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Floating fort plans drawn up by retired marine major-general

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: April 19, 2014

Plans for a floating fort by Major-General Sir John Frederick Crease

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HERE is an unusual piece of Black Country memorabilia, a patent drawn up in April 1896 for a new type of floating fort designed by a retired major-general who lived in Stourbridge.

The document has been loaned to us by John Taylor of Kidderminster but, unfortunately, details are sparse.

The man behind the invention was Major-General Sir John Frederick Crease of the Royal Marine Artillery. He was the son of Captain Henry Crease of the Royal Navy but we have been unable to ascertain when he was born. He married Frances Mary Domville on September 8, 1877, and in 1902 he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath; he died on June 21, 1907.

The patent gives the major-general's home as Sion, Stourbridge, but we have found no record of such a house – do you know where in Stourbridge such a house was? However, there may be some confusion here, as the house may not have been in Stourbridge at all but in the Sion Hill area between Wolverley and Kidderminster.

Crease's wife, Frances Domville, was a widow and she had been married to Henry Steward Oldnall Russell (d.1872) and their home is listed as Sion House, Kidderminster. It is quite possible that Frances inherited the house on her first husband's death and then lived there with her second. The confusion may have arisen if, at the time the patent was lodged, Crease received his post via the Stourbridge post office rather than the Kidderminster one.

Crease's patent is headed Improvements in Navigable Battle Forts or Batteries and the basic specification is as follows:

"This invention has reference to the construction of a floating battle fort in which the auxiliary forces of the country can be utilized for defending the coast thereby freeing the war ships of the regular navy for use elsewhere where their services would be more urgently required. For this purpose my floating battle fort comprises a flat bottom navigable vessel of large displacement, small draught, and considerable beam, say 100 feet, its central portion being protected by angular or curved bulkheads and side armour and its end portions, which are preferably of cellular construction, being provided with armoured decks at or below the water line, or with a belt of armour extending straight down to the bottom of the vessel. The armoured central portion or citadel is provided with turrets each of which is constructed either with a single platform or with two platforms, one above the other, one to accommodate two heavy guns, as 12 inch guns, and the other to accommodate two lighter guns, say two 6 inch quick firing guns. The armour of the turrets protecting the lower guns is thicker than that protecting the upper guns. The turrets may advantageously be four, (or more) in number, arranged in echelon that is to say two of them, when four are used, being arranged with their axes in the longitudinal plane of the vessel and the outer two being arranged one on each side of the longitudinal plane and between the others. By this means all the guns, 16 in number, can be fired simultaneously broadside, and the guns twelve in number, of three of the turrets, can be fired simultaneously fore and aft.

"The vessel, which may have a ram, is provided with suitable propelling and steering apparatus; preferably three or more screws are provided.

"Such a vessel may be constructed with a reservoir or reservoirs of compressed air or gas so that by establishing communication between such reservoir or reservoirs and any compartment or compartments into which water may be leaking, such water can be displaced by the action of the compressed air and the vessel thus be prevented from sinking. The armour may in some cases be composed of an alloy of aluminium and iron or aluminium and steel."

Crease's idea was never pursued as the Royal Navy already operated ships of this type, known as monitors. The first was developed by the US Navy in the American Civil War, and typically monitors were shallow-draught, armoured shore bombardment vessels with disproportionately large guns. In the First World War the Royal Navy had three Humber Class monitors, originally intended for the Brazilian Navy but requisitioned on the outbreak of war, four Abercrombie Class monitors, armed with 14-inch guns, and eight Lord Clive Class monitors. Three of these were fitted with 18-inch guns and could shell targets 20 miles away.

John Frederick Crease filed a number of patents in his retirement – Improvements in or Relating to Apparatus for Filtering Water (1894), Method and Means for Increasing and Reducing the Draught or Immersion of Ships and Removing Water therefrom (1896), Improvements in the Construction of Vessels of War (1898), Improvements in the Manufacture of Incandescence Mantles (1902), An Improved Method of Fixing and Fitting Torpedo Nets made of Galvanized Steel Wire Rope or Other Material to the Sides and Bottoms of War Ships (1902), and Improvements in and relating to War Ships and Armour therefor (1906).

Can you tell us anything about Major-General Sir John Frederick Crease? Contact dshaw@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or write to our editorial address.

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