Defending the Clyde

posted in: Defending the Clyde, News | 1

During 2016 we will be undertaking a survey of the defences built in the first half of the 20th century to protect the Clyde from attack from the sea.  We will be working with the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology and hope to involve local heritage groups.

Project Manager Alison McCaig has just returned from a reconnoitre of a number of the sites. 

On Thursday 3rd December Allan Kilpatrick and I set off to visit a number of WW1 and WW2 Clyde coastal defence sites. The structures, built during the first half of the 20th century to guard the Clyde from attack from water, were of great importance in providing vital safe anchorage for Britain’s naval and merchant marine fleets, yet are largely unrecorded. Our recce trip hoped to determine the extent and quality of the surviving remains in order to plan a survey strategy and timetable of fieldwork to record these sites as part of the Defending the Clyde project. We were certainly not disappointed!

Joined on the Thursday by Dr. Iain Banks of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University, we first visited the WW1 coastal battery at Portkil on the Rosneath peninsula to the north of the firth of Clyde. Portkil battery consisted of two 6-inch guns, two 4.7-inch guns and searchlight batteries as well as magazine stores, an accommodation camp, an engine house, oil store, pillboxes and a guardhouse. Many elements of the battery survive today, including exceptionally well preserved shell hoists (see image above).

A number of the structures are in use today as holiday accommodation and we were fortunate enough to be shown around by the owners of what had originally been the shell store, RA store and shelter of the 4.7-inch battery; today a dry, warm and well maintained living and storage space respecting many of the original features.

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We also took the opportunity to visit a number of the outer defences at Portkil. Made up of a system of blockhouses and trenches built to protect the batteries from landward attack, the almost unique survival of such a system greatly excited my two companions.

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Dr. Iain Banks joined us again on the Friday along with Dr. Tony Pollard as we took in a number of other sites including Cloch Point and Ardhallow batteries. What particularly struck me during our visits were the differing levels of preservation and survival of the structures as well as the variety of current uses, each with their own interesting narrative. We encountered a Battery Operation Post kid’s clubhouse, a converted searchlight garage and a gun mount flower bed.

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Our two day recce provided much information and inspiration for the design of the survey. We enjoyed talking to many well informed and interested locals and land owners whom we hope to work with further when undertaking the project from spring next year. We also hope to work with local history and archaeology groups to share expertise and training and we look forward to a partnership with the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology in recording, researching and sharing our results on these nationally important sites.

Alison McCaig

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One Response

  1. Nina Baker

    Hi, I would like to get involved in this project somehow. I am a Glasgow City Councillor with a chunk of river in my ward. I am also a former seafarer and now engineering historian. Let me know what’s coming up!

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