Written by: D Evans

Construction begins

The Master-General of the Ordnance authorised the construction to begin in a letter of August 16 1794; the Duke of Richmond was an enthusiastic advocate and exponent of fortification and he characteristically suggested an alteration to Mercer's scheme :


I am to desire that you will proceed with the Works proposed to be Erected on Berry Head at Torbay, conformable to the Plans you have transmitted, taking care not to exceed your Estimate amounting to £30.595..0..0.

I would however have you consider the Idea I have already mentioned to you whether in the Execution of these Works some part of the Expence of Excavation may not be saved by making the Ditches nearly Parallel to the different Lines of yr Works instead of excavating them as before a Curtain." [26] It is not clear what Richmond meant by this. Certainly the ditches have not been constructed with a covered way (a pathway on the outer edge of the ditch, protected by a parapet) which the curtain of bastioned fort would have. Work advanced rapidly and on the 12th of September Mercer wrote to the Duke stating "The Money last Impressed being nearly expended, I have the Honor to Request that you will be pleased to grant a further Imprest of £1500....for further proceeding with the Works at Torbay and the general Repairs &c in this Division." On October 17 a further £2000 was requested. [27]

An insight into the cost of labour and materials for the fort is given in a letter of November 27 from the contractor, Mrs.Croad, to the Board of Ordnance:

"...I can with great Truth assure the Honble Board that I should not have presumed to trouble them on light or trivial Ground, or on a few fluctuating Articles, which might soon resume the Prices at which they were formerly purchased, but when so material a loss as upwards of £40 independent of Interest of Money Agency &c has already been sustained by me since the commencement of the Works at Torbay in July last, on the Articles of Labour only and a probability of its being rather worse than better, I am humbly led to hope that the Honble Board on Account of the hardship I at present Labour under will be pleased to allow me the following prices for Labour and Materials in this Division as are herein after particularized...

Masons Prices.

Moorstone at Torbay

2.6 per day

Delabole Slate Rags at Maker, Island,

Staten Heights or Torbay

from 1.2.6 to 1.4.6 supl

Bricklayers Prices for any Work that may be performed at Torbay instead of those at present allowd


" labourers

from 2.8 to 3.0 p dy

" 1.8 to 1.10 "

The Present price for Ragstock Bricks in yr Division is only

3.9 p hd.

The Freight from here to Torbay

Delivered at yr Quay there is at least

0.9 Do

which increases yr Price


4. 6 Do

From whence there is a Distance of nearly

2 Miles to carry then to yr Works,

over a very Steep Hill and a bad Road which

will cost me at least


increasing yr Price if delivered to yr Works to

5,4 p hd.

independent of the Duty now nearly 5d P Cn which is at present allowed us, I therefore humbly request the Honble Board to allow me for Red & Grey Stock Bricks delivered at Brixham Quay including the Duty whether used on Measured or Day Work 4.10 p hd and if delivered on the Works, whether used on measured or Day Work 5.0 Do

Labour and Work done by measuremt.

on straight erect Walls

fm 1.12.0 to 1.16.0 p Rod

Do on Arches

fm 1.14.0 to 2.0.0 Do

I have the Honor to be

&c &c

Susanna Croad[28]

It is noteworthy that some work clearly took place at Berry Head from the beginning of July, before Mercer had completed his plans, let alone received the Master-General's instructions to begin construction. In the absence of the relevant documents one can only assume that it had been definitely decided to to erect some kind of defence on the Head, and the work done in July and early August was the general clearance and preparation of the site.

On March 21 1795 Mercer requested a further £2000 for the work at Torbay and general repairs in the Division; [29] the Ordnance Office in reply told him to be more specific -

"I have to request you will be so good to inform me what part of the Sum of £2000 which you have demanded for Works at Torbay and Repairs at Plymouth is for the Service of Torbay and that in your future applications you will be so good to mention the particular Sum wanted for that Service, as the account must be kept totally distinct from the Repair in the Division." [30]

Mercer replied on the 31st -

"....I beg leave to inform you that the Sum of £800 was designed for this Service; but as all the Bills hitherto made out for Works at Torbay have been kept separate from the other Works & Repairs in the Division, and their Amount distinctly Abstracted in the Housekeepers Account at this Place, I did not conceive it at all material in my Demand to say how much was designed for this particular Service; I will however give directions for keeping the Demands separate in future, as you desire." [31]

By the summer of 1795 the great earthworks began to be constructed. On May 14 Mercer despatched a "Demand of Intrenching Tools for Service of the New Works carrying on at Torbay, and to Request that the Honble Board will be pleased to give directions for

their being supplied...

