COALHOUSE Fort at Tilbury has been identified as one of the country's most 'at risk' heritage buildings.

That is one of the stark conclusions of the most in-depth study ever undertaken into the state of the region's historic treasures, launched in the East of England today (Wednesday) by English Heritage.

The fort is a large armoured casemate fortress constructed in 1859 on the site of earlier batteries. On completion in 1874, it had some 20 gun emplacements, associated magazines and handling laboratory.

It provided accommodation for 180 men, including officers' quarters, cook house, hospital, guard room and cell block.

Ordnance technology developed swiftly and over the next 80 years the fort was modified and re-armed to accommodate later developments in artillery. It remained an important element of the Thames defences until 1945.

The fort is in a state of poor repair due to a lack of adequate maintenance and repair over a very long period and the high maintenance requirements of the original design.

A conservation group, the Coalhouse Fort Project, has been granted a lease on the site by Thurrock Council and they have invested time and resources in maintaining and repairing parts of the historic structure, and opening the fort to the public on a limited basis.

A number of reports on the fort have been prepared and a further Feasibility Study undertaken to determine how to take forward further funding bids.

English Heritage has offered grant to support Thurrock Borough Council's urgent repairs to the entrance barrack block.

Greg Luton, Regional Director for English Heritage in the East of England, was at St George's Theatre in Great Yarmouth to launch this year's Register.

He said: "Heritage at Risk is a work in progress, but already it is giving us an unprecedented window into the state of the region's historic environment.

"Like the Buildings at Risk register, this is not a name and shame exercise, but a tool to understand threats and prioritise action. Excellent work is being done to protect our heritage, but the study raises some serious causes for concern. We are particularly anxious about the condition of scheduled ancient monuments."