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West Place of Arms

Ref: HLFP3/036

A place of arms is usually an open space within the centre of a fortified town where troops can assemble for attack or defence – in this case the space between North Bastion and the Counterguard which is, in fortification terms, a Place of Arms. The name has now, however, become to mean the Counterguard itself which is quite wrong. The proper name should more appropriately have been the North or North-West Counterguard and the latter name was that used by the Commander of the Royal Engineers in a letter to the Governor dated the 4th January 1808 in which he proposed that ‘a slight parapet should be erected on the reverse of the Rampart of the West Face of the North-West Counterguard which would command the ditch in front of Hesse’s Demi-bastion to assist the two guns of North Bastion which were the only defence’.

WO 78 941 Plan showing present state of new Works constructing at Waterport & Landport 1796. The design of the North-West Counterguard is clearly shown with a battery of four embrasures.

The Counterguard was constructed in 1804 and was protected by the guns of the latter fortification and also by a ditch, into which a large caponier projected. The caponier served as a means of access to the outworks, protecting troops from direct fire - in this case to enable the defenders to assemble out of sight in order to effectively mount a counter-attack on an enemy caught up in the killing ground between the glacis and the landport ditch. Access to the north section of the counterguard was via a wide ramp which no longer exists today. On the southern side, where the old Waterport Gates stood infantry could quickly man the ramparts from the casemates below by means of a staircase. The old gates were removed in the early 20th Century but part of the staircase leading up to West Place of Arms and Montagu Counterguard respectively have been preserved. Also perfectly preserved are the infantry firing steps and many of the gun embrasures found along this section of wall.

Perfectly preserved firing steps, West Place of Arms.

Embrasures and banquette facing West, West Place of Arms.

The first recorded armament on the West Place of Arms counterguard is listed in the Armament List of 1834 when it was armed with thirteen 24-pounders and two 9-pounders; from 1859 to 1863 it mounted ten 32-pounders and two 8-inch howitzers. These appear to have remained in place until 1874 when some of the 32-pounders were replaced with 64-pounder RML’s.

In 1885 Armament List shows that there were now three 32-pounder Smooth Bore guns, two 8-inch howitzers and four 64-pounder Muzzle Loading guns on garrison standing carriages on the site.

In 1889 there were six 64-pounder RML’s and three 32-pounders but by 1892 only two 64-pounders remained and even these were removed within a few years.

The 1896/97 Survey shows four embrasures on the right face, six on the left face, with four traverses, and two on the left flank.

West Place of Arms and the Grand Battery 1860's.

Meanwhile, the actual West Place of Arms – the muster point between the North Bastion and the Counterguard itself was no longer required for military purposes and had become part of the extended New Market which complemented the main building whose foundation stone had been laid by HRH Edward Prince of Wales on the 15th of April 1876 – a ceremony he carried out in full Masonic regalia being the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. The stalls to the left of Waterport Gates housed the meat and fruit stalls, the lane between Montagu Bastion and Montagu Counterguard were lined with stalls for fishmongers - hence the name Fish Market Lane - whilst the West Place of Arms area directly beneath North Bastion became the charcoal market.

On the opposite side of the charcoal stalls the area became a staging area for horse-drawn taxi carriages of Maltese tradition that became extremely popular in the late 19th Century in Gibraltar. A water trough for animals was erected at the West Place of Arms in 1934 with an inscription that simply said ‘From a lover of animals’.

New Market charcoal stalls West Place of Arms.

Market and West Place of Arms early 20th Century postcard.

Water Fountain with inscription 'From a lover of animals' West Place of Arms.

During WWII an AA Light Machine Gun post was set up on the ramparts manned by the infantry. A number of loopholes to allow fire into the moat between North Bastion and West Place of Arms were also constructed dating to this time. These, as well as a number of WWII shelters and emplacements still remain in place today.

West Place of Arms Image