Artillery at the Castle
The first cannon were probably installed in the Castle during the 15th Century. By the mid-16th Century the Mewtis Bulwark and Well Tower had been constructed specifically to accommodate cannon. Over its history the Castle was repeatedly repaired, rebuilt, expanded and rearmed in response to the threat of foreign invasion. New cannon were also installed as advances were made in ordnance technology.
The Castle boasted numerous embrasures, towers, batteries, bulwarks and bastions - all built to accommodate cannon.
In 1651 after the Castle surrendered at the end of the English Civil War it was recorded that the battlements carried 17 brass and 28 iron cannon, as well as a further 7 mortars.
By the beginning of the 18th Century artillery technology had moved on. More powerful gunpowder charges were being used to fire larger, heavier shot much longer distances. Iron became the material of choice for cannon production, being cheaper and harder wearing than brass. In 1733 the Castle held 70 iron cannon of varying sizes.
As time progressed, however, the numbers of guns mounted in the Castle decreased in favour of an increase in their size and power. At the height of the Napoleonic Wars the castle held just over 50 iron cannon and carronades. The largest cannon fired a ball which weighed 32 lb ( 15 kg ). With a full 10lbs 11oz powder charge such guns could fire a ball up to 2000 yards. The Castle also held shorter-barrelled carronades, the largest of which could fire a 68 lb ball.
In 1858 the British Board of Ordnance gave the green light for the introduction of Armstrong rifled breech-loading guns. By the 1870s these distinctive weapons had became part of the armaments at Castle Cornet. They were still in situ during the 1920s and 30s.
Sadly, the power of 19th and 20th Century ordnance eventually superseded the Castle's ability to defend itself. Fort George, on the heights overlooking St. Peter Port, took over as the defensive position of choice. The Fort was much larger than the Castle and so could accommodate larger and more powerful guns. Being of late 18th and 19th Century construction the Fort also had walls specifically designed to withstand 'modern' artillery bombardment. Castle Cornet soon fell under the shadow of its considerably larger brother. The Castle's walls were deemed too weak to withstand the power of modern artillery and so its role as a platform for defensive ordnance rapidly diminished. As a result the Castle was slowly stripped of its armaments.
Ordnance on view at Castle Cornet
Today the Castle holds a number of reproduction and original cannons. Most notable is the piece known locally as the Noon-day Gun. This is a 1799 Blomefield Pattern gun which would originally have fired a 32 lb ball. Blank charges are now used when it is fired each day during the open season at midday. It is the largest original artillery piece in the Castle that is still used for live firing, and is also the only gun to still retain its original wooden carriage.
Other pieces of note include the Russian cannons which are to be found on the Royal (East) Battery and Well Battery. These are trophies of war which were confiscated from Russian forces after the fall of Sevastopol in September 1855 at the end of the Crimean War. Pairs of Russian cannon were sent to various places within the British Empire by HRH Queen Victoria. Two were presented to the people of Guernsey and mounted on special iron carriages. They have been on public display ever since.
Another collection of cannon worthy of note are those to be found on the Saluting Battery overlooking St. Peter Port harbour. These are a set of 7 replica cast-iron Sakers which are copies of an original dated 1601 which is held at the Tower of London. The guns fire salutes on special occasions, including the Queen's Birthday each year.
Original cannon can be found in embrasures at several locations around Castle Cornet including on the Citadel - the highest part of the fortification. A final piece which is worthy of note is the cannon which is mounted on the South (Water) Battery. The original barrel is a 24pdr of 1764 Pattern which has been mounted on a reproduction traversing carriage built to authentic specifications.