Warfare on land and sea was about to change out of all recognition with the advent of steam and modern technologies, but in the 1850s military engineers still held fast to what they knew and buildings like the West Blockhouse show how the engineers of the day tried to prepare for the warfare of the future.
Four new forts were built at the mouth of the haven: on Thorn Island, Stack Rock Island, Dale Point and, most westerly, on West Blockhouse Point. It was intended that these forts’ artillery would de-mast any enemy ships before they reached the docks (the new steam-driven screw was still believed to be an auxiliary form of propulsion). Sadly, all plans and records for the building of the West Blockhouse have been lost and we do not know who designed it. But by 1857 a battery holding six guns had been built, with accommodation behind for 41 men and one officer, all of finely dressed limestone. From plans made in 1866 we know that the soldiers were to sleep in barrack rooms on the ground and first floor, where they would also eat and while away their leisure hours. Six 68-pounder guns were also in place by 1859, standard smooth-bore issue that had been in use for twenty years, 10 feet long and weighing 95 cwt. The rails on which the wheels of the gun-carriage slid up as it recoiled on firing can still be seen on the east flank of the battery.
There is no evidence that the West Blockhouse was ever garrisoned in the 19th century, as the threat of invasion faded. In fact, the blockhouse was obsolete almost as soon as it was built and would have been unlikely to withstand the latest cannon fire. In comparison with the more massive forts that followed in the 1860s the West Blockhouse seems almost friendly, its open, exposed batteries directed as much against a landward as seaward attack. Its site and design would have made it quite effective had a land attack ever materialised, the landward side being protected by what is effectively a dry moat, crossed only by a drawbridge. The parapet which protects its roof is also higher on the landward side – but neither fort nor battery would have withstood attack or siege for long.
The West Blockhouse was to see more use in the 20th century during the two World Wars than in the 19th. In 1900 the Milford Haven defences were re-armed and a new battery built outside the blockhouse. In 1904 a very thorough survey was made of both new battery and old fort, which was invaluable as restoration work began. In WWI West Blockhouse Battery, by now with new Breech Loading guns, was designated a Counter Bombardment Battery and finally received a garrison of the Royal Artillery, although it never saw action. After the war a caretaker was once more left in charge, the battery used for exercises with a skeleton staff maintaining the guns, one of whom was Cliff Gough, later Brigadier.
In 1939 the battery was once again manned in earnest and German bombardment of Pembroke Dock began in July 1940, followed by the laying of aerial mines, increasingly effective despite the laying of a boom across the mouth of the haven. In these early stages of the war the only defence against the enemy bombers came from machine guns at the coastal batteries, although ack acks eventually arrived, together with protective gunhouses. Life at the West Blockhouse in these years must have been hectic, other duties including firing warning shots across the bows of ships failing to comply with port regulations and guiding the RAFs flying boats back to Pembroke Dock with searchlights. After the war the fort was used for a while for Territorial Army exercises but finally closed formally in 1956. The fort remained in MOD ownership although the land around was sold.