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North Bastion

Ref: HLFP3/025

This strategic fortification, the pivot of the Landport fortifications, situated to the north of the City of Gibraltar, was a key element in the overall defences of the garrison. In the present day, this bastion is surrounded by reclaimed land to the west and north with its main role originally having been to provide flanking fire across the barrier facing north towards Spain. It runs along Glacis Road, its former glacis, and Smith Dorrien Avenue which separates it from the curtain wall with the Giralda Gardens and the Gibraltar Petanca Association occupying its northwest corner.

The North Bastion was constructed over the much earlier medieval Moorish and Spanish era walls; in 1309, a tower was set up by the Castilians in the northwest end of it, later known as the Giralda Tower, in order, partly, to protect the arsenal. In the mid-16th century, the Lombardian military engineer, Giovan Giacomo Paleari Fratino (known as Il Fratino), was commissioned by King Philip II to improve the Rock’s defences; among the works carried out at the time was the conversion of the existing Giralda Tower into a bastion.

Anton Van Wyngaerde Gibraltar northern approach 1567. The Giralda Tower and plataforma de San Pablo can be seen on the right.

Map from 1597 (artist unknown) showing the fortifications of Gibraltar at that time. The square shaped Bastion de San Pablo is clearly illustrated.

Alonso Hernández del Portillo, writing in 1610-22, referred to it as the Bulwark or Bastion of San Pablo, stating that it was ‘redoubt of very great strength, capable of containing sufficient numbers to defend the place, as was seen in the year 1333 when besieged by King Alfonso [XI of Castile].’ This fortification appears not to have had any embrasures for artillery firing out to sea or along the coastline, but, in any case, there were three other embrasures which flanked the adjoining Wall of San Bernardo [later the Grand Battery] and also covered the ditch or moat in front of it.

Old drawing showing the Puerta de España gateway at the top and parts of both Villa Vieja and La Barcina on the right. The platform of San Pablo is shown as S (1627 - Luis Bravo).

Plan of the town of Gibraltar (1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña- annotated by Fa and Finlayson - 2006). The platform of St. Paul is shown as L.

Following the successful attack on the Rock by Anglo-Dutch forces in August 1704, a report on Gibraltar’s defences prepared in January of the following year surmised that this area of the fortifications had been seriously damaged – ‘The front of St. Paul’s Bastion being entirely beaten down, as likewise more than a third of the curtain next to it, the rest of that and the adjoining bastion of St. Peter with the defences of them being also levelled by the enemy’s battering.’

Steps were taken to rebuild these walls and it was then proposed that a ravelin also be constructed in front of the curtain, although this was not undertaken presumably because it was realised that its position would restrict fire from the Grand Battery onto the Inundation in front of it. Instead, an advanced small flêche was built, this being a detached lunette or arrow-shaped work joined by a corridor or caponier to the main work. In 1720 Dalton reports four 12-pounders mounted and ten awaiting mounting. In 1725 Kane says that thirteen guns had been mounted.

1753 - Gabriel James Montressor Grand Battery and North Bastion (detail).

During the 13th Siege (11th February – 12th June 1727), the North Bastion suffered substantially from the incessant fire from the Spanish besiegers which had a 12-gun position near to this north side of the Rock. On the 30th April of that year, the bombardment was so fierce that three of the guns on this bastion were dismounted. Nevertheless, the garrison was able to resist these concerted attacks and, in actual fact, more deaths were sustained by the British by their own guns bursting than from the fire from the Spanish artillery. By 28th May 1727 it is reported that five brass 8-inch howitzers had been added and on the 6th June, less than a week before the siege was lifted, one brass 18-pounder had also been mounted. Following this siege, the area of the front of the land wall, which had been a marsh, was excavated between the years 1731 and 1734 to a depth of two feet lower than the lower water level of the Bay to be known as the Inundation or lagoon.

1768 Thomas Kitchin detail of Northern Defences.

The main role of the bastion was thus to provide flanking fire across the causeway facing North towards Bayside Barrier as well as the Landport Ditch thus covering the old Saint Bernard’s Wall (Grand Battery) and approaches to the Landport Gate. Later the bastion was used to provide flanking fire to cover the Watergate and to support Montagu and Orange Bastions as well as the old Mole from any possible attacks from the sea. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James, writing in 1755, described the North Bastion, as follows: ‘anciently a square Moorish tower: it retains still the same form, except the parapet in front, which is made of tapia, with four embrasures mounted in the face towards the enemy, three towards the sea, three in the flank next the ditch, and three on the flank next Waterport.’ A couple of years later, in 1757, the north-western flank of the bastion was altered to form a slight bend with embrasures for cannon inserted facing over the Waterport and the outer part of the Old Mole as well as covering the curtain which led to Montagu Bastion. This curtain, which contained Waterport Gate, had originally been damaged in 1704, and it had been decided to raise it somewhat higher.

