Guns at Gravesend

New Tavern Fort (armed from the 1780s-1908) on Gravesend’s riverside displays a regionally important collection of 12 pieces of historic artillery. All are relevant to the site, whether as authentic re-arming of its phases of development or representative of other defences in the district at various dates. The Historic Defences Committee have been pleased to respond to a request from their friends at the fort with an offer of guidelines for continuing maintenance for the guns. This follows information supplied by the HDC at an earlier stage.

Original 6-in. breech-loader as mounted at the fort from 1904-8
Original 6-in. breech-loader as mounted at the fort from 1904-8

The fort is well worth a visit. This is both because of the display of guns and on account of the innovative way in which the magazines have been historically refurnished and re-equipped. Details of the opening dates and times for the August-September period will be advised.

Bofors anti-aircraft gun as mounted at the fort very briefly during the Second World War and not part of a continuing armament
Bofors anti-aircraft gun as mounted at the fort very briefly during the Second World War and not part of a continuing armament

More information on visiting New Tavern Fort can be found here: http://www.gravesham.gov.uk/services/leisure-and-culture/tourism-and-travel/local-attractions/new-tavern-fort

Replica 9-inch gun to represent the rifled muzzle loading phase of the fort from the 1870s until the end of the 19th century
Replica 9-inch gun to represent the rifled muzzle loading phase of the fort from the 1870s until the end of the 19th century

Archcliffe exploding gun

On a Thursday evening of August 1860 the members of the Volunteer Artillery Corps were at Archcliffe Fort practising with three 32-pounder smoothbore muzzle-loading guns that were mounted along the front of the battery. The guns were firing at a target placed in the channel. Although all three of the guns were around 60 years old they had all been fired many times and were thought to be perfectly safe. The guns were being watched by many of the corps who were standing to the right of the battery, they were standing about twelve yards from No.2 Gun. This gun had been fired ten times already that evening and when Mr Hadlow, the gunner responsible for firing it, applied the slow match it was a massive shock when the gun exploded.

 

Mr Hadlow was lucky to escape with a minor injury to his head, some men that had been watching were blown into the defensive ditch that ran around the fort but were uninjured. Lieutenant Thompson however was not so lucky, he was found lying on his back, he stood up with heavy breathing and a wound in his back and said, “I am not hurt, let us see to the others”, with this he turned around, fell backwards and died. A young man called Harris, the nephew of Captain Wollaston the Corps Commander, was taken to the military hospital, a quarter of a mile away with Sergeant John Monger. Harris was suffering from concussion and made a full recovery however Sergeant Monger died on arrival. Robert Foster Junior was the luckiest man of them all, at the time of the explosion he was walking back to the battery from the magazine where he had just collected the next cartridge to be fired, had he been closer to the explosion the cartridge could have also exploded and killed him. The gun had disintegrated with the explosion, the muzzle had dropped to the ground, the breech was blown 30 yards to the rear of the gun and the remaining parts had shattered, throwing fragments in all directions. Two pieces landed in the goods yard of the rail way and another had imbedded itself into the ground.

 

Sergeant Monger was buried with full military honours, the gun carriage bearing his coffin and drawn by seven horses was led through packed streets to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin before being buried at Cowgate Cemetery. Representatives of the Royal Artillery and Rifle Brigades of Dover, Deal, Hythe, Folkestone and other towns and from The Dover Corporation, the Mayor, Aldermaen, Councillors, Freemen and the Town Clerk attended the service. Many towns’ people lined the rain-wet streets to pay their respects and many friends and colleagues attended the funeral. Later a memorial paid for by small subscriptions from the garrison, Volunteers, visitors and town residents was erected over his grave. In life John Monger, 32, had kept a tobacconist’s shop in Snargate Street, he was a father of two young daughters and a husband to Elizabeth, who was buried with him 18 years later.

 

In contrast to the public ceremony for John Monger the second fatality of the evening, Lieutenant Thompson, was a private affair. He was interred in his families vault at St Andrews Church in Sheaperdswell in accordance to his will. Lieutenant Thompson was a solicitor and coroner for the borough, his death caused the authorities some problems as there was nobody to conduct an inquiry into the deaths. It is very rare for a town coroner to die a violent death in his own town.

 

The accident was investigated and Sergeant Matthews, a Volunteer Corps Instructor, concluded that the gun had been loaded properly with it also been washed out (to remove previous gunpowder) and everything done in the correct way. Fragments of the canon were sent to officials at a metal foundry and found to be without fault. Captain Hardy of the Royal Artillery also inspected fragments of the gun that was donated by the Royal Arsenal at Woolich on 13th September 1859, no faults could be found. The gun had fired 180 rounds since it had been with the Volunteers, a gun of this type should be able to fire one thousand rounds in it’s lifetime. The gun had been made by Walker & Co., of cast iron and was proved on 18th May 1805, it was first used aboard H.M.S. Edgar, later on H.M.S. Barham in 1812 and later still on H.M.S. Asia in 1836 before being stored in Portsmouth in 1845. While at Portsmouth the canon was inspected and found the vent was enlarged, this indicated the gun had shot over 500 rounds.

 

The verdict of the accident investigation was the condition of the gun was obviously poorer than expected and that all guns must be inspected periodically.

By Kyn (Kent History Forum)