Military Architecture – Pembroke Historic Dockyard

Cambridge Gun Tower BannerFor some time we have been working with our AHRC Connected Community Heritage Partners the Pembroke Dock Bicentennial Trust in a co-production project involving the collation and digitization of a very large amount of documentary information relating to Pembroke Historic Dockyard, a purpose built British Royal Naval facility begun in 1813. The trust is involved in a number of projects to drive regeneration of the area by involving the community in investigating and preserving its heritage, much of which revolves around the dockyard itself and the town adjacent to it. The dockyard was begun in the early part of the 19th century in response to the Napoleonic wars and was from the outset intended to develop and build innovative new warships. It was for a long time a restricted area and if you look at Ordnance Survey maps from the mid 19th century the dockyard is shown as a blank. It covers an area of several hectares and at the peak of its operations had dozens of highly specialized buildings which are rarely seen anywhere else, including shot towers, pickling tanks (for immersing timber in salt water), defensible barracks, graving docks and gun towers.

The Digital Building Heritage Group is undertaking the first stages of virtually reconstructing the dockyard to show what it was like in the 1850’s and to examine aspects of its architecture and engineering. This involves digitally modelling a large number of buildings, many of which no longer exist and which are highly unusual. Fortunately, the British Navy was a meticulous record keeper and there is a remarkable collection of original engineering drawings for many of these buildings as well as photographs and written documents. At the outset of the project The Pembroke Dock Bicentennial Trust set up an online digital archive to retain this material as they collected it and it this which is forming a central database for all documentation for the project. It can be securely accessed by project participants to develop outputs. In our view this is a good operational model for this kind of Connected Community project where substantial amounts of secure document sharing, organization, archiving and curation are essential.

105 NE Gun Tower WO_78_2473_001 Banner

Elevation, Plan and Section of the NE Cambridge Gun Tower at Pembroke Dockyard. From War Office Drawing Doc Ref WO 79/2473 (first sheet) courtesy of the National Archive. Crown Copyright.

Recently we have been using this digital archive and the documentary information it contains to inform the digital reconstruction of one of the two Cambridge Gun Towers which stand at opposite corners of the Dockyard. Alexandra, one of our interns, has spent the past few weeks researching and modelling this particular building based on the War Office’s original engineering drawings .

 The original construction of this gun tower began on 11th November 1848 and was completed on the 30th May 1851 at a cost of £9,230. It housed 1 officer and 12 men who operated 12 guns, 9 x 12 pounder SB Howitzers and 3 x 32 pounder SB guns. It was never used in conflict and was disarmed in 1881; it was used for married quarters and then storage and is now the Gun Tower Museum operated by the Pembroke Dock Museum Trust. The Museum is well worth visiting as the whole of the tower can be explored, and is staffed by very friendly and helpful volunteers. The main (ground) floor is the actual museum and has a great deal of information about the locality and the defenses of the dockyard. On the roof a 32 pounder gun has been mounted in one of the gun positions on a traversing carriage and slide (firing en barbette) while at the top of the spiral staircase is a covered loop-holed musketry gallery protecting the entrance.  Along with the Pater Battery and an octagonal gun tower at the south west end of the dockyard  it was intended for close quarter defense of the yard to landward as well as seaward. The 32 and 12 pounder guns could be swung to fire seawards or, in case of a land attack, along the straight roads flanking the Dockyard wall. The ammunition delivery systems were narrow spiral staircases, up which soldiers would have to carry armfuls of charges as quickly as possible.

It becomes apparent after even  cursory inspection that this building like many other examples of military architecture was intended first and foremost to be supremely functional, the physical aspects of its architectural design being directed to very specific purposes. These were not only military but also domestic in terms of accommodation, cooking and storage and supply of food and water. In this sense it is very modern. We would be interested in hearing from military historians or other experts in the field of military architecture who may wish to collaborate on further investigations into the functionality of this kind of architecture using 3D modelling and simulation. In the meantime we are continuing to work with the Pembrock Dock Bicentennial Trust to digitally recreate the dockyard as a whole with the intention of providing a simuated fly through for public viewing.

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About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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