Jersey's Martello Towers

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Jersey's Martello Towers


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This article by H R S Pocock was first published in the 1971 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise. [1]


Origins of 'martello'

The best authorities, including the Oxford Dictionary, Encyclopaedia Britannica and Ran­dom House, are generally agreed that the word 'Martello' is a corruption of “Mortella”, the name of a Cape in Corsica where a round tower inflicted a severe defeat on two British warships which attacked it in 1794.

This appears so to have impressed the British authorities that, in the early 1800s, when there was fear of an invasion by Napoleon, they decided to build about 150 round towers on the South and East coasts of England.

They were, and still are, referred to as Martello Towers.

  • Coastal towers - the introductory page to Jerripedia's own, much more substantial history of the island's 18th century coastal defensive installations.

General Conway

In a letter dated 15 October of 1794, General Conway, the non-­resident Governor of Jersey from 1772 to 1795, wrote to the Duke of Portland, the then Home Secretary, in regard to the Island:

"The plan I had formed as long as 1779: the same mentioned by Lord Balcarres and consisting in the erecting of a number of Towers of Masonry with corresponding Batteries in all the accessible parts of the coast, the whole number at first projected 32 of which 22 have been built."

It is quite evident from the above that Jersey already had 22 Towers before the incident at Cape Mortella took place and, therefore, before the name Martello had come into existence. Though there are Towers of the Martello type in the Island, such as Lewis Tower and Kempt Tower, both in St Ouen’s Bay, these were all built after the turn ot the century and are of the same sort of design as those to be seen on the English coasts.

General Conway’s 22 towers, with the exception of Seymour Tower, which is square, were all round towers, but built to quite a different design from that of the true Martello Tower and preceded it by over 20 years.

Good examples are First Tower and those which can be seen in Grouville, and St Catherine’s Bays.

Who designed them?

The question arises as to who was responsible for this early Jersey design. Captain T W J Connolly, in his Notitia Historia of the Royal Engineers (Volume XIII: 1778: Jersey) writes, (and he is clearly quoting from the records of the Board of Ordnance):

"General Conway - 20 May 1778 - in his report on Jersey, proposed the erection of 30 round towers for the defence of the island. Towers to be of masonry, 30-40 feet high and about 500 yards from each other - to be absolutely solid for 10-12 feet from the bottom. Wall above to be strong, pierced with loopholes for musketry in two stages and on top, where it is proposed to place cannon, a parapet of brick ... ... the Engineer to estimate the expense of erecting these 30 towers for the Kings orders.”
"Board report - 3 July 1778 - to Lord Weymouth: That they had caused an estimate to be made of the charge for erecting 30 towers in Jersey. £156 each = £4,680. Have ordered 100 wallpieces and 200 rounds of ammunition to be sent to Jersey."

Note alongside reads:

"Lord Weymouth - 5 July 1778 by Kings Command for the 30 towers in form and mode by Gen­eral Conway.”

Lt-Col F T Stear, the Librarian of the Royal Engineers Historical Society, to whom the writer is greatly indebted for the above, remarks that, although Lord Conway might have expressed a wish that the towers be to certain dimensions and of a type which he considered suitable for Jersey’s defence requirements, nevertheless the Board of Ordnance would have produced the detailed drawings, specifications and estimate of costs for Treasury approval.

The writer has managed to pick up the story in the Surveyor General’s Minutes of 6 July, 1778.

"Ordered that Captain Basset proceed upon erecting 30 towers in the Island of Jersey in obedience to His Majesty’s Commands, as signified by Lord Weymouth’s letter of 5th instant."

Later, in the same source, under date of 11 February 1779, appears the following:

"That Captain Mulcaster proceed upon the works etc contained in Capt Basset’s Estimate of 27 December 1778, for Jersey - and that Capt Basset deliver to him the plans and sections of the towers - that he be on the same footing at Jersey as Capt Basset at Guernsey and that they do not interfere with each other."

It is tempting to conclude that Capt Basset, who presented the (presumably revised) estimate of the cost of Jersey’s towers on 27 December 1778, had also been responsible for their detailed design and drawings. However, there is no direct evidence of this and such a conclusion raises questions of its own.