Pinching Bars


Wedges Small


Gads 1 size


2 "


3 "


Wood Mallets




Wheel Barrows


Hand "



This list of equipment gives some idea of the work force employed on the site. Requests for £1000 were made on May 30 and July 23. [33] Mrs.Croad's attempts to increase her charges seem to have been resisted by the Board, and she appears to have persuaded Mercer to put her case, as appears by a letter from the Board dated August 31. -


I am commanded by the Honble Surveyor General to acquaint you in Answer to your Letter of 10 Inst; that for the Reasons given by you in the said Letter, he consents to Allow Mrs Croad 3s pr Day for a Bricklayer at Torbay all the Year round ; but he desires that Allowance may be confined to Torbay only." [34]

The work was not only carried on by Mrs.Croad's men; a small detachment of Military Artificers were also stationed there. They had been there since August 1 1794, and suffered some ill-health, as the following letter from the Board to Mercer shows:


Having laid before the Board your Letter of 27 Augst last, transmitting Messr Elford and Langworthys Bill amounting to £4.2.8 for Medicine and Attendance upon yr Detachment of Military Artificers under Your Command at Brixham and submitting the propriety of allowing Messrs Elford and Langworthy 2s/6d or 3s p Day for the Time they may attend at Brixham instead of permitting them to make out Monthly Bills....they are to be allowed 2-/6d p Day for taking care of the Detachment of Royal Military Artificers from the 1st of August last..." [35]

Two requests for £500 and one for £800 were made January 7, February 4 and March 31 1796 respectively [36] , and on April 25 Mercer sent the Board "a Bill for Glazier's Works performed by Mr Samuel Hay ward of London on account of the New Works at Torbay." [37] The buildings, then, were complete enough to be glazed.

Further requests for £800 followed on July 11 and October 27 [38] but on December 1 Mercer received this order: "...the Master General and Board...think proper [that] any further Progress in the Works at Torbay and the Berry Head should be postponed for this Year." [39] This was the first break in the construction of the forts.

Mercer replied to the Board on the 4th " Obedience to the Orders of the Master General & Board, I have written to Torbay to Stop all further Progress in the Works at the Berry Head. But I have desired that Detachment of Royal Military Artificers and Labourers may remain to Guard the Works, Materials, and Intrenching Tools &c till further Orders.." [40]

The Overseer at Berry Head was Henry Gillett; he had started his career as a clerk in the Master General's office, and had been made Overseer in 1773. Before coming to Berry Head, he had previously worked on the fortifications of Maker, and so had experience in the construction of revetted redoubts. He was in charge throughout the construction of the defences, being paid 5s a day. [41] He received this order from Mercer: " will immediately upon the receipt of this letter, stop all further Progress in the Works at the Berry Head. You will understand by this that not One Man is to be retained upon that Service; as the Royal Military Artificers & Labourers will remain to Guard the Works & Materials, till further Orders." [42]

It was to be over two years before any significant new works were undertaken. 1797 only records, on February 22, "An Incidental Bill for Coppers at Torbay. £34.4.0" [43] In the summer of 1798 the gun-platforms of the sea-batteries required relaying, and the letters from the Board to Mercer are of great interest as showing that softwood was considered a suitable material for this purpose and that Fort No.1 was in fact cannibalised for the purpose.

"Having laid before the Board Your Letter of yr 30 Ultd transmitting Three Estimates for relaying the Platforms of the Sea Batteries at Torbay.

I am directed to acquaint you that the Board prefer that the Platforms of the Sea Batteries at Torbay should be relaid with Fir conformably to the Estimate you have transmitted Amounting to £448-18s-6d."

