A story in 100 objects
These 3 guns dating from 1800 sit on the Earls Battery between the Orangery and Barn Pool. They are the last remaining of 21 guns used to mark the arrival of distinguished visitors to Mount Edgcumbe. The guns are French 18 pounders. They were the standard gun of French frigates from 1779. It is thought that the guns were taken as prizes during the wars with France after the French Revolution and were then purchased by the Edgcumbe family.
This section of the Mount Edgcumbe foreshore has been an artillery zone for over 400 years. The Blockhouse (small fort) behind the Earls Battery dates from the 1540’s. The first written record of artillery on the site dates from 1601. The first Mount Edgcumbe Battery was built in 1690. It may have been on the site of the present Earls Battery or on the nearby Bowling Green. It too had 21 guns and was used mainly for saluting.
By the 1860’s France was again regarded as a major threat. The Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, ordered new battleships to be built and the construction of huge fortifications around ports (later nicknamed Palmerston’s follies). A new Garden Battery was built on the shore of Mount Edgcumbe in 1862-3 to help defend Plymouth. Once the French threat had receded by 1870 a replacement Earls Battery and balustrade were built on top of the Garden Battery and the 21 saluting guns reinstalled there. The guns were fired by the Earls gamekeeper to announce the arrival of distinguished guests – 42 guns for a Monarch, 21 for a Prince, 19 for a Duke and 15 for an Earl. Royal visitors during the 19th and 20th centuries included Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V, plus European royalty.
The Garden Battery housed both guns and searchlights during the First World War but the guns were removed in 1927. The Battery remained in the hands of the Ministry of Defence until 1946. During the Second World War the saluting guns were removed from the Earls Battery and modern guns installed to protect the submarine net safeguarding the dockyard. The ‘missing’ guns may have been scrapped and melted down as part of the war effort.
“A new Garden Battery was built on the shore of Mount Edgcumbe in 1862-3 to help defend Plymouth. Once the French threat had receded by 1870 a replacement Earls Battery and balustrade were built on top of the Garden Battery and the 21 saluting guns reinstalled there”