Bowden Battery


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1021365

Date first listed: 27-Feb-1973

Date of most recent amendment: 03-Sep-2004


Ordnance survey map of Bowden Battery
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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 49707 58277


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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 ones. 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.

Bowden Battery survives as a near-complete example of a gun battery of Royal Commission date which retains many of its original components such as the guard room and fortified rear wall, two musketry galleries covering the ditch and their access tunnels, all four expense magazines, four gun and one mortar emplacement, all of which are well preserved. The artificially created glacis remains remarkably well preserved and is a rare example where the inter-relationship between the glacis and the battery can be clearly appreciated. Bowden Battery serves as an accessible, visual reminder of Victorian military power and thinking which led to the construction of a massive defensive system around the city of Plymouth in order to protect the dockyard against the threat of invasion.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes Bowden Battery, a mid- to late 19th century fortified gun battery and associated glacis located on the south side of the Forder Valley. The four-sided battery occupies the high ground above the valley with the glacis located immediately to the north east and north west from where it extends down slope to the valley bottom. Fears of a French invasion in the middle years of the 19th century led to the formation of a Royal Commission in 1859 to consider the defences of Britain. The Royal Commission's recommendations for Plymouth resulted in the completion by 1872 of six new coastal batteries and a ring of eighteen land forts and batteries. These were based on three principal forts which are located at Staddon and Crownhill on the Devon side of Plymouth harbour, and at 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 cuttings. Bowden Battery formed part of the north east defences and its construction was completed after 1868. It was connected to Crownhill Fort, Forder Battery and Eggbuckland Keep by an embanked military road and it was intended to cover the Forder valley, the north face of Forder Battery and the rear of Crownhill Fort. The battery was protected on the north, east and west sides by its naturally steep position enhanced by earthen ramparts with an internal revetment wall and external ditch. These survive intact on the east and north east faces. The rear facing, Plymouth, side was protected by a wall with an internal fire-step, a series of musketry loops and an external gorge ditch. Bowden Battery was originally designed for 12 guns in open battery and a battery of three mortars. However, by 1893, only 6 guns were mounted on the ramparts, and two in the guardroom. Only two of the planned mortar batteries were installed, both of which remained unarmed. The main gate into the battery is located in the defended gorge wall and this still retains its drawbridge pulleys and chains. The guardroom is located in the wall immediately east of the main gate to which it is attached. It has two levels, with four embrasures covering the gorge and a protective parapet at roof level. The lower level lies below ground and contains two embrasures, two small musketry caponiers (galleries projecting into the ditch), an ammunition lift and magazine to the rear. The upper level is of the same plan but has no magazine. Other surviving structures within the defended area include four rectangular block-built magazine stores which are built on two levels with doors into the upper and the lower levels. Two of these structures retain their original earth covering. Three concrete 64-pounder RML (rifled muzzle-loading) gun emplacements dating from the 1880s complete with pivots and racer rails survive on the north east face close to the rampart bank. Each of the emplacements has an adjacent magazine store recessed into the revetment wall. An infilled 7-inch RBL (rifled and breech-loading, which was, at the time of the battery's construction, a revolutionary design of gun) emplacement is visible. Of the two mortar batteries, only one remains intact and is located on the north east salient. The second, located in the north west angle of the battery has been infilled and is no longer visible. The two musketry galleries, located in the ditch to the front of the north face, appear to be intact although partially buried, and the eastern gallery may have been disturbed by a modern structure. The access tunnels to the galleries are located within the interior of the battery. The entrance into the eastern one is blocked; the other, located to the west, has limited access and is about 1.5m below ground level. Also included in the scheduling is the glacis, an open and originally cleared area of ground which extends down to the valley bottom to the north, to the garden boundary to the north west, and to the road on the east side. The glacis was intentionally created to provide an unhindered view of the approaches to the battery. Three boundary marker stones inscribed with `WD' (War Department) mark the northern boundary of the glacis and the extent of the land which fell within military ownership. A fourth stone is located on the west side of the glacis. The four stones are 0.3m square in plan and are now partially buried with only a maximum 0.4m visible above ground. Two are clearly marked with the letters `WD' separated by an arrow symbol and one has a visible, but weathered, date inscription, which reads `1875' or possibly `1878'. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are all modern structures and fittings associated with the garden centre operations such as the WC building, sheds, huts, stone edging walls, fencing and fence posts, trellising, all modern surfaces and hard standing; all other modern surfacing and hard standing, specifically the car park surfacing which covers the gorge wall, fencing, sheds, telegraph poles and electricity pylons. The ground beneath all of these features is, however, included. Specifically not included in the scheduling is the interior of the fort which formed the parade ground.

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: 36101

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Pye, A, Woodward, F, The Historic Defences of Plymouth, (1996), 179-80

End of official listing