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Torry Point Battery Aberdeen

Torry Point Battery has commanded the entrance to Aberdeen harbour since 1860. The Battery had a long and varied history: by turns, it has been a coastal defence battery, emergency housing and a sanctuary for migratory birds. Today it is one of the best-loved historical monuments in Aberdeen, and holds a special place in the hearts of many Aberdonians. In March 2004 an excavation to record, protect and interpret the Torry Battery took place. The dig was led by Aberdeen City Council’s assistant archaeologist Alison Cameron, supported by a team of archaeologists, students and local volunteers. The dig involved opening trenches in the area of the ‘lost’ gun emplacements, under a grassy mound on the seaward side of the Battery. The photographs on this page show some of the excavation and results. Prior to 1904 the Torry Battery was used in case of an invasion by the French... situated on top of a hill it had an ideal view across the harbour entrance and the general bay area, any ships entering Aberdeen would have to pass it if they were intending to directly assault the city. This is a picture of the battery where the actual main part of the recent dig took place. The scars along the walls on the right are obviously from the old walls of the building which stood until the 1950's. Originally these were used as coal stores, bedding stores, utensils stores etc... leading of into the distance at the far wall which is where the Infirmary was situated along with the Royal Artillery gun stores where the metal detectorists found the .303 bullets.

The Battery was built to defend the city and the harbour of Aberdeen. It superseded a number of older structures. The blockhouse, built in the 1490s, was a response to a perceived threat of seaborne attack by English forces. It was rebuilt several times but remained the primary defence for the city for many centuries. It was not only the medieval battery but also the storehouse for the town’s armaments and on occasion acted as a place of execution for pirates. The blockhouse was replaced in the 1780s by a new battery built on the beach, which was very quickly in need of repair. This was soon recognised by both the Council and by the Board of

Ordnance. Negotiations between the City and the Board were intermittent between 1806 and 1860 with neither side willing to fund repairs, or fund a new battery, or compromise. During those long negotiations, one of the several sites that were suggested was the Bay of Nigg, or Torry Point.

In 1858, agreement was finally reached for a new series of coastal batteries in Aberdeen, one at Torry Point and the other on the beach. It has been stated that fear of an invasion by Napoleon III caused the batteries to be built. Napoleon I had been a very real threat to the security of Britain, the case was not that clear cut with his nephew, Napoleon III. In the later 1850s, when the agreement was reached to build Torry Point Battery, Britain and France were in fact allies during the Crimean War and the Second China War.

Relations with Napoleon III were not entirely smooth, however. A possible French threat was always in the background and certainly did inform the decision to build new batteries in a general sense. The immediate causes were: first, a new battery had been required for some time and second, the experience of the Crimean War broke the deadlocked negotiations between Aberdeen and the military authorities. Although Britain and France eventually ‘won’ the war, it was the first time a war was reported by the media, which showed a picture of decadent generals and poor military organisation. Supply lines were incomplete, troops were being starved whilst generals died of opium over-doses. This debacle shocked the nation and changes were inevitable. The resulting change of attitudes caused the deadlocked negotiations to end and the new batteries to be built.

1860-1914 Construction began on Torry Point Battery in 1859 and was completed in March 1861. The Battery was at first manned by a volunteer force. This was another dimension of the new attitudes after the debacle of Crimea: the defence of the nation was to receive a shot in the arm, through the creation of new volunteer defence forces. They were to be trained like the regular army, but would remain as civilians until called on, the forerunner of the Territorial Army. A circular was issued on 12 May 1859 by the Secretary of State for War inviting proposals for raising artillery corps and riflemen on a voluntary basis. On 24 October 1860 the 1st Aberdeenshire Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers) was formed; they adopted the blue uniform common to most of the new corps.

On completion, the Battery was armed with nine heavy guns: six 68 pounders and three 10-inch shell guns. Later in 1861, two of the heaviest known armaments of the day were delivered: 200lb Armstrong guns. They have been described as being capable of ‘dropping a ball from Torry as far as Newburgh…’. They were installed in September of that year, the month when drill formally began.

In 1895, the Battery was partially dismantled, when the guns and mountings were returned to the ordnance stores at Leith. After this, the Battery was principally used as a training ground for the volunteer forces. In 1904, the Gunners of Torry Battery won the King’s Cup at the Scottish

National Artillery Association Competition. In the same year, the decision was taken to reconstruct the Battery. At this time two new 6 inch MK VII guns, on CP MK II mountings were installed. The works took two years to complete, at a cost of £5640.

1914-1939 During the First World War the Battery was again manned on a permanent basis. It was mainly used as a training ground during the war; many of the troops who were trained at the Battery saw action elsewhere. The Battery, although not permanently manned, retained its guns during the inter-war years. The inter-war years saw the start of a housing shortage in Britain; this was the first time that the Battery was used as temporary accommodation.

World War II During the Second World War, the Battery’s guns were provided with concrete overhead covers, as protection against dive-bombing attacks, but also against land-ward attack. The dramatic changes in technology, