Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021134
Date first listed: 08-Sep-2003
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: City of Plymouth (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SX 51469 56285
Reasons for Designation
The Royal Commission fortifications are a group of related sites established
in response to the 1859 Royal Commission report on the defence of the United
Kingdom. This had been set up following an invasion scare caused by the
strengthening of the French Navy.
These fortifications represented the largest maritime defence programme since
the initiative of Henry VIII in 1539-40. The programme built upon the
defensive works already begun at Plymouth and elsewhere and recommended the
improvement of existing fortifications as well as the construction of new
There were eventually some 70 forts and batteries in England which were due
wholly or in part to the Royal Commission. These constitute a well defined
group with common design characteristics, armament and defensive provisions.
Whether reused or not during the 20th century, they are the most visible core
of Britain's coastal defence systems and are known colloquially as
`Palmerston's follies'. All examples are considered of national importance.
Laira Battery survives as a nearly complete example of a gun battery of Royal Commission date which retains components such as defended approach walls, casemated barracks, casemated magazine, expense magazines and Haxo gun casemates, all in an excellent state of preservation. Laira Battery formed an integral part of the planned and coherent defensive complex known as the Efford-Laira position. This position in turn formed a key part of the wider defensive system for the naval dockyard at Plymouth, a system which, by virtue of its grand scale and sheer strength, indicated the extent to which Britain would go to protect its naval interests. The monument survives therefore as a little-changed visual reminder of Victorian military power and the thinking which led to the construction of a massive defensive system around the city of Plymouth.
The monument includes Laira battery, a mid to late 19th century gun
battery which survives in the form of a five-sided fort defended by a
ditch to the north and steep scarps to the east and south east. Laira
Battery formed part of the north east land defences of Plymouth which
encircled the Plymouth Harbourage and which were intended to protect it
from land attack in the event of invasion. The emplacement is sited on
high ground overlooking the Plym Valley and the main road into Plymouth
from the east.
Fears of a French invasion of Britain in the middle years of the 19th
century led to the formation of a Royal Commission in 1859 to consider the
defences of the United Kingdom. The Royal Commission's recommendations for
Plymouth were acted upon by Major W F D Jervois and resulted in the
completion, by 1872, of six new coast batteries and a ring of eighteen
land forts and batteries based on three principal forts, at Staddon and
Crownhill on the Devon side of the harbour, and Tregantle on the Cornish
side. The land forts and batteries were linked by a system of military
roads protected from the likely direction of attack by earth traverses and
Construction of Laira Battery began in about 1865 and it was completed by
about 1871. It was designed to cover the Plym River and the Plymouth Road
and was itself enfiladed by the Laira Emplacement to its south west and
Efford Fort to its north. Access to the battery was via a purpose-built
and defended military road, this access being protected by loop-holed
defensive walls. The gate arch itself has been demolished at some time in
the past. Surviving, however, is the stone-built magazine which is partly
cut into the hill beneath the rampart. It consists of three vaults,
brick-lined on the interior to prevent sparks issuing from the granite
blocks used for construction, and with an adjacent lamp-lighter's passage
to the rear in which the wooden window-lamp shutters survive.
Fronting the magazine and opening onto the parade ground is a casemated
stores building. Eight barrack casemates lie beneath the north east and
south east ramparts, and a ninth to the east of the magazine. The north
rampart has been levelled and pushed towards the ditch scarp. It was
originally topped with an earthen parapet with terreplein (level surface
on top of the rampart) behind. The rampart with terreplein survives atop
the barracks where there are two infilled 64-pounder gun emplacements of
the 1880s at the north east and south east salients, together with two
expense magazines with lifts and chambers beneath; these were constructed
as part of the original scheme. Facing the River Plym, immediately above
the main magazine and built on the terreplein, are three Haxo casemates
(vaulted casemates for a gun). Each Haxo would have held a 7 inch Rifled
Breech Loading gun. The traversing rail for the gun carriage survives
exposed in the central Haxo as do the wall-mounted iron restraining rings.
Powder and shot was brought up from the magazine below by a lift shaft
which survives along with two expense magazines.
The emplacement has natural defences on three sides but these were
nevertheless enhanced by the digging of a ditch on the north side and the
scarping of the eastern and southern slopes. These elements have been
included within the scheduling, although the ditch survives as an infilled
The following features are excluded from the scheduling: all fencing; modern surfaces and hard standings; all modern fixed structures in the form of huts, hangers, sheds, huts on blocks; storage and oil tanks, including the below ground oil catchment beneath the parade ground and the vehicle inspection pit situated in the parade ground. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 33065
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Pye, A, Woodward, F, The Historic Defences of Plymouth, (1996), 189-90
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing