Ordnance of Southsea Castle – A.L. Boxell
The Ordnance of Southsea Castle
Usually an author writes a book then decides
on the cover. This book is possibly the first
book ever written to provide a book cover
with some content. Some time ago, while
taking photographs for what was at that
time intended to be my first book. I thought
that a photograph of the word ‘Southsea
Castle’ on the castle wall, framed within the
breech loop of the gun stationed outside it,
would make an ideal book cover. To make
this thought a reality, though, would require
a book about the castle.
I now know that it is not possible to ‘quickly produce’ a book which requires research into its
subject matter, particularly when the subject ranges beyond the limits of the author’s original
knowledge. The castle guns are a heterogeneous mix of 18th and 19th century ordnance
which includes some foreign guns. Portsmouth Council, the owners of the castle, provided
some rudimentary facts about their guns and in some cases little more could be ascertained.
Where possible, though, the history of each gun has been investigated. Where areas of doubt
exist I have sometimes suggested a provenance but the text will always make clear that my
suggestions are only possibilities. In other cases certain historical facts are accepted but as
uncertainty is the very nature of history, all I can say is that the book is an honest attempt to
provide the facts about the castle guns.
Those readers who require a guarantee should buy
In anticipation of some minor criticisms I conclude this introduction on a defensive note
by pointing out that although the positioning of the guns is as described at the time of
writing there may be some small changes over which the author has no control. Also all
the photographs taken by the author have the date displayed below. The reason for this
is that it is historically useful that the photograph shows the state of the gun at the date of
writing, revealing marks etc. on the gun which may eventually become lost through the
passage of time.
I remember my first visit to Southsea Castle as a schoolboy in the early 1970s and being fascinated by both the fortification and its guns. Little did I realise it then that years later I would be fortunate enough to be involved professionally with some of the latter as Curator of Artillery for Royal Armouries and based at another local fortification, Fort Nelson upon
Portsdown Hill. Currently, Royal Armouries has four guns on loan at Southsea Castle under the care of Portsmouth City Council and it is my enviable task of visiting the site triennially (usually in the summer!) to check on their condition. The 36 guns, historically, represent an excellent collection in their own right and the author has not only identified them but shed considerable light on their history through the mysterious marks and engravings appearing on each barrel. Further, he has also provided extremely useful information in Part Two on the innovatory ways in which gunpowder was ignited as well as a very helpful glossary and bibliography. This is a well-researched and well-written publication which I am sure will appeal both to the enthusiastic schoolchild, the interested adult and the serious researcher.