In 1806, the then Lieutenant-Governor, General Sir George Don, informed the Government that the Island was still very vulnerable to attack. In the midst of the Napoleonic wars, the risk of invasion was greater than ever with General Don predicting another attempt to capture the Island would be made imminently. Mont Orgueil and Elizabeth castles were no longer able to fulfil their defensive roles effectively so a new site had to be found.
Town Hill had already been cited as a potential site after a military survey by General Henry Seymour Conway in 1787, who was the then Governor (1772 -1795). The site had had some sort of crude defences from the Middle Ages and probably before but these did not amount to much.
On the 7 November 1806 the foundation stone was laid by General Don above the main entrance. Fort Regent was designed by Lieutenant-General John Humfrey of the Royal Engineers and built between 1806-1814, it was named in honour of Prince Regent, later George IV. Fort Regent is estimated to have cost £375,000 to build, not overly expensive considering that some of the walls are 18 feet thick.
But however strong the walls any fortress has to have a water supply. The well of Fort Regent reaches a depth of 235 feet and took nearly two years to sink. It was claimed that the pump could be worked by men and horses but it was also said that 24 men working for 2 hours without tiring themselves could easily pump 800 gallons of water into the cisterns.
However, almost as soon as it was completed, Fort Regent was no longer needed. A year later Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo and the French wars were at an end. British military forces continued to garrison the fortress until they finally abandoned it in 1932.
Prior to the arrival of the German occupying forces, the Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey was embodied and based at Fort Regent. During the occupation (1940-45) the German forces made good use of the Fort, primarily it was used as an ordnance depot, though there was also a Todt labour camp in the East Ditch. Ironically, the only shots ever fired in anger from Fort Regent during its long military history were German anti-aircraft guns against Allied planes.
On Liberation Day, 9 May 1945, it fell to Major Hugh Le Brocq to demand the surrender of the Fort. Soon after 4pm the Union Flag was run to the masthead of the Governor’s flagstaff on the West Bastion. This particular flag is of significant importance, it is recognised as a symbol of Royal representation in the Island.
The Fort itself remained in the possession of the British Government until 1958 when it was sold back to the States of Jersey for £14,500. The question then arose what to do with it, this led to much political bickering in the States Chamber and amongst the population at large. It was not until 1967 that the House unanimously approved proposals for the development into a leisure centre to provide amenities for residents and visitors alike.
The neglected Fort and outworks have since been transformed to provide every modern facility, but care has been taken to ensure that its original formidable character has not been lost, so that visitors can enjoy the superb setting of a nineteenth- century fortification.
Now the Fort is used as a leisure, conference and entertainment centre. Among the many facilities under the roof there are activities for all ages with over 80 regular fitness classes, the largest weights and fitness gym in the Island, a shooting range, bowling green, five-a-side football, climbing wall, trampolining, crèche and one of Europe’s largest children’s play areas.