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Island of Hope

Rex Critchlow's talk at the 2007 AGM touched upon Bull Fort as an example of a building which had outlived its original purpose. There have been many rumours about plans for renovation of this landmark. Now, Ernie Brown gives us an exclusive report on the work to reclaim Bull Fort.

island of hope

With access to its own spring water from an underground, artesian well, Bull Fort was once home from home to over 200 men, for months at a time. Over years of MOD neglect, it had degenerated into an advance state of disrepair.

Like many other local people, I had heard the rumours about it being owned, along with its partner, Haile Sands Fort by a millionaire, whose plan to turn it into a drug rehabilitation centre had sadly been blown away by the cruel and sometimes unrelenting, winds of change. It was once again, being left for the elements and the birds to repossess and make their own.

But, how wrong I was. Slowly, yet steadfastly, this magnificent sentinel of the Humber, half battleship, half building and as grey as the skies on the day that I visited her, is being brought back to life.

I was introduced to the Island of Hope by Phillip Ball, one of the trustees of the Streetwise Charitable Trust, which owns her. Philip had initially contacted me last year, hoping that we could help each other to recycle. He had a large pile of second hand timber and I was vice-chairman of a Cleethorpes Allotment society. Dozens of hand made, yet sturdy sheds, which suddenly appeared all over Beacon Hill Allotment Gardens, were born within a month of this union.

I had sailed around Bull Fort on a heritage tour a few years ago and its' size impressed me then, but it was only at the moment that the ex Royal Navy Tender MV Hambledon pulled up alongside the fort, that her permanence on the landscape of the Humber Estuary was reassured in my mind.

The MV Hambledon, generously lease-loaned to the Streetwise Charitable Trust, by Commander Mike Critchley, makes regular sea journeys throughout the year (see web site for details) and volunteers are always welcome. There was a 21 strong, volunteer crew on the morning that we sailed out of Grimsby docks. All age groups from 20-70, from all walks of life and from all over the UK; every one of us willing to help in any way we could.

Our purpose to help raise this sleeping leviathan from its slumbers, and also to help the charity, Streetwise Charitable Trust, establish an offshore drug detoxification unit. The initial aims of the trustees, to found a Christian drug detoxification unit, far from the temptations that drug dealers will bring, are still the same as they were in 1992, when the charity was formed in the East End of London.

Far from being the rusting hulk of my imagination, this Island of Hope seemed almost as strong and as sturdy as the day she was built. Some of the 16 inch armour plating was rusty with the flaking surfaces showing the many different layers of paint that had been applied over the years, all of them varying shades of battleship grey. Slowly but surely, through the work of the charity trustees and regular volunteer helpers, the gargantuan task to turn this guardian of the Humber into a calm and peaceful island of hope for those suffering from their addiction to alcohol and drugs, is being realised.

It was a varied and interesting group of volunteers that helped to renovate the fort on the day that I travelled on the MV Hambledon. They all lent a hand, according to their skills. Engineers set about welding pipe work and repairing the fresh water pump, some of the others, with strength and agility, spent their time moving supplies from the ship to the fort, a couple of people painted a jib while myself, a gardener with a penchant for digging and another chap donned white, head to toe overalls and masks and set about shovelling out some of the pigeon poo that has accumulated over the many years of MOD neglect. We only had a short time on board this Island of Hope, before the ever shrinking tidal window, forced us back to port, but with 21 willing volunteers doing nearly 4 hours work it was another successful day for the Streetwise Charitable Trust with almost 100 hours of voluntary work put into this important renovation project and as we all know, one volunteer is equal to 10 pressed men.

As I stood on the deck of the MV Hambledon on the short journey back to Grimsby docks I felt satisfied, I felt as though I had achieved something. Yes, I'd always wanted to visit the fort. I'd seen her every day throughout my childhood, from my bedroom window of the family home on Harrington St, Cleethorpes and it has always seemed so inaccessible, but it wasn't only the realization of this dream that satisfied me. Nor was it the plate of sausages, beans and bread along with the large mug of tea that tasted so good in that clean, fresh, sea air. It was the feeling that I had played a small part in the long and turbulent history of this iconic Humber Mouth landmark.

Anyone wishing to volunteer can find further details of Bull Fort at the Island of Hope website at (

Photo courtesy Rex Critchlow

Registered Charity No. 505255.   Member of YHACS