The Heugh Gun Battery is a site of great significance in terms of both history and poignancy. As a surviving 19th century coastal battery, complete with WW1 and WW2 modifications, it stands as a memorial to a means of engagement now largely relegated to the pages of history books by modern warfare techniques and technology. Indeed, as the location of the only shore-to-ship combat in the whole of the UK during the Great War (not to mention the first homeland military casualties of that conflict), it is a place that should stimulate the hearts as well as the minds of all who visit.
The History of the Heugh Gun Battery
The origins of the Heugh Gun Battery begin with Sir John Fox Burgoyne`s reforms of the Militia, prompted by uncertainties in homeland defence in the early to mid-nineteenth century following the Napoleonic Wars and up to the war in the Crimea. As part of this scheme, and aware that foreign powers were trying to match Britain`s naval “wooden walls” (to whit her huge fleet, although said “walls” would soon start to become iron), coastal defense was made a priority against bombardment or, worse, invasion.
After a national committee review between 1852 and 1854 it was recommended that Hartlepool, as a major and growing commercial port and shipbuilder, be defended by batteries at Fairy Cove, on the northern edge of the Headland overlooking Throston Scar, and the Heugh Lighthouse, facing east across Tees Bay (which was already home to the obsolete Napoleonic-era East Battery). The recently raised Durham Artillery Militia Corps thus took up residence on the site in 1855 , and was most likely armed with 32pdr guns (which would have been relatively ineffective as anti-shipping weapons).
In 1859 the proposals were refined to represent something more effective, and the positions were upgraded to three 68pdr guns at Fairy Cove, two by the lighthouse, and four at a new battery to be built on the eastern end of the town moor. Sited roughly 100-150 yards west of the lighthouse and covering the arc of fire between the two existing positions, the Heugh Battery site was leased to the War Office from the Hartlepool Corporation for 999 years on a peppercorn rent basis, an arrangement that is still honoured today (though obviously the respective organisations no longer exist in their original forms).
Building work on the Heugh site commenced on December 19th 1859, taking slightly less than a year (the exact completion date being 28 November 1860) and costing ?3,298 to get the three sites into recommendation order. The sealing of ancient caves under the Heugh and Fairy Cove sites, which could cause disastrous subsidence, was of especial importance.
Disaster nearly came to pass in 1867, when large portions of the limestone cliff embracing the northern and eastern edges of the Headland were eroded away, leading to the guns of the Heugh and Fairy Cove Batteries to be dismounted. While those of the Heugh were later refitted, the Fairy Cove Battery would remain toothless and eventually closed (the slightest remnants of it can still be seen today, at the western tip of the town moor – now a public seating area).
Between 1882 and 1886 the old 68pdr guns of the Heugh and Lighthouse Batteries were replaced with 64pdr Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) guns, which were far more accurate. Heugh`s Number 3 gun was removed, its emplacement filled in, and more protection was built around the remaining three weapons. At around the same time (1884 to be precise) the Inspector General of Fortifications recommended the demolition of the Heugh Lighthouse to offer a clearer arc of fire for the Battery there. Interestingly, practical lessons learned during the 1914 Bombardment would mark this recommendation as eerily prescient.
In 1891 the first (relatively) rapid-firing breech-loading guns were installed in the town, on hydro-pneumatic disappearing mounts that allowed them to be withdrawn down behind cover for reloading. The Lighthouse Battery was revamped to hold one such Mk. IV 6″ weapon between 4th May 1891 and 8th February 1893, at a cost of ?2,381. At the same time the Heugh Battery was downgraded to a volunteer practice site and not deemed worthy of rearming, and a new battery was built close to the old cemetery running along the northern ridge of the town towards Crimdon (and from which it took its name, the Cemetery Battery).
However, in 1899 the Heugh Battery was reactivated and assigned two 6″ Mk VII coastal defense guns on fixed pivot mounts. The construction lasted between 21st March and 11th September 1900, costing ?4,095. In 1905 a new Depression Range Finding device was fitted at the Fairy Cove location to direct the fire of the Hartlepool Batteries, though this was later deemed an impractical choice (and one that was luckily changed before the Bombardment).
In 1907 the still relatively new Cemetery Battery was closed, and the Lighthouse Battery`s armament also replaced by a fixed-pivot Mk VII gun. A year later, following the Haldane reforms, the volunteer militia were replaced by the new Territorial Force, although many recruits simply transferred from one to the other.
In 1909 Lt. Colonel Lancelot Robson of the Durham Royal Garrison Artillery applied for permission to build a camouflage screen along the rear of the Heugh Battery wall, which was in the form of a simple optical illusion. Wooden slats were cut to resemble a broken urban skyline, thus making the Battery harder to see from the water. One of our group who has seen the Battery and its modern recreation of this feature from a mile offshore has testified to the effectiveness of this ploy. The original was finally erected in 1913.
The Great War, 1914-1918
In March 1914, a new Battery Command Post / Depression Range Finder was completed at the Heugh Battery, a more practical location than the previous one at Fairy Cove, where most of Tees Bay was obscured by the curve of the promenade. In September, with the outbreak of war, Lt. Col. Robson moved into the new Command Post as Fire Commander, and arranged for the Port War Signal Station to also be moved from Fairy Cove to the Heugh Lighthouse until a proper one could be established. Trenches were dug in the Spion Kop, close to the former Cemetery Battery, and Seaton Beach, in order to provide supporting infantry with defensive positions in the event of any amphibious landing (even though the possibility was considered extremely remote).
By 1915 the combined Command Post and Signal Station were completed. Bombardment-damaged housing near to the Battery was demolished to reduce the risk of flying debris hitting the unprotected rear-face of the Battery works during any future engagement, and the Heugh Lighthouse, which had impeded the traversing of the Lighthouse Battery`s gun, was removed (it would be rebuilt slightly relocated in 1923). New defences were also added. The Examination Battery, consisting of one 4.7″ gun, was established on the Old Pier (now known as the Pilot Pier), while two similar guns were positioned on Spion Kop and named the Mobile Battery.
In 1918 all three main Battery guns were fitted with Mk IV armoured shrouds to protect their crews better, though these were never needed as the war came to an end in November of that year.
World War 2, and the end of active service
The original Bombardment guns were removed and replaced in 1928, and placed on display. In 1936 the Heugh and Lighthouse Batteries were amalgamated, and one of the Heugh guns removed, the remaining guns receiving the designations H1 (formerly Lighthouse) and H2. A new Barr and Stroud rangefinder was also installed to improve accuracy.
When another war was declared in 1939, the Heugh Battery`s effectiveness came under review once more. The defences were extended onto the Town Moor, and a trench dug across the open field to reach housing occupied by troops and gunners (it was nicknamed “Brockhurst`s Folly”). Extra accommodation, a cookhouse and plotting room were also added to the site.
In 1942, by which time Hartlepool was being regularly bombed by the Luftwaffe, the Battery was altered to serve as a combined coastal and air defense station, and one of the barbettes enlarged to take a dual purpose gun. By the end of 1943, with German forces spread very thinly by the need to transfer men and materiel to the Russian Front, bombing raids on the Hartlepools had come to an end.
In 1944, with Hitler`s forces now being pushed back through Europe after the Normandy landings and the Third Reich fighting a defensive war, the Heugh Battery was placed on a care and maintenance stance. Many gunners were transferred to other postings, and the site would see no further action.
In 1947, however, the Heugh Battery was reactivated for the Territorial Army, and by 1950 had become a prominent training location. This said, the new threats of the Cold War, such as ballistic missiles and Soviet bombers that could fly too high and too fast to be hit by flak, meant that coastal and AA defence sites were by this time redundant. The Battery`s outer buildings and works were slowly eroded, and in October 1956 guns were removed from the site for the last time.
That is, until the Heugh Gun Battery trust was founded…
The Haunted History of the Heugh Gun Battery
Since renovations at the site began very odd things have been reported by workmen and staff which still continue to this very day.
Cold icy chills are suddenly felt in previously warm rooms, the stench of death and decay regularly appears from nowhere only to vanish moments later and curious balls of light have been spotted in the pitch black tunnels on many occasions.
Shouts and screams are heard emanating from empty rooms, the sound of running footsteps coming from deserted corridors are regularly witnessed and multiple light anomalies have been captured on night-vision cameras by unsuspecting visitors.