Heugh Battery, Hartlepool

Heugh Battery, Hartlepool (Historic England Listing Grade II)

The history of Hartlepool Headland has often been driven by its vulnerable position on the North East coast of England. Two harbours, one natural and one formed by the building of a pier in the 15th century, gave the peninsula a continuous strategic role to play.

 

‘The excellence of the harbour of Hartlepool made it a centre for most of the fighting on the northern coasts from the Scotch wars onwards.  Its history was in consequence a turbulent one down to the 17th century.  In the fourteenth century seamen of the port were hampered by pirates.’ [1]

 

Fortification with a Town Wall, some of which remains, dates from the 14th century, and this ancient defensive structure was said to include ‘demi-bastions, some rounded, others square’, and to the east ‘three bastions, the middle one rectangular and the other two rounded.’ And ‘(t)o the west were the remains of a sally-port and a third-round bastion.’[2]

 

However, gun emplacements were not considered necessary (or perhaps feasible) until the time of Napoleon’s threatened invasion at the end of the eighteenth century.  The Napoleonic wars intensified feelings of vulnerability, not least because in 1797 Napoleon had told the French Directory

‘[France] must destroy the English monarchy or expect itself to be destroyed by these intriguing and enterprising islanders…Let us concentrate all our efforts on the navy and annihilate England. That done, Europe is at our feet.[3]

In due course the spate of battery and fortification building that followed the outbreak of war with France soon fell victim to complacency brought about by the subsequent peace in 1815.  Cuthbert Sharp’s map of Hartlepool Headland dated 1816 shows a South and an East Battery, but neither are identified as strong or military defences.[4]  The East Battery was abandoned in 1817, but rearmed in 1855, no doubt stimulated by the Crimean War.  The siege of Sebastopol had proven ‘how a well-constructed and properly armed fort could withstand a whole fleet and inflict considerable damage.’[5]

 

The rearming of the east Battery was only ever intended as a stopgap until new guns arrived.  In 1855 the Lighthouse Battery was built, and in that same year the Durham Artillery Militia Corps took up residence on the eastern side of the Headland, a site which in 1859 was upgraded and rebuilt as the Heugh Battery. The Heugh Battery was the larger of the two and therefore housed most of the stores, offices and workshops, plus accommodation for two permanent gunners who lived there.  It housed four guns while the Lighthouse housed two.[6]

 

‘Following further advances in weapons technology in 1893, Heugh was downgraded to a volunteer practice site.  In 1899, however, the site was reactivated, and two new 6-inch coastal defence guns were installed in 1911; a camouflage screen which resembled a broken urban skyline, was erected along the rear of the Heugh Battery wall.[7]

 

By 1914 both the Light House and Heugh Batteries were well equipped with modern guns and fully manned, but on the 16th December of that year, an unprecedented attack by heavily armed enemy battle cruisers wreaked havoc on the coast and the town.  This was the first of only two twentieth century engagements between British coastal artillery and enemy ships (the second was in 1942 off the coast at Dover).  The bombardment of Hartlepool was an early and devastating indication of what modern warfare could accomplish. The number of fatalities, casualties and ravaged buildings was a traumatic chapter in Hartlepool’s modern history, recounted in great detail by the press at the time.

 

During the Second World War, new targeting and fire-fighting equipment were installed, and by 1942 the Heugh Battery performed an important anti-aircraft role.  The battery closed in 1956 and is now in the care of the Heugh Gun Battery Trust and home to a museum and artillery collection.

 

 

[1] ‘Parishes: Hartlepool’, in A History of the County of Durham: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1928), pp. 263-285. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/durham/vol3/pp263-285 [accessed 11 March 2018]

[2] Ibid.

[3] H. F. B Wheeler and A. M. Broadley, Napoleon and the Invasion of England. The Story of the Great Terror (Nonsuch, 2007), p. 7.

[4] Sir Cuthbert Sharp, A History of Hartlepool, Durham, London, Newcastle, Bishopwearmouth, Stockton (1816, 1851)

[5] Hartlepool Walks, Borough of Hartlepool (1993)

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/tees/content/articles/2006/08/11/heugh_battery_feature.shtml (See this site for a very thorough account of the Battery’s history)

[7] http://www.thisishartlepool.co.uk/history/history_of_the_heugh_battery.asp