Written by: D Evans

The future of the defences in doubt

The Board now wondered whether it might be more advantageous to sell the land outright, and asked Birch to provide a full report on the Berry Head defences to enable them to come to a decision. This report, addressed to the Inspector-General of Fortifications, Major-General Sir Alexander Bryce, is a most valuable document, being by far the most extensive account of the fortifications to have been preserved. It is severely critical of the positioning of the batteries, and recommends the abandonment of redoubt No.1 and the construction of self-contained batteries on the head which would make the manning of the rampart of No.3 unnecessary. The proposal to close one of the batteries "with a Tower or good defensible guard house" shows the persisting success of the tower, as exemplified by the Martello towers, as an effective design solution, much more economical in men and weapons than a rampart. It is dated February 20, 1832.


In obedience to your orders of the 31st ult to report whether the 120 Acres of land and Hospital at Berry Head at present let for £62-13s-3d per annum might be sold without prejudice to the defences or to the public service generally, and after reporting on the same to offer such information and observations as I may be enabled to afford on the subject,

I have to submit in respect to the Hospital, which is a substantial stone building for 64 patients erected I believe somewhere about the year 1810 by the Barrack Board, that as all the Barracks at Berry Head have been pulled down and sold, they having been temporary wooden buildings, I conceive the Hospital should not be disposed of, because that in case of war it might serve and be required for Barrack or Hospital accommodation for the troop - and that - even if it should not be thought proper to reserve it with a view to such accommodation, still that it ought not to be sold, as it might be useful to the navy who have a watering and small victualling establishment at Brixham, and who in the late war hired an Hospital in Torbay - at Paignton.

In regard to the land, I beg to state that as it comes close home to the front of the Works, and was purchased in the view that the works might have that space free of buildings in front of them, I consider the sale of it would be prejudicial to the defences as they at present exist.

But on these defences I have agreeable to your instructions, to offer some observations and explanations as to their nature and usefulness - and also upon the present disposition of the sea batteries - to the effect that I think the present disposition of these is not a good one - that a new disposition of them will have to be made, and some of the batteries reconstructed - in doing which, I conceive defences should be provided for them, by means of a Tower or defensive guard house and closures, so as to render unnecessary the armament and occupation of the present very extensive closed works, and so as to dispense with one of them and allow of its entire or partial destruction - in which view of the case, if approved, I think part of the land might be sold.

The Works at present consist of two Forts nos 1 and 3 and 5 sea batteries. No.3 Fort, the principal one, is formed by a rampart of about 700 feet in length across the Headland, with a scarp of about 20 feet high raised entirely from the level of the ground, that is without any ditch whatever, excepting just at the drawbridge - the rest of the contour of the work being the high scarped cliffs - it embraced a powerful sea battery at the Head ( now dismantled as the other batteries are ) for 12 heavy guns looking entirely to seaward and not at all within the bay - three of the guns on the right of the rampart looked in this direction, and there were besides two sea batteries on the cliffs outside the Fort, together for seven guns for the same purpose, and also one at Furzham beyond Brixham of five guns for the same - total 27 pieces in sea battery, with nine lighter guns, 12 prs. on the ramparts of the two Forts - altogether 36 pieces.

The other Fort no 1 has a larger extent of formed rampart than No.3. viz. about 770 feet - the rest of its contour being the cliff - it has a smaller scarp, but has a good ditch and counterscarp - this work must be reckoned almost solely as an advanced protecting, and flanking work to No 3, as, in other respects it only sees a small landing place or bay called Mudstone sands, open to the eea, about a mile distant from it.

Two other advanced works nos" 2 and 4 were projected on the right of no.l. in the original project for the formation of these works made in the beginning of the year 1794 - before Lord Howe's victory.

The object of them all was, agreeable to the instruction for their formation of the then Master General, the Duke of Richmond, a copy of which is enclosed, to defend the batteries protecting the shipping and the entrance to Torbay, so that an enemy landing infantry in the neighbourhood might not get possession of them without being obliged to break ground and erect batteries - on account I suppose of this project being reckoned too extensive and disproportionate to its object, as I think it evidently and undoubtedly must be, and the more so as the ground is a table Land of rock almost to its surface, the completion of it was suspended about 1796 after the erection of the present two Forts. Of these two works I think it may be said that in extent they are of themselves quite and altogether beyond the defence they afford to the batteries, the extent as mentioned before being so considerable, and the defence afforded being very imperfect, incomplete and partial, from the principal work No 3 not having any flank within itself, and being without any ditch, and not protected by the works intended in front to cover it - and from its embracing only the batteries on the Head, which, for the object in view, I think will appear not to be the most important position for them. That object according to the Instruction quoted is the protection of the Shipping and the entrance to Torbay - the Shipping being placed first as the principal point to be attended to, it being only possible from and about Berry Head to protect the Shipping in the anchorage near to it, and the approach to that anchorage and to the Bay on that side j and impossible to defend the entrance to Torbay which is about four miles across - I think therefore that the present disposition of the Batteries should be altered, and instead of so large a Battery at the Head looking entirely to Seaward, and not at all within the Bay, that the principal force of the Batteries should be directed upon the anchorage within the Head off Brixham, and on the approach to it - in this view in lieu of the 12 gun battery at the Head I would place there only six, to defend the entrance to the Bay on that side and the approach to the anchorage in question by the Head - with six other guns at or near each of the present two batteries on the Cliff marked B and C on the chart, [this accompanying document is not preserved] to protect the line of the said anchorage off Brixham and the approach to it -with five or six other guns at the present battery beyond Brixham at Furzham to form a direct and crossfire upon that anchorage.