"I have submitted to the Board Your Letter of yr 7th Instant respecting the Platforms of the Sea Batteries at Torbay; and I am to acquaint You that they approve of Your Suggestion for removing the 18 unoccupied Platforms in the Redout No. 1 to make good those of the 12 Gun Battery at the Point of the Berry Head, and the five Gun Battery at Fishcombes Point, instead of relaying the Platforms of those Batteries as directed in my Letter of the 4 Instant." [44] On August 16 a request for £50 was made for this purpose. [45]

The barrack facilities which had been constructed were incomplete in many respects, and Mercer wrote to the Board on August 12 "representing the Necessity of erecting an Officers Guard Room in No. 3 at the Berry Head." This was approved in a reply of the 28th, "...but you will take care that the Sum Estimated for that Work be not exceeded." [46]

The inadequacies of the accommodation were about to be pointed out forcefully. Colonel Bastard's 1st Devonshire Militia recorded in its Order Book on 14 Oct 1798 : "The Colonels Major Laroche & Capt Williams Companies, will March on Tuesday morning next the 16th.,.to the Berry Head." [47] Their comments upon the living quarters were uniformly unfavourable, and Bastard wrote at once to the Board of Ordnance:


Part of the Regiment under my Command being destined to Winter at Berry head, I ordered the Major to visit the Barracks there and report to me his observations on them. He informs me there is no Mess room, or Kitchen, No store Room for the Regimental Stores, not even for Powder, no Hospital, No place for the coals which are flung loose about the Kitchens. I need not point out to you the necessity of these things, but I think is right to state the local Situation of the place renders it impossible in the Winter, to move a Sick Man without great danger to the Patient, which I am sure is all that need to be stated to you on that subject, I beg also to State to you that I will readily permit as many men as you may wish... to work on any buildings, that are to be erected, so that they may be finish'd before the Winter renders their work precarious, The Major further reports, that an Alteration is wanted in one of the Gutters, and is extremely unhealthy, & offensive, That one of the Tanks is spoiled, that the Tank doors are beginning to decay, & will soon be dangerous for if they give way on any Person crossing them would be drowned, That the Barracks want White washing, for which purpose we can supply you with the Men used to the business. & that there are no Racks for the Musketts which are at present hung on a Nail by the Guard of the Trigger, that the Barrack No.l leaks under the Windows, and that the Chimney No 3 Smoaks.

He also informs me that ColoL Grege, who now Commands in the Barracks told him, that he had not been able to procure any good Beer from Brixham, Since he had been there. I should suppose the Complaint might be remedied by procuring the Beer either from Totness or Dartmouth, tho' it would be attended with some increase of expence in the Carriage. If you will be so obliging to lett me know what your determination on these subjects is, and what men you would wish to employ on the Buildings, before the Regiment Marches from thence, which will probably be the latter end of this Week, I will take care that proper people, of the descriptions wanted shall be stationed at Berry Head.

I have the Honor to be

with great respect


Your Obedt Humble Servt

J.P.Bastard Lt.Col.

Plymouth Dock Barracks,

Octr 8th 1798.

To Gen.De Lancey." [48]

Some mitigation was in prospect ; on the 27th Mercer requested "the Sum of £100 for proceeding with the Erection of the Guard House within the Line No.3 on the Berry Head." [49]

The 1st Devon Militia maintained several detachments there during 1798 and 1799, during which period the Headquarters of the Regiment were established at Totnes. The scanty glimpses of life there given by the Regimental Order Books tend to show that no great improvements had taken place, as militiamen were usually sent there for disciplinary purposes.

31 Oct. 1798.

Geo.Chubb of the Lt.Col's Company, is ordered to the Berry Head, to be bill'd up and Drill'd there till further Orders for being Disgracefully Drunk in the Streets of Totness last Night between nine and ten o'clock he is moreover to mount two Extra Guards besides his regular rotation of Duty in that Garrison.

17 Dec.1798.

Lance Corpl. Pascoe is appointed Corporal in the Room of Corpl.Jnr Warren reduced by the Colonels Order for Gambling with the private Men in one of the Hutts at the Berry Head.

19 Jan. 1799.

The three companies at the Berry Head will be in readiness to parade with Arms on Monday Morning next at Eleven o'clock if the weather permits.

15 Feb. 1799.

The Colonels Major Laroches & Capt Bidgoods Companies will March to the Berry Head.

20 March 1799.

The Colonels and Major Laroches Companies will hold themselves in readiness to March from their present Quarters at the Berry Head to relieve the Lieut Colonels and Capt Fulfords Compy on Sunday next the 24th Instant.

12 May 1799.

Lt Colonel Bastard orders that Geo.Chubb of his own Company be sent as a prisoner to the Berry Head, and be Confind in the Black Hole 48 hours on Bread & Water, and also to be Bill'd up and Drill'd in the Garrison till further Orders, for being Drunk on the first parade he was Ordered to attend after his arrival at Totnes.

