A Rare Glimpse Inside Mount Batten Artillery Tower

Mountbatten Artillery Tower

If you’ve ever been to Plymouth’s waterfront and gazed over towards Cattedown, you can’t help but to have noticed the tower on the crop of rock known as Mountbatten. This is the Mountbatten Artillery Tower, and on the 29th of October 2017, the owners held an Open Day, offering a rare chance to have a closer look at this distinctive landmark.

Mountbatten Artillery Tower

Looks fairly impenetrable

What is it?

It’s a 17th Century Artillery Tower – used to mount cannons to protect against an attack from the sea, and also as a lookout, both over the sea, and over the city.  There’s two floors of living space inside, and the loo is on the roof.

It’s just over 9m high, on top of a 24m high promontory. It’s 14m in diameter and the walls are about a metre thick.  It was designed to hold ten cannon all on the roof.

I’ve always thought it looked something Rapunzle was held captive in, But that’s just my imagination, it was never designed to hold anyone captive, despite how formidable it looks.

 

It looks pretty old

It is very old. It was built in the 1660s just after the end of the English Civil War and just before the Citadel on the other side of the Cattewater. It’s a Scheduled Monument.

Inside Mountbatten Artillery Tower

Entrance – halfway up the side…

Why did they build it? Who was attacking us this time?

It’s believed to have been built in the late 1660s, to protect us from the Dutch. England had decided to exert it’s considerable trading muscle and passed the Navigation Act which forbade any of our colonies from trading with anyone else but England. This upset the Dutch, who were serious traders, as well as Spain and even the Americas and created serious friction.  But the Navigation Act stayed for 200 years and cemented England’s place as a world power, but also sowed the seeds for the American Revolution in 1765.

Disturbingly some of the guns point at Plymouth as well as the sea, but this is not unusual as Plymouth was very much divided between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians.

Inside Mountbatten Artillery Tower

Cannon and carriage

Near the site there are remains of an earthworks fort built durng the siege of Plymouth in 1643-45, and also remains of gun emplacements from the second world war. In more modern times it was owned by the Royal Navy, then the Royal Air Force, before being passed to the Depart of Environment. It’s now owned by the Mountbatten Watersports Centre.

So what’s it like inside?

Following some extensive renovation, the owners held an Open Day on October 29th, from 2pm til 5pm. Entrance was by donation of £2, so it was an opportunity not to be missed, I’ve always wondered what the inside was like. Luckily we got there early, because only about 15 people were allowed in at once, so it was soon a policy of “one out, one in” in the manner of a popular nightclub. Trouble is, it was a lovely day, and it was quite easy to spend ages on the roof just gazing at the view, And the queue ….

Mountbatten Artillery Tower

“It’s one out, one in..”

There’s a short stairway up to the entrance, set halfway up the wall of the fort. The arched doorway is pretty small, as are all the entrances in the fort, while the steps inside seem disproportionately high.  Once through the entrance you can gaze down at a small function area that had been created. There were flowers on the walls and some simple chairs and a table set up.

Standing on the new wooden floor, it’s possible to see. the recesses that supported the original floors.  There are two fireplaces visible, the higher one is distinctly more ornate than the lower one and is obviously where the more senior ranks lived.

In keeping with the small doorways, the gap between the floors wasn’t very much, and there’s very little natural light from the tiny windows.

The ceiling is quite impressive, being all stone in order to support the weight of cannons, shot and people.

Inside Mountbatten Artillery Tower

The roof

Climbing upstairs, the doorway out to the gundeck requires more stooping, but the it’s worth it for the views over the sound, over the Cattewater and even over Plymouth it’s self. It’s not often you get a chance to look down on the Citadel.

View of the Cattewater and the Citadel

Up here there’s also a toilet, and a magazine. Neither are what you’d find in a modern bathroom, The magazine is where the gunpowder and shot were stored, and looks like a toilet next to the entrance to the gundeck. The toilet is opposite and looks like a hole and a chute straight out to the ground below, which is exactly what a 17th Century toilet was.

Mountbatten Artillery Tower entrance

Mind your head. And no, that other door is not the toilet, it’s the magazine.

So what’s it used for now?

Now, it’s a historic landmark, a Scheuled Monument protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 so everyone’s quite keen it stays in one piece. It’s also a memorial for 204 Squadron Royal Air Force and members of the Royal Australian Air Force who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Mountbatten Memorial Plaques

Memorial to 204 Squadron Royal Air Force, and Royal Australian Air Force

For the last few years it’s been under renovation costing £134,000 with grants from Historic England and the Coastal Communities Revival Fund.
It’s registered for weddings, and is owned and managed by the Mountbatten Watersports Centre. For any enquires about the tower as a wedding venue contact the Mount Batten Watersports and Activities Centre on 01752 404567. Email enquiries@mount-batten-centre.com or visit www.mount-batten-centre.com.

Mountbatten Artillery Tower:

Easting Northing: 248643 53250
Grid Ref SX4864353250
Lat: 50.359646N Long: 4.129243W

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