Special investigation into soldiers at Shoreham Fort

A cannon identical to those at Shoreham Fort, being fired at Fort Nelson in Fareham by the Portsdown Artillery Volunteers. They are wearing the working uniforms of soldiers at Shoreham Fort, so it gives a good idea of what it would be like to see one going off there
A cannon identical to those at Shoreham Fort, being fired at Fort Nelson in Fareham by the Portsdown Artillery Volunteers. They are wearing the working uniforms of soldiers at Shoreham Fort, so it gives a good idea of what it would be like to see one going off there

RESEARCHING the Shoreham Fort history has been an ongoing pastime for some while, but recently I have unearthed a few gems which help explain the position regarding the status of the soldiers.

There had been a certain amount of speculation regarding the status of the soldiers at Shoreham Redoubt, with a view that it was a volunteer manned fort.

Artist's impression of the soldiers uniform

Artist's impression of the soldiers uniform

This puzzled me from the beginning, as clearly the census reports showed professional soldiers barracked there, and their children often having been born at other fortifications around the country. Indeed, the fort was built to accommodate professional soldiers, but there is also a wealth of evidence suggesting the heavy involvement of volunteers, or militia.

To find out more, I decided to look further on and follow the lives of the married couples, as well as tracing the birth certificates of the children stated as having been born in either Shoreham or Lancing on the census reports.

So far, I have discovered 12 children born in Shoreham, all but one having been born at the fort itself, known at the time as Shoreham Redoubt, Lancing.

The earliest birth I found was Frederick William de Velling, born on January 17, 1860. The occupation of his father, John de Velling, was given as “Gunner, Royal Artillery”.

Drawing of the cannons at Shoreham Fort

Drawing of the cannons at Shoreham Fort

There appears to have been an earlier birth of a son at the fort, to another gunner, Patrick Kavanagh, in 1859, but I have not been able to trace a record to confirm it yet.

The latest birth I found was for John William Burrows, on November 10, 1891, son of Joseph Burrows, Sergeant, Royal Artillery, and Bridget Burrows.

So we know for sure there were professional soldiers stationed at the fort, it would seem, for the entire time it was manned, but it took a couple of old newspaper stories to shed new light upon this mystery.

The first story I came across, in the Brighton Gazette, dated October 27, 1864, told of a cracked gun at the fort needing to be changed.

It explained the guns had previously been fired “partly by the Coast Brigade, and partly by the late 4th Sussex Shoreham and 1st Sussex (Brighton) Volunteer Artillery”.

It states further: “The gallant Major of the 1st Sussex Volunteer Artillery is always anxious for the corps to learn something about gun mounting, and to the small number of the Coast Brigade stationed at Shoreham being insufficient to perform the task, he offered to dismount the old gun, and remount the new one.”

So there you have it, proof evident of professional and volunteer working side by side.

I expect that day must have been one of excitement for the people of Shoreham, seeing a large detachment of soldiers alighting at Shoreham station, with a 12ft barrelled gun to replace the condemned fort gun.

With no footbridge to cross, I don’t imagine they would have floated a heavy gun like that over the river, but who can say. I rather imagine they would have marched through town, across the old Norfolk Suspension Bridge, and around close to where the river footpath meets Brighton Road.

It was an article I found in the Newcastle Journal, dated November 12, 1859, which finally nailed the situation, and gave a surprising addition to the story.

The headline was “The Coast Brigade of Artillery”, and the column begins “Horse Guards, S.W., Nov. 1. Her Majesty having been pleased to approve of an augmentation to the Royal Artillery of one major, seven captains, eight lieutenants, one sergeant-major, one quartermaster sergeant, five staff-sergeants, 24 sergeants, six corporals and bombardiers for the purpose of forming a new brigade, to be called the Coast Brigade of Artlillery, the present invalid artillery being amalgamated therewith”.

Further on, it says: “As its name implies, the Coast Brigade will be distributed among the forts, batteries, and towers of the United Kingdom.”

Towards the end, the article explains: “The instruction of the Volunteer Artillery companies will be one of the principal duties of the brigade, and too much attention cannot be paid to uniformity in the manner of imparting instruction.”

This was signed off: “By command of his Royal Highness, The General Commanding-in-Chief, G.A. Wetherall, Adjutant General.”

Further investigation revealed that an Invalid Detachment, which had been in operation since the late 1700s, was replaced by, and incorporated into, the newly-formed Coast Brigade in 1859, which operated within the Royal Artillery, manning the forts, towers, and batteries, around the coasts of Great Britain and her dependencies. The Coast Brigade was eventually disbanded itself in 1891.

So there you have it, the Coast Brigade appears to have been an early version of Dad’s Army, integrating invalided soldiers to man the forts and train the volunteers.

If we can’t get a TV show out of this, then there’s something wrong! After all, Nicholas Lyndhurst’s grandfather, Francis L. Lyndhurst, was making films at the fort just a few years after the last soldiers left, and with Nicholas having played the time traveller in Goodnight Sweetheart, surely a script almost writes itself?

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