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Batteries and other fortifications

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

The earliest known fortification of the town was possibly the ‘werke’, probably a bulwark, which was referred to in 1497 together with a ‘sea-gate’. Neither is depicted in the 1545 drawing of the town under attack, however. The first major fortification was:

a) The BLOCKHOUSE: Erected in 1559 on the cliff top between Ship Street and Black Lion Street, it was a circular fort 50 feet in diameter with flint walls 18 feet high and about 7 feet thick; it was financed out of both town and government funds. Inside were arched recesses for storing ammunition with a dungeon below, while a battery of four large cannons from the Tower of London stood on the cliff in front; ten small guns were also provided by the town. A turret on the top housed the town clock.
The small fort was maintained from the ‘quarter-share’ claimed by the church-wardens from each fishing trip and also by the landsmen’s rates in accord with the Book of Ancient Customs (see “Ancient Customs”), but the foundations were gradually undermined by erosion and the fort was badly damaged by the great storms of 1703 and 1705. The clock was taken down in 1726, the walls were partly washed away by another storm in January 1749, and by 1761 the blockhouse was completely ruined. It was eventually dismantled for an improvement to the cliff-top road in 1775.

b) ‘CLIFF WALL’: It is also possible that a wall of flint with embrasures for guns was built along the cliff top from the Blockhouse eastward to East Street. Said to have been 15 feet high and 3 feet thick, with a smaller 3-foot-high parapet wall extending to West Street, there were four gates giving access to the beach known as the ‘East Gate’; the ‘Portall Gate’ almost adjacent to the East Gate; the ‘Middle Gate’ or ‘Gate of All Nations’; and the ‘West Gate’. It should be noted, however, that the only evidence for the existence of this wall is a description of the town in former times published in 1730; the ‘gates’, which are mentioned in 1665, may have been merely paths to the beach. What appears to be a wall is visible at the western end of the town in’s 1743 view, though, together with an East Gate providing an entrance to the Pool (Pool Valley) from East Street; this was an authentic gateway but was removed for the construction of the new battery in 1760 (see below). {10}

The Blockhouse was replaced by:
c) The BATTERY: Built by the Board of Ordnance in 1760 at the bottom of East Street, it was equipped with twelve old and dangerous guns; during a salute to Princess Amelia in August 1782 a gunner had both hands blown off, and when the Prince of Wales visited the town for the first time in September 1783 another gunner was killed; it was not subsequently used again. The battery was severely damaged during a storm on 7 August 1786 and fell down completely on 3 November 1786. Part of the battery wall was later used in the foundations of Markwell’s Hotel.

Two other batteries were built:
d) EAST CLIFF BATTERY: Built in 1793 on the cliff top opposite Camelford Street, it was equipped with four 36-pounders and, together with the West Battery, provided some defence for the town at a time of unrest across the Channel. It was dismantled in about 1803 however, as vibration from the guns and encroachment by the sea had made the walls dangerous.

e) WEST BATTERY: Erected in 1793 on the cliff top at Artillery Place, where the Grand Hotel’s access road now lies. The guns, eight 36-pounders, were never fired in anger but were used for saluting royalty, often causing nearby windows to shatter. The battery was removed in 1858 or 1859 for the widening of King’s Road, but Artillery Street and Cannon Place were named from it.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

The following resource(s) is quoted as a general source for the information above:

West Battery, c. 1850. The West Battery consisted of six cannons on King's Road, installed in 1793. These muzzle-loaded cannons could fire a cannon-ball of about 40 pounds in weight, but were never fired in military defence. Behind the Battery was a crescent of houses called Artillery Place, which housed the Royal Navy Lieutenant in charge. These were replaced by the Grand Hotel in 1864. On 27 January 1858 the West Battery was removed in order for King's Road to be widened. The Battery is now marked by a flagpole on the beach.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

Comments about this page

  • A pity that there’s no trace of this once grand gun battery. There is very little left nowadays to show Brighton’s military past, or indeed its defensive fortifications. If anyone knows of any other photographs, please let me know.

    By David Ackroyed (12/01/2007)
  • Very interesting. Having done some family history research recently I learnt that one of my ancestors Robert McKelvey (born 1808 and originally from Ballymena County Antrim) was in the Royal Artillery Regiment as a Gunner and Driver and was based in Brighton. At one time his address was the Battery Yard Brighton. He was recruited in Woolwich and then spent 12 years on Corfu. He seems to have injured himself quite badly with all the heavy lifting, ruptured his groin. He was transferred to the invalided detachment and sent to Brighton for the second half of his military career. He received a small pension but it doesn’t appear to have been enough to live on. He died on Bread Street in Brighton aged 49. He left his family virtually destitute. His wife was sent to jail for larceny after his death and his only daughter ended up in Brighton workhouse where she died aged 25. Life was tough in those days!

    By Neil Thompson (19/02/2021)

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