Fort Berkeley is the oldest fortification in English Harbour, dating to 1704. As with all of Antigua’s early fortifications, Fort Berkeley was constructed by the colonial government and manned by gunners and matrosses hired by the government—not soldiers.
As English Harbour became more important with the expansion of the Dockyard in the 1740s, more fortifications were constructed to protect the naval installation. This included a dramatic expansion of Fort Berkeley to the size and scope it is today. However, the project was marred by miscommunications between the colonial government and Royal Navy. There are key differences in the construction styles between the colonial government’s section and the Royal Navy’s expansion. The colonial government at the time was looking to save money while the Royal Navy design was battle ready. A visit to the site will highlight these differences.
Fort Berkeley was officially handed over to the Crown in 1784 after the end of the American Revolution, and the British military took the station over. The military added the gunpowder magazine in 1807.
Today the fortification is accessible along a short nature trail. Visitors often go to the fortification to look back at English Harbour, greet vessels as they arrive, and watch Antigua’s many world class sailing regattas.
Fort Barrington, also known as the Cripplegate Battery or the Queen’s Battery, has a long military history. The first fortifications were built in the 17th century as St. John’s town became the island’s major port. It appears on a list of fortifications in the Minute Books of the Antigua Assembly in 1704. This fort was abandoned at the end of Queen Anne’s War (1704-1713), even though it protected the harbour entrance and the anchorage outside.
Instead of strengthening the fort, the colonial government focused their efforts on Fort James across the harbour. It was only in the 1770s because of French privateering that the planters realized that Fort James was in the wrong position and could not protect the vessels riding at anchor. With design advice from the Royal Engineers, they started Fort Barrington as a self-contained half-moon fortification, complete with guard house, gunpowder magazine, and offsite barracks structure. From this vantage point, the gunners at Fort Barrington could command St. John’s Harbour and the anchorage.
The fortification continued to be used into the 19th century, shifting roles from being a fortification to a signaling station. The site was briefly revived as a military site in 1917 when Royal Marines installed a quick firing Royal Navy gun—one of fourteen the British government issued to protect all of their Caribbean islands.
Fort Barrington National Park was declared in 2009 to include the fortification, a small Amerindian site, and the remains of the Andes shipwreck inside Deep Bay which are all visible today.