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Grand Battery

Ref: HLFP3/012

Grand Battery is the main battery of the Landport Defences and was one of the largest batteries in Gibraltar.

This important and strategic defensive wall first appears to have been constructed  at the time of the Moorish occupation of the Rock, possibly as far back as the early 14th century. Its earliest representation is contained in the historiated capital ‘E’ in a 1469 notarial document representing the capture of Gibraltar in 1462 and which shows it as a long curtain wall containing a number of crenellations above its parapets.

By 1540, as recorded in a view of Gibraltar in the Real Academia de la Historia, there already existed a large gateway, described as La Puerta de Tierra [the andport], which later came to be known as La Puerta de España [Gateway to Spain] and which pierced the wall at its eastern end. The fortified wall and this latter gateway are clearly discernible in the detailed drawings executed by Anton Van den Wyngaerde during his visit to the Rock in 1567.

Notarial document representing the capture of Gibraltar in 1462 showing the Moorish walls to the North.

1567 Anton de Wyngaerde sketch of Gibraltar's Northern Defences

Map from 1597 (artist unknown) showing the fortifications of Gibraltar at that time.

Half a century later, in 1627, considerable improvement works were carried out on these north-facing fortifications, following the comprehensive report presented by Don Luis Bravo de Acuña who had been commissioned by the Crown to study the Rock’s defences. At the time, the Grand Battery, then known as La Muralla de San Bernardo [St. Bernard’s Wall], was reinforced with a house which had originally been erected against the ramparts within the moat, being demolished. This long curtain wall run in a straight line with its parapet punctuated by 14/15 embrasures for cannon which were mounted on a wide platform. Furthermore, the existing gateway was dismantled and a new principal gateway, together with a drawbridge and a masonry and brick bridge, constructed in front of it. The wall itself faced north towards the morass, which was the marshy area in front of the fortifications that were later to be flooded to form the inundation.

Old drawing showing the Puerta de España gateway at the top and parts of both Villa Vieja and La Barcina on the right (1627 - Luis Bravo).

1690s - Gibraltar model (Museo Naval of Madrid).

Following the capture of Gibraltar in August 1704, the Rock was almost immediately besieged by a combined force of Spanish and French forces (Twelfth Siege – September 1704 to May 1705). During this siege, the enemy bombarded the St. Bernard’s Wall constantly and very soon its parapet was in ruins and a total of forty cannon were dismounted, their carriages smashed to pieces. Gradually a breach was opened in the base of the wall, but each night the English troops descended into the ditch, removed the debris and utilised it to build a breastwork in the form of a retrenchment to cover the breach. All was not lost as the ditch flooded on the tide and in front of it stood a small lunette and a continuous double row of wooden palisades running parallel to the curtain wall. Moreover, the English defenders had dug countermines in area in front of it which could be sprung if the enemy began an assault.

1704 - Col D'Harcourt map of the Northern Defences (detail).

The greatest danger to the defence of the Rock occurred in the middle of January 1705, when the besiegers were able to get close to the north front of the City. They launched their main vigorous assault, not against the St. Bernard’s Wall, but against the round tower which stood at the end of the Kings’ Lines. Soon the Spaniards had carried the parapet and were pushing on to covered-way at the Land Front, rushing for the gate, but the English defenders counter-attacked and were able to push them out. A few months later, the siege became a blockade and by May of that same year, the Spanish besiegers left the area with the English sending out a party to demolish the enemy’s batteries.

The Round Tower.

Base of the Round Tower.

By 1727, at the time of the Thirteenth Siege (11th February to 12th June), the platform wall had been further broadened to take better artillery with a total of fourteen guns mounted there and by 1762, it mounted seventeen 18-pdrs.  During the Thirteenth Siege the Grand Battery saw much action with the following events noted:

13th March 1727 One of our guns burst and the guns being scarce on the Grand Battery we brought some on shore that were on board a prize.

28th April 1727 A gun dismounted by enemy shot.

3rd May 1727 A 16 pounder wears out.

5th May 1727 A brass 18 pounder cracks, a 24 pounder and two howitzers are dismounted by enemy fire.

6th May 1727 A brass gun cracks and a 16 pounder is dismounted by enemy fire.

14th May 1727 The Battery mounted 12 guns and 2 howitzers.

15th May 1727 Ten guns in the battery.

By 28th May 1727, the battery mounted two 32 pounders, two 24 pounders, six 18 pounders, eight 16 pounders and two 12 pounders. The 1744 Armament List records sixteen iron 18 pounders. James says that in 1755 there were sixteen embrasures and that the work was 22 feet thick. By 1771, the armament had been standardized and the battery mounted seventeen 18 pounders.