Why in this event was Mulcaster appointed to build towers designed by Basset for Jersey, and why, when sent to Guernsey, did Basset build towers of a somewhat different design from that of the Jersey towers?

If answers to these questions exist, the writer believes that they will only be found in the War Office Documents lodged at the Public Record Office, a massive collection which he has sifted, admitt­edly only cursorily, but in vain so far as these particular questions are concerned.

One thing does, perhaps, seem to emerge and that is that the earliest of Jersey’s towers, even in the unlikely event of their being started before the presentation of Capt Basset’s Estimate of 27 December 1778, which would normally have still been subject to Treasury approval, could hardly have been finished before 1779.

This conclusion is strengthened by another extract from General Conway’s letter to the Duke of Portland, dated 15 October 1794, already referred to above:

"I shall upon this, as on other occasions lately, very much regret the slowness with which these Military Works have of late been carried on - when they were first projected and ordered at the time I was in the island. Four Towers were erected under Col Mulcaster’s care and attention in one year."

The Surveyor General’s Minutes of 10 April 1779 show that Mulcaster did not arrive in Jersey until 14 March 1779. Les Actes des Etats equally show that Conway himself was in the Island from May to November of the same year.

If we combine these facts with Con­way’s words 'when they were first projected and ordered' there can hardly remain any doubt that none of Jersey’s towers were completed before 1779.

If Conway had forgotten by 1794 that he had first projected the towers in his report on Jersey of 20 May 1778, his memory in regard to 1779 is less easy to fault and it would seem that the balance of probability lies in the direction of Mulcaster’s four towers of 1779 having been the first to be constructed in the Island, even though there is still no sure evidence of which they were.

To return to the 22 towers which, according to General Conway’s letter referred to earlier, had already been built in Jersey by 1794, they can ail, including those which have disappeared, be identified with reasonable certainty, owing to the fortunate accident of the Plees map of 1817. The date is a convenient one because it is late enough to include all Conway’s Towers, and early enough for there not to have been time for any of them to be destroyed.

The towers

They are, without much reasonable doubt, the following, starting at Grive de Lecq and going round the coast from there in an anti-clockwise direction

Greve de Lecq

On Page 19 of the Appendix of the Chroniques de Jersey there appears what follows: Le commencement du mois de Septembre 1780, on a commencé a batir une tour a La Grêve de l’Etacq. George Balleine, on Page 47 of his Bailiwick of Jersey says :"In 1779 a guardhouse was built at Greve de Lecq, then a Martello Tower." He does not quote the source of his statement which, however, ties in very closely with the quotation from the Chroniques de Jersey.

St Ouen No 3 or D (High Tower)

High Tower, as it was commonly known, was originally D, the northernmost of the four towers in St Ouen’s Bay which are shown on the Plees map as A, B, C and D, reading from south to north. Lewis and Kempt towers, further north still, were built much later in 1835 and 1834 respectively and designated 1 and 2. After the disappearance of towers A, B and C, High Tower lost its by then rather meaningless designation of D and became 3.

On Page 19 of the Appendix of the Chroniques de Jersey, the following may very well refer to this Tower: Et dans la meme anné (1779) on y a bâtit une Tour et un Corde- garde au sud et au nord de Ia pompe de La Seigneurie de St Ouen. It was destroyed by the Germans.

St Ouen C

No trace of this Tower remains but it is clearly shown on the Plees map of 1817.

St Ouen B

No trace remains. It appears on the Plees Map.

St Ouen A

The diary of J Le Couteur, now in the Jersey Museum, says, under date of 17 April 1851: "Drove the Lieut-Governor and Colonel Hammond to the undermined Martello Tower near La Carriere in St Ouen’s Bay. The sea has half demolished it as I foresaw years ago and we have asked the Lieut-Governor to allow us to batter it down with 24 guns of the Artillery — as a grand Field day. There is an admirable place at point blank range 400 yards from it. By having it at high water in Spring tides, no danger what­ever could be apprehended. Colonel H was delighted at the idea.”