15 May 1799.

Liet.Col.Bastard orders that Jnr Dawson Drummer be sent as a Prisoner to the Berry Head to be Confin'd in the Black Hole for 48 Hours on Bread and Water, for being Disgracefully Drunk and seditious in a publick House in Totness on Wednesday the 15th....and that he be March'd back a prisoner to Totness when his Time of Confinement is Expird.

18 May 1799.

Captn.Brown and Captn Bulteels Companies to the Berry Head and remain until further orders.

5 June 1799.

[ ? ] Melhuish of the Lt.Colonels Company is ordered to be confined in the Guard Room at the Berry Head on suspicion of making away with his necessaries and for Mutinous & Riotous Behaviour in the Town of Totness on Tuesday Evening.

23 July 1799.

The two Companies to be under Arms with packs & necessaries in Order for Muster to morrow morning at 8 o'Clock afterwards they will march to the Berry Head.

24 July 1799.

Priv Frost is Ordered to be bill'd up and Drilld till further Orders at Berry Head and to have no Furlough when the[y] are usu[a]lly granted for having Absented himself from Work and leaving the Cantonments of the Regiment when he had only Working Leave.

Corporal Concanen is Ordered Six Extra Guards and to be Billd and Drilld at Berry Head till further Orders for having reported that he had visited Priv Frost at the place he had Leave to work at when he had left the Cantonments of the Regiment.

The Colonel hopes that a Similar Circumstance will not happen again as it would be the means of preventing the Indulgences he is enabled to give from the General good behaviour of the Regiment." [50]

Other regiments, as well as the Gunners, were of course based there as well. The historian of Tiverton, Martin Dunsford, visited the area around this time; his brief mention shows that some guns were in position on the sea batteries. "Here was a battery of twelve pieces of cannon, forty-two pounders, each gun sixty-five hundredweight, and two or three smaller batteries at several places, on the descent towards Brixham, with the guns pointed in different directions towards the Bay. Within the fortifications on the summit of the hill are five barracks for about five hundred men, the Berkshire Militia were in them at this time, and had a fine band of music." [51]

The Board of Ordnance had little enthusiasm for spending money on barrack accommodation, and with the departure of Napoleon for Egypt felt no pressing reason for completing the fortifications themselves. They therefore wrote to Mercer on March 18 1799:

"Of the Works proposed at the Berry Head Torbay it appears that building a Guard House at No. 3 Estimated at £727-1-2, has already been ordered; And the Lieut. General and Board approve of your executing the Artillery Store & Guard House together with the Expense Magazine proposed at N° 1 The Amount of these put together will be £573.0.0.

The Completion of the Field Works on Berry Head is for the present to be postponed, but the four small Furnaces for heating the Shot at the Sea Batteries are to be executed, and the Expence defrayed out of the Money remaining unexpended.

The Amount of the Estimates will therefore be as follows




No. 1 Estimate




No. 2 Do not alter'd




No.3 Do



2 ¼



11 ¼

The Mess House, Coal Yard, Beer Cellar, and other accommodations mentioned in the latter part of your Letter, as wanted by the Troop stationed on the Berry Head, should be supplied by the Barrack Department." [52]

On April 29 Mercer requested £200 to proceed with the works at No.1, and a further £40 on November 6. [53] No new works were undertaken during 1800, though on September 23 the Board wrote to Mercer that "Lieut Colonel Stephens Commandr the Royal Artillery at Plymouth having reported to the Board that all the Guns and Carriages at Berry Head, from Their being so much exposed requires Painting,

I am commanded by The Board to acquaint you therewith, and to request you will transmit an Estimate of the Expence that will attend the Painting of them." This was reckoned at £18.19.9, and the guns were "puttied and painted" accordingly. [54]

26 PLY I/2/11

27 PLY O/1/7

28 PLY I/2/11

29 PLY O/1/7

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31 PLY O/1/7

32 PLY O/1/7

33 PLY O/1/7

34 PLY I/2/11

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36 PLY O/1/7

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40 PLY O/1/7

41 PLY O/1/9

42 PLY O/1/7

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44 PLY I/2/11

45 PLY O/1/8

46 PLY I/2/11

47 DRK 1334

48 DSM 1360

49 PLY O/1/8

50 DRM 1334

51 Martin Dunsford, Miscellaneous observations in the course of two tours, through several parts of the West of England, Tiverton, 1800. pp.123-4.

52 PLY I/2/11

53 PLY O/1/8

54 PLY I/2/11

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