Fort is also one of the largest coastal forts in the Eastern Caribbean.
Conservation and Management
Charles Fort has been vested under the St. Christopher National Trust. Under an agreement between the National Trust and The Brimstone Hill Society the latter shall be managing the site on behalf of the former.
Comparison with Similar Forts
Most other Caribbean forts of the period (late 17th-early 18th century), whether coastal forts such as Fort Shirley (the Cabrits) in Dominica or land forts such as Fort Delgres in Guadeloupe, first came into being as simple fortified structures which evolved over a period of several years, decades or even centuries. In the case of Fort Shirley, the first small battery was constructed circa 1765. Construction of the garrison did not commence until 1774 and continued sporadically until 1825. Fort Delgres began life as a fortified house built as the Governor’s residence circa 1650 and saw major periods of expansion gradually transforming it into a fortress during the 18th century.
Charles Fort, on the other hand, was conceived from the initiation of its construction in 1670 as a comprehensive masonry fort with curtain walls fully enclosing the site and linking the various artillery positions. Construction of Charles Fort took 12 years to complete and incurred such heavy expense that King Charles II contributed directly to financing its completion.
Such direct royal involvement indicates the high strategic value placed on Charles Fort as a major coastal military installation tasked with defending the vital Sandy Point Anchorage and the approaches to it. Charles Fort is an unusually well planned and comprehensively executed 17th century fortification. Charles Fort bears monumental witness to the global power struggle taking place between Atlantic powers, particularly the English and French, during the early period of their ascendancy and how this power struggle would eventually change the Eastern Caribbean landscape forever. Charles Fort is a monumental testament to the early adaption of two cultures, European and African, to an unfamiliar Caribbean landscape.