History of Calshot

Aug 12 2022

Calshot Activities Centre

For such a small area – just over a mile long – Calshot Spit has an extremely varied history. This tiny pocket of Hampshire has seen plenty: from being one of Henry VIII’s forts to playing an important role in both WWI and WWII.

While you’re exploring Calshot beach or sailing near the castle, you’re surrounded by a rich tapestry of Hampshire’s history.

So, journey back in time to see the historic moments that brought you the Calshot you know and love today.


  • 1539 – King Henry VIII chose Calshot Spit as the site for an artillery fort, built to defend Southampton from attack from the forces on the English Channel via the Solent.
  • 1540Calshot Castle was completed. The keep was built with stone from Beaulieu Abbey, which had only just been demolished by Henry VIII as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
  • 1584 - Queen Elizabeth I funded the repair of Calshot Castle as part of its precautions against a possible invasion from Spain or the Netherlands. At the time, fire had destroyed a large part of the Castle keep. The timber repairs needed 127 trees from the New Forest to be accomplished.
  • 1640s – Amid the English Civil War, the Castle was supplied with weapons for protection. Even when Netley and St Andrew’s castles were disabled, Calshot remained of strategic importance.
  • 1651 - Calshot played a major role in the plan to smuggle Charles II out of England across the Channel after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. The plan was for Charles to sail from Calshot and escape to France. Unfortunately, the day before the escape, the boat Charles intended to use was requested by Parliament to help them invade Jersey. Charles had to make other plans, foiling the Calshot escape route.
  • 1774 – Upgrades were made, and the Castle’s original gun positions were changed into open topped embrasures,. Embrasures are windows or door frames, bringing in more light or widening the already existing passage. They were also used in arrowslits to increase firing range. The gatehouse was extended also to give the extra living space.
  • 1815 - To try and combat the amount of smuggling in the area, the government coastguard took control of the Castle.
  • 1894 – The War Office took over control of the Castle from the coastguard.
  • 1913 - The Royal Naval Air Station opened to support the Royal Naval fleet along the Channel by testing seaplanes. Winston Churchill visited the site and made his first flight in a seaplane on 28th August. The Royal Flying Corps established Calshot Naval Air Station at the end of Calshot Spit.
  • 1914 - The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) took over the station during the First World War.
  • 1918 - Royal Naval and Air Force constructed their hangars. Three of these hangars (Schneider Hangar, Sopwith Hangar, and Sunderland Hangar) still exist and are part of our activities centre.
  • 1922 – The station officially became RAF Calshot.
  • 1924 - Three serving members of the RAF took off from Calshot in a biplane on a planned round-the-world flight. They had quite a lot of bad luck, and eventually a forced sea landing near. Bering Island cut the trip short. It was still an exciting moment of adventure at Calshot.
  • 1929 - The Schneider Trophy Cup for seaplanes and flying boats was held here. One of the servicemen involved in putting on the race was TE Lawrence (the real name of Lawrence of Arabia).
  • 1940s - Calshot played a large role in both World Wars: defending the channel, training new pilots and boat crews, and repairing and maintaining marine craft. Five fast launches also took part in the Dunkirk evacuation.
  • 1944 – On D-Day, troops embarked from Calshot for the Normandy beaches.
  • 1961 - Calshot’s RAF base closed as military seaplanes became outdated.
  • 1964 - Three years later, Hampshire County Council took over the site and launched their first sailing course.
  • 1965 - HRH Prince Philip officially opened Calshot Activities Centre.
  • 1970 - Calshot Lifeboat Station was founded by the RNLI.
  • 1980 - The castle was opened in 1980 as a “well-preserved example” of King Henry’s Device Forts.
Calshot Castle

Present day

Nowadays, both the castle and the hangars are open to the public to enjoy. While Calshot Castle is a Grade II* listed building, you can climb to the top of the castle for the vast views of the Solent and across to the Isle of Wight. You can also journey to the Hangar which now is a one-of-a-kind indoor activities centre. So no matter if you’re more interested in exploring the castle keep, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, track cycling or completing an action adventure in our historic Hangar, or having a whale of a time with selection of watersports, then Calshot has something for you.

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The climbing wall at Calshot Activities Centre