IT was the middle of the 19th century and Hurst Castle, which stands at the western edge of Southampton Water and built by Henry VIII as part of a chain of coastal defences, was still guarded by servicemen.

One night off-duty soldier Francis Aldis frequented the appropriately named Gun public house in neighbouring Keyhaven with several fellow artillerymen, drinking far too much for his own good and causing friction at the bar.

Aldis stupidly produced a knife and picked up a candlestick, his brashness forcing barman Robert Harvey to try to eject him. But as he attempted to do so, Harvey suddenly felt sharp pain in his left groin and right thigh and, looking down, saw blood oozing from his trousers.

Other soldiers overpowered Aldis and sent for the local physician who treated the barman for his wounds, both of which he declared to jurors at Hampshire Assizes had been inflicted with a sharp instrument.

Harvey was confined to bed for a fortnight and several weeks later was still being treated by the doctor.

Aldis was arrested and charged with wounding.

At his trial, he admitted he had no recollection of the incident as he was well under the influence of drink but when he surrendered to the authorities the following day he claimed he had sustained several cuts to his head.

He was jailed for four years.

Many French soldiers were detained at the castle but its most famous prisoner was Charles I before he was transported for trial in London and execution. The fort was modernised during the Napoleonic War and in the Second World War it was manned with gun batteries and searchlights.

Since the hostilities, it has been open to the public who can enjoy the mile-plus trek along the spit.