Suburban Militarism goes on holiday!

I’ve returned from my holiday away much refreshed. I was hoping that my holiday by the sea might allow me to visit the Royal Marines museum in Southsea. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get time for that but instead did enjoy a number of other military history related excursions, in addition to all the sun, sea, sand and horses that made up the vacation. Yes, you read that correctly – being based in England’s New Forest meant lots of wild ponies (which offered some further colour guidance in my Nappy cavalry project).

Being based in Milford on Sea, I was but a short boat ride away from Hurst Castle, a Tudor castle that was expanded considerably during the Victorian era in response to French naval expansion. Situated on the end of the long sandy spit, the castle guards the approach of any naval craft passing between the Isle of Wight and the mainland (the key port of Southampton being just around the corner). This fort is one of Palmerston’s Follies, so-called as these coastal defences instituted by the Prime Minister were never used, the French threat having faded with their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

It’s hard not to be awed by Victorian coastal defence. Upon entering Hurst Castle, I was immediately struck by the sight of some 38 tonne muzzle-loading cannon. These monsters hurled shells across the Solent weighing up to 820lbs which took 12 men up to 6 minutes to load.

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I’m not the tallest man in the world, but this pic gives an idea of scale! Thick rope curtains would have provided some protection for the gunners operating near the gunport.

Being muzzle loaders, loading the shells from the front required the gunners to move the cannon back on steel sliders until there was room enough to do it. In the 1870s, this required operating a huge sponge to damp down the embers in the barrel, then loading the charge of gunpowder weighing 130lbs, followed next by a copper band spacer. By the turn of the century, a cordite charge would later make things a little lighter and therefore easier.

38 tonne cannon. The metal sliders can be seen.
A 38-tonne cannon! The metal grooves on the floor aided aiming.

Finally, the enormous shell was loaded into the muzzle with the aid of a mechanical lifting mechanism.

Yours truly with some of the shells.
Yours truly with some of the shells!

There must have been nearly fifty of these gunports around the castle, housing 10 of these 38 ton cannons and many more of various calibre. I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the receiving end of whatever punishment they were capable of dealing out through them, ironclad or no ironclad!

One of the gunports without a cannon obscuring it.
One of the now bricked-up gunports on show without any cannon obscuring it.

Before Lord Palmerston instigated his grand designs, it was a polygonal (12-sided) Tudor fort, built by Henry VIII to counter the Catholic threat following his break with Rome. Like Palmerston’s version, it was never seriously tested, although a stray Spanish vessel was wrecked by a storm on to the nearby beach during the Armada threat. It thereafter had periods of both ruin and refurbishment. At the end of the English Civil War, this Parliamentarian stronghold was notably the last prison of the captive King Charles I, before he eventually left for London and the executioner’s block.

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My daughter aiming a Tudor cannon while I ram home the shot!

There were some interesting displays around the old fort on local casualties from the world wars and an impressively eclectic display of weaponry. Mercifully, I won’t go into any great detail about here except to share some more pics:

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Looking out from the old Tudor keep towards the Hurst lighthouse and the mainland.
Weaponry on show included Lee-Enfields, French Gras Chassepots, Belgian muskets, and others.
Weaponry on show included Lee-Enfields, French Gras Chassepots, Belgian muskets, and others.
Examples of cannon balls and shot of the type used in the Battle of Mudeford 1784 against smugglers (which the smugglers won). Also a 'pipe from HMS Victory'...
Examples of cannon balls and shot of the type used in the Battle of Mudeford 1784 against smugglers (which the smugglers won)… Also a ‘pipe from HMS Victory’.

Just a few more military-related nuggets to share in a future post that I discovered whilst on holiday. Thereafter, due to family and work commitments, there may a brief hiatus before I can finally get back at last to the modelling!

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