To protect the Landport Gates, the British built a wall and battery, named Covreporte Battery in 1761. This wall ensured that the main gates to the city would be totally obscured by enemy fire in the event of a siege.

Remains of Couvreport Battery, 1761.

1740's, view of the Grand Battery from the Neutral Ground.

1753 - Gabriel James Montressor Grand Battery (detail).

Over the next few years, and especially following the report on the Rock’s defences submitted in 1768 by the Chief Engineer of Gibraltar, William Green, the original wall was further improved. The sills of the embrasures were found to be too high for guns to cover the Inundation and the ground in front of King’s and Prince’s Lines, so they had to be lowered and the most easterly five splayed more to the right. Steps were cut to join King’s Lines so that the lines could be speedily reinforced. It was at this time that the St. Bernard’s Wall was renamed the Grand Battery.

B. Cornwell, who styled himself ‘a native of the garrison’ described the Grand Battery in length in his book ‘A Description of Gibraltar with an account of the Blockade, Siege, etc.’, published in 1782, almost at the end of the Great Siege (1779-1783). He wrote as follows:

The grand battery, on which a vast number of cannon are mounted, is a very strong and well-built fortification; the walls are 22 feet thick, and it is impossible for the fire of the enemy to touch any part of it but the very top of the merlins [i.e. merlon - resembling a tooth, it is the raised part of the parapet between two embrasures], the main wall being concealed and defended by the before-mentioned glacis (the glacis had a palisade in front of it and was mined underneath).

This great battery seems calculated entirely to oppose the enemy only in case of a storm [i.e. an attack], as the guns do not point to the Spanish lines, nor can be brought to bear on them; but it effectually commands the isthmus as far as the second garden, and would make a dreadful havoc among the Spaniards should they ever venture to approach any nigher [i.e. nearer] than they have already done. The guns on this battery are for this reason always kept charged with round and grape shot, and levelled just man-height from the surface of the isthmus; an artillery guard is also kept at the battery, and a lighted match constantly ready to apply to the cannon in case of necessity.

As it was observed that none of the guns of this great battery could clear round Forbes’s, which is at the east point of the Inundation, or scour the Prince’s Lines, a new one, very strong and well built, called the Cavalier [a work raised higher than the ramparts in order to command the surrounding countryside], was lately erected on a small bastion at the west end of it. This new battery is mounted with very heavy cannon, and would be very destructive to the enemy in case of a storm, as it would effectively flank them, while the former would destroy them in front.

Landport Gate and Bridge Captain Spilsbury, 1783.

Moorish Castle and Grand Battery from Landport Ditch Captain Spilsbury, 1783.

Vue du siege de Gibraltar et explosion des batteries flottantes, 1782 (unknown).

1860's - Carl Goebel - Moorish Castle from Landport Ditch.

View of the Grand Battery (17) and glacis (10) showing the 32-pdrs along the Grand Battery, 1880's.

Part of the Grand Battery and glacis, late 19th Century.

eorge Washington Wilson North Bastion and the Grand Battery.

In 1856, further uprating was ordered and the 24-pdrs. were replaced by 32 pounders. This armament remained until 1889 when seven of the 32-drs. were replaced by 64 pounder RHL's. Two 32 pounders were reduced leaving six of that nature. By 1892 all of these guns had gone from the approved armament.

By August 1943, a 6-pdr. 7 cwt anti-tank gun was positioned at the west end of the battery. Later in 1943 a 6-pdr.was positioned at the east end of the battery with an arc of fire from Bayside Barrier to the east end of the Barrier Reef. In addition, a number of pill-boxes were erected covering the openings of some of the embrasures and a concrete blast wall was erected to protect the men engaged on the platform. These were removed in 2019 which exposed a series of eighteenth century fire steps hidden behind it along the northern defensive wall. Repairs and reconstruction of those damaged and missing fire steps were subsequently carried out.

George Washington Wilson view of the Grand Battery and Landport, 1880's.

Bricked-up-Grand-Battery pillbox (defence of Gibraltar).

Over the years, the ditch in front of the Grand Battery was filled with a number of corrugated iron hut and used by Gibraltar Construction Training Centre for the apprentices in the minor trades until these were removed and the ditch re-converted into a car park. Another building situated on top of the Grand Battery served as the Parcel Post Office and now houses the Officers Mess of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. The Grand Battery has been used by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment to fire gun salutes on a number of special occasions.

Grand Battery pre-restoration.

Grand Battery demolition of WWII blast wall.

Covered embrasure for a foemer WWII machine gun position.

Restored banquette at Grand Battery.

The Grand Battery following restoration project.

Royal Gibraltar Regiment firing a Gun salute from the Grand Battery in 2007.

GBC coverage of the Grand Battery restoration works, 2019.

Grand Battery Image