Now owned by Thurrock Council, this Victorian fort near Tilbury was built to guard the lower Thames from seaborne attack. There was, in fact, a military presence at Coalhouse from the time of Henry III right up until the end of the Second World War. This makes it one of our most important defensive sites of its type – and links in to stories of how new technology has changed warfare.
The Fort itself can only be open to visitors at specific times. The council therefore wanted to provide visitors who come at other times with an introduction to the diverse heritage of the area and to encourage them to return when the fort is open. Heritage Lottery funding had been secured to achieve this, but first, a detailed plan was required to guide the development of the new interpretation. With so many stories to tell, Thurrock Council needed to appoint interpretation specialists who would be able to get to grips with this very complex site.
Once decommissioned, the fort was used as a storehouse for Czech shoe company Bata, whose Modernist 1930s factory and workers’ estate adds to the intriguing heritage of the neighbourhood. Complete architectural contrast is provided by Norman St Catherine’s Church, itself built on the site of a 7th century monastery – thus revealing Coalhouse to be one of the oldest Christian sites in England. In addition, the Fort is situated in Coalhouse Park – where a rich diversity of natural habitats and wildlife can be discovered within a relatively small area.
We relished the opportunity to shape the interpretation of this nationally significant heritage. Our resulting interpretation plan will now ensure that all the interpretive elements (café and information centre displays, temporary exhibitions, visual display presentation and ‘Mobile Explorer™’ wayfinding app) will work together in a co-ordinated way – bringing to life the military, social and natural history of the Fort, Park, Norman Church and Bata site for a variety of audiences.