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

Plan Northern Defences 1796 including Lord Tyrawley's alterations of 1757 with the bended left flank.

Nevertheless, there ensued differences of opinion between the Governor of Gibraltar, Lord Tyrawley, and the Chief Engineer, Colonel William Skinner, about many aspects of alterations to the Rock’s defences. The Governor was concerned that an attack on the Rock was imminent and therefore considered it necessary to improve the maximum number of suitable defences, even if these might be of a makeshift nature. Commenting on the new flank proposed for the North Bastion, Colonel Skinner reported that he conceived it ‘to be to its disadvantage as the former flank commanded the Waterport and across the entrance of the Old Mole. Its contracted state preserved it from any Ricochet and left room for fighting the four cannon in front and the three in the west face which protect the front of the Old Mole.’ The 1744 Armament List records two brass 12-pounders on the East Flank, four brass 18-pounders on the North Face, three brass 12-pounders on the West Face and three brass 12-pounders on the South Flank.

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

At the start of the great Siege (1779-83), the Chief Engineer, Colonel William Green, proposed the erection of a cavalier [elevated firing platform] for five guns on top of the North Bastion, which would cover the Inundation, at a total cost of £836. The North Bastion was considered an extension of the main Grand Battery.

The capture of Spanish ship of the line San Miguel in 1782. The North Bastion can be seen firing in the background.

Following this siege, in which the bastion survived fairly unscathed, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Pringle, submitted a recommendation for the building of an envelope [counterguard] to be constructed in front of the bastion. This would contain square casemated barracks along the whole of its length, each communicating with its neighbour and most pierced by four musketry loopholes to defend its front. This idea never came to fruition but in 1804 a North-West Counterguard, now known as West Place of Arms was built as part of the extension of the Montagu and Chatham Counterguards also built at this time.

In the 1834 Memorandum of Ordnance of the several Batteries on the Garrison of Gibraltar reported the following armament; five 24-pounders, six 24-pounder carronades and two 10-inch mortars at North Bastion.

Lt. Col. Pringle's proposal for a casemated envelope in front of North Bastion.

1860s - Carl Goebel - Moorish Castle. The North Bastion including a demolished sentry tower can be seen in the foreground.

In the rearmament programme of 1856, it was proposed to substitute the 24-pdrs on the North Bastion with five 32-pdrs; by 1886, the bastion mounted six 32-pdr smooth bore 42-cwt guns three on each flank, and two 64/32-pdr muzzle loading guns on its right face. No guns were mounted on the left face or salient of the battery.

By 1896, the bastion only mounted two 64-pounders RML’s and by the beginning of the 20th century, the bastion was considered to be surplus to defence requirements and the guns removed in due course. However, in 1912 one maxim machine-gun position was placed on the site.

George Washington Wilson North Bastion and the Grand Battery.

North Bastion described as part of the Grand Battery (unknown). The mound in front is part of the glacis.

1870's - George Washington Wilson - North Bastion and Grand Battery.

George Washington Wilson view of the Grand Battery and Landport from North Bastion.

In the 1928 Air Defence Scheme provision was made for 3-inch AA guns to be deployed in North Bastion but this scheme was not carried out and the guns went to Montagu Bastion instead. On the 18th August 1940 a 6-pounder 6 cwt ant-tank gun was sited on the Right Flank to cover the bridge before it’s removal during WWII. The position provided an arc of fire from the northern naval wireless mast (now site of Beachview Terraces) to the old sports pavilion (now Victoria Stadium). Later a pill box was built for this gun and was completed on the 30th June 1941. A 6-pounder 7 cwt gun replaced the older model in August 1943.

WWII 6-pdr Gun emplacement – North Bastion (Defence of Gibraltar).

After WWII, the whole site was abandoned although since 1999, it has become home to the Gibraltar Petanque Association whose members have transformed the old unkempt garden which previously existed there.

The Government of Gibraltar has expressed interest in improving access to the Northern Defences believing the site has the potential to link to the Northern Defences with a number of proposals under consideration.

San Pablo Battery on site of the Giralda Tower, 1309.

North Bastion Image