I have mentioned that I would propose to place six guns at or near each of the present batteries B-C, because all the batteries being now at a considerable elevation above the water (A,B,C,D, being 184, 155, 127 and 90 feet respectively), instead of planting the battery C in its present position I think it should be removed to the platform that lies underneath it on the shore, or somewhere thereabouts, as perhaps to the right of the Hospital, so that it might be nearly what is termed a fleur d'eau - all the guns to be on traversing platforms.

In regard to the defences that should be preserved, or afforded to these batteries, it should be observed in the first place, as to the liability of a coup de main upon them, that there is no landing outside the Head for about a mile to the Westward of it, where are the Mudstone sands that lie open to the sea - and that within the Head to Brixham, and beyond Brixham to the small cove call [sic] Charston cove under the Furzham battery, there is no landing excepting upon the rocks, where boats may certainly land when there is not any sea upon them, but not otherwise -they are therefore much more than is generally the case, protected against a coup de main.

But as the batteries according to the disposition now proposed for them would have to be reconstructed - as masonry on the spot is cheap all the material for it being there - as there would have to be Guard Houses at the batteries in order that they might always be on the alert, - and as so much has already been done for their security and that of the Berry Head position which security it might be well to preserve if it could be effected at a moderate expence, I would propose to close the Battery B with a Tower or good defensible guard house, and with a loop holed wall - and also to close the Battery A at the Head by a loop holed wall from cliff to cliff connecting the present store House and Gun shed ( the latter to be converted into a Barrack and Guard House ) and embracing the present magazine.

By such means I imagine the line of rampart across the Head of No.3 Work might be dispensed with being manned, as the defence proposed to A and B batteries would see its line in front and rear and prevent it of being of use to the enemy - or if in extraordinary circumstances it were found necessary to occupy it, the defence at the battery B the intended site of one of the originally proposed works no 4, would form a flank to it, and the defence at that of A, a keep to it.

These defences thus combined I should think might be reckoned as affording sufficient security for the Batteries on Berry Head so that the Fort No.1 might be considered unnecessary and might be done away with -either by its partial or entire destruction - and in the above view of the subject I imagine part of the Land, the enclosed fields marked by red lines on the enclosed sketch might be disposed of- to shew which has been the cause of my entering into the abve observations and explanations. To these I should add that the present batteries, B.C, which are en barbette, nominally for 7 guns, have their platforms so placed or are so confined, that at any rate I think they would require to be reconstructed to have these guns bear properly - for of the three guns at C battery only one bears upon the water, The others being directed rather to the shore than to the sea - and of B battery two of the guns only are able to look to the anchorage, - and I should note that only part of the plateau under the battery C proposed for the new emplacement of it belongs to the Board, and that some small space of ground might have to be purchased for it.

In submitting the above observations I should state I do it with much deference, particularly impressed as I am with the idea that on the general defences of Torbay, as well as of any particular part of it, the opinion of Naval Officers well acquainted with the Bay is what in the first place merits attention, as a guide to the arrangement of those defences - and I would request leave to add that the importance of that Bay, and the invention of Steam navigation seem to claim that attention should be directed to it.

Respecting the closed fields which I have intimated might be sold, I would wish to subjoin that though in extent they are only about 20 acres yet in value I suppose them equal to the other part of the land being in general of a very superior quality to it - and, in respect to what I have said about the disposal of them, I should have explained that 1 conceived the same might be allowed as as much ground would afterwards be retained in front of the Works as is usually thought necessary in like cases - the fields are at present enclosed by stone walls or banks - and it is not probable that houses would be built upon them - or if there were that they would be of prejudice to the defences as proposed." [123]

This report was minuted on May 1 to the effect that it appeared that the twenty acres could be disposed of. "If the Master General should decide on the sale of this portion of Land, it might be proper to obtain in exchange for a portion of it, the small piece of Ground referred improve the site of C Battery." It appears from this minute that the Board were considering the possibility of modernising the defences according to Col .Birch's proposals.

123 PRO WO 44 12

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