Storms reveal Napoleonic sea defences on beach

14:31 18 February 2014

Recent storms have unearthed the brick base of the former gun emplacement on Exmouth beach. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref exe 2654-07-14SH. To order your copy of this photograph go to

Recent storms have unearthed the brick base of the former gun emplacement on Exmouth beach. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref exe 2654-07-14SH. To order your copy of this photograph go to


High winds in Exmouth last week uncovered the remains of 19th century sea defences, buried beneath the sand for decades.

June Squire, 84, of Hulham Road spotted what was part of an intricate network of sea defences lining the south coast of England.

The part of the Artillery Battery is sited just east of the old lifeboat house, and was built around 1862.

The Napoleonic wars in the 19th century led to the setting up of various volunteer force companies - one was started in Exmouth in 1860, under a Captain Divett, of Bystock.

The original guns were sited in front of what was then the Coastguard Station and was part of the defence infrastructure which included batteries at the Gunfield Gardens.

The Battle of Waterloo was fought in 1815 – almost 50 years earlier - and the gun emplacements were built in response to a perceived threat from one of Bonaparte’s relatives.

The appearance of another Napoleon on the throne of the French Empire in 1852 made a lot of people in Britain very nervous.

This nervousness led to the frantic development of new warships and naval defences to counter the threat.

Napoleon III was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the defences were built as part of those same fears which led to the HMS Warrior and the HMS Black Prince, the first two iron-hulled warships in history.

The battery was equipped with three Armstrong 32- pounder guns, and one eight-inch mortar.

The structure was ‘of a quadrate’ form – square – and had an enclosed bomb-proof magazine and a home for the battery keeper, in what must have been the safest house in Exmouth - or the least safe depending on your point of view.

The guns were regularly trained at floating targets in Lyme Bay to give the Exmouth Artillery Volunteers target practice – the sounds caused a ‘booming rattle’ which could be heard for ‘miles around the coast.’

The structure remained intact until World War One.

In 1861 the then Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh visited Exmouth and inspected the battery along with Royal Navy top brass.

The Exeter Gazette Daily Telegram on Tuesday, May 24, 1861, reported: “The Royal Party arrived at Exmouth about twelve o’clock yesterday, and proceeded first to the battery for the naval Reserves.

“There were present at the battery the Chief Officer W Tott Esq and the other officers and admiral Granville, Admiral Moorman and the deputy chief constable for the county Captain Cunningham.

“The men stationed at the battery to the number of about 30 were drawn up inside and presented arms at the Duke’s entrance.

“They were then put through a course of elementary drill with rifles.”

June said: “I was out walking over the weekend when I spotted the remains of the Napoleonic gun battery on the beach by the Harbour View café.

“I’ve always taken a keen interest in the history of Exmouth, so when I saw it I knew what it was.

“The wind must have uncovered it.”

The threat from over the channel never came, and the volunteers never fired a shot in anger.


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