Le Couteur’s diary does not confirm that this spectacular execution took place, but the mention of La Carriere makes it reasonably certain that the tower which it was proposed to shoot to pieces was the tower which is marked 'A' on the Plees map. No traces remain. As regards the date of its construction, the Actes des Etats of 22 December 1786 indicate that it was already in existence at that date.

St Brelade No 2 (1’Horizon Hotel)

George Balleine on Page 106 of Bailiwick of Jersey writes: "In St. Brelade’s Bay two Martello Towers were built during the French Wars.” No source is quoted but his assumption is obviously more than reasonable.

St Brelade No 1 (Ouaisnd)

The same as for St Brelade No 2.

Third Tower (Beaumont)

No information.

Second Tower (Bel Royal)

Le Couteur says in his diary, already referred to, under date of 13 March 1847: "The base of the second Martello Tower in St Aubin’s Bay is just eleven yards from the edge of the bank - the sea has claimed several yards on the beach all along this portion of the bay in these last four or five years." This is the earliest use of the word 'Martello' which the writer has come across in con­nection with Jersey’s towers.

It was destroyed by the Germans.

First Tower

No information.

Le Hocq

The Actes des Etats of 18 June 1781, contain the words à l’endroit ou est la Tour proche Le Hocq. So it must have been built prior to this date. In a letter dated 21 April 1812, General Don wrote "Le Hocq Tower has already been completely secured by a strong key and an oak frame at the expense of the Government". In a letter dated 25 January 1823, from the Lieut-Governor, Colin Halkett, to H Hobhouse, he says that this tower has been appropriated as temporary accommodation to lodge tools and ammunition etc.

Plat Rocque

On Page 71 of Bailiwick of Jersey, Balleine writes: "When the raid was over (Rullecourt 1781) two new Martello Towers were built, one on La Rocque Point and one close to Plat Rocque and the Seymour Tower out at sea." No source is quoted, but the absence of any mention of these towers in the contemporary accounts of the Rullecourt raid lends every support to Balleine’s statement.

Seymour

This is the lonely romantic tower, built on the l’Avarizon islet about two miles out to sea off Jersey’s south-eastern corner, we must suppose in the early 1780s. The designation of this tower would seem to be no more than the continuation of the name of a former tower, built about 1540 and called Seymour after Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, the Protector, who was Governor of Jersey from 1537 to 1550. The suggestion that the present tower was named after General Conway, who had Seymour as a Christian name, seem perhaps a little less probable. Had the main intention been to honour the General in this way, surely his surname would have been used as in the cases of Lewis, Kempt and Gordon’s (now La Rocco) towers.

In his letter of 16 May 1809, to Lieut-General Hope, General Don wrote: "Extra lights in Seymour Tower. This tower is situated on the right flank of Grouville Bay, two miles in the sea from High Water mark, it commands the entrance into the bay and is seen by all the sentries posted along the shore from Mont Orgueil Castle to Rock Platte, a distance of about three miles. It was necessary to communicate by signals between the shore and this tower and, for the purpose of giving of notice to the posts that all was well, lights were ordered to be shown towards the bay every half hour, on seeing of which the sentries of the above mentioned line passed the word 'All’s well'.

"When the lights are not regularly shown, measures are taken to discover the cause. It is found that twelve pounds of candles per month are necessary to make these lights and, for the reason above assigned, I strongly recommend that this issue should be continued.” This was written in reply to a letter from Hope which must have queried this expendi­ture, and one or two other minor issues, 'not sanctioned by the King’s Warrant'.

Grouville No 1 (La Rocque)

See what is written under Plat Rocque.

Mr F de Lisle Bois, who owns this tower and kindly allowed the writer to inspect it, calls the building annexed to it Le Corps de Garde et Magazin de St Samson, in which he is clearly supported by the Actes des Etats of 6 December 1786.

Grouville No 2 (Keppel Tower)

No information

Grouville No 3

In his letter of the 21 April 1812, General Don wrote: "It is intended that Tower No 3 in Grouville Bay shall be secured this summer in a similar manner." The manner was that referred to under the heading of Le Hocq Tower.

Grouville No 4

No information

Grouville No 5

The Actes des Etats of 22 December 1786, indicate that this tower had already been built by that date.

