The Roberts Battery was situated about 500 yards south of the Watch House Museum on Rocky Island, and north of The Delaval Arms, close to Crag Point, and was built in response to the treat of bombardment of Tyneside in World War 1.
At first Tyneside was protected by an old battleship, permanently based on the river as a guardship, but in 1916 the ship was needed elsewhere. As an alternative, the Army was offered a redundant gun turret, from the 1898 HMS Illustrious, for emplacement on land.
Construction of this gun emplacement commenced in 1917 and consisted of a major underground structure, measuring 182 feet long, 156 feet wide, and 36 feet deep, cut out of solid rock, on which was mounted a twin 12 inch turret from HMS Illustrious.
The battery had two transmitting cells and two receiving cells, one each to the north and south of the battery, and a Barr and Stroud split image range finder in a rangefinding post. Extensive underground works were constructed including shell and cartridge stores, engine room, etc. and these were still visible in the early 1960s. On the surface of these works were 12 inch guns and a blockhouse. The concrete plinths for these guns and the blockhouse were also still visible in the early 1960s. Sadly these features are no longer visible. A 30ft Barr and Stroud post was the Battery Command post and had officers' accommodation attached and now survives as a private house (Fort House).
The underground installation contained storage for the shells and a shelter for about 20 men, whilst the surface installation included barrack huts latrines, cookhouse, bathhouse, and boiler house. Still visible today are the Water Tower, the Defensible Latrine, and the Officers’ Quarters. A further battery, the Kitchener Battery, was built at Marsden, and they were both controlled from a command centre behind the Grand Hotel in Tynemouth.
However, the battery wasn’t completed until September 1921, at a cost of £64,000, and consequently the guns were never fired in anger, although they fired twelve test rounds on 5th September 1922 (apparently blowing the pantiles off the local cottages). In 1924 the Committee of Imperial Defence recommended removal of the turrets, probably because the guns were obsolete, and work was underway in April 1926.
A Chain Home Low radar station was established on the site of Hartley Battery in World War II (1939-1945). The underground works represent one of the largest military engineering projects of their day. Fort House, the boundary wall and outbuildings are Grade II* Listed Buildings protected by law.
The underground structure is basically intact, and the outline can be seen on aerial photographs, but access is “impossible”, since it was filed in with domestic rubbish by Whitley Bay Council in the 1960s. Impossible is in "", as people have recently been in and posted video.
Plans courtesy of David Anderson, and some photographs courtesy of Chris Capewell and The Journal of the World War 2 Railway Study Group.