Grouville No 6

No traces of this remain, but it is clearly shown on the Plees map. It was probably removed to make way for Gorey Village Railway Station, about 1872.

Archirondel

It is evident from letters addressed to the Duke of Portland by the Earl of Balcarres and General Conway, dated 6 and 15 October 1794, respectively, tnat this tower was started in the spring of 1793 and finished in the autumn of 1794. It was originally provided with a battery of four guns in much the same way as a battery of five guns was built at La Rocco Tower.

St Catherine

No information.

Fliquet (Telegraph Tower)

It appears to have been considerably modified at some date. The top has been taken off and replaced in concrete. It has been used as the terminal of a cable and is referred to on the Ordnance Map, as early as 1933, as 'Telegraph Tower'.

The above, without reasonable doubt, were the 22 towers which were already standing on the Jersey coasts when the incident took place at Cape Mortella in 1794. By definition they were not, when they were built, Martello Towers.

La Rocco

This was the 23rd tower to be built in the Island and the last of the original Jersey design. It was started in 1796 by Colonel Evelegh, commanding Royal Engineers in Jersey at that time, but the work was held up for lack of funds and Colonel Evelegh’s successor, Colonel Benjamin Fisher, wrote to the Lieut-Governor on 8 August 1798, asking for authority to spend some £3,400 on completing it, so saving the work already done on it. The Duke of Portland, in a letter dated 27 August 1798, acknowledges Fisher’s letter, as referred to above, and authorises its completion.

An Act of the States of 12 May 1801 mentions that it had just been finished at that date and was to be known as Gordon’s Tower, in honour of Lieut-General Gordon, the then Lieut-Governor. ]

Towers nearer the true Martello type, all built after 1800, are the following:-

L'Etacq

This does not figure on the Plees map so it must have been built after 1817. It was destroyed by the Germans. It is remembered as being of the true Martello type, as it almost certainly must have been, because all the other towers which were built after La Rocco resemble the type which is seen in England. Edmund Toulmin Nicolle, in his Notes on Jersey Fortifications says it was finished in 1834, which is quite a likely date.

St. Ouen No 1 (Lewis)

This tower bears the date of 1835. It has also the name of Lewis carved on it, presumably because Colonel G G Lewis was the Commanding Officer of Royal Engineers in Jersey at the time. In a letter dated Jersey, 31 July 1839, Colonel Harry Jones, then commanding Royal Engineers in Jersey, wrote regarding the damp state of several of the Island’s towers including Lewis. He requested and was granted permission to stucco or cement them for the Budget of 1840/41.

St Ouen No 2 (Kempt)

This bears the date 1834. It is clearly named after Sir James Kempt, the then Master of the Ordnance, who had been one of Wellington’s Generals at Waterloo.

Portelet

In a letter dated 10 March 1808, General Don wrote to Samuel Lemprier: "It is necessary for the safety of this Island that the Tower in Portelette Bay should be occupied by a detachment as soon as possible. I ordered Lieutenant Sir Charles Imhoff to send his Surgeon and Quartermaster to examine the said tower and to report when it could be occupied with safety to the health of the troops and I enclose a letter from Sir Charles on the subject with a report from the Surgeon and Quartermaster. In consequence of the Surgeon’s report I have to desire that you will send out tomorrow morning a sufficient quantity of coals as will keep a fire on night and day in the said tower for a fortnight and which according to the Quartemaster’s calculations will be three weeks allow­ance for one room. By the same opportunity I beg you will send Barrack utensils for a detachment of one Sergeant and twelve rank and file.”

Notes and references

  1. This article provides very sketchy information about most of the towers but has been included because it was published in the ABSJ and is on a subject covered in much greater depth in the Jerripedia section on the coastal towers. It is not clear what was intended by the author reporting 'no information' about some of the towers. Presumably he meant that he had not been able to find any historical references, because it is now clear that there is a wealth of information available on all the towers, with the exception of Grouville No 8, which the writer describes under the incorrect heading Grouville No 6. Pictures of all the towers will be found elsewhere in the website and those used to illustrate the article have not been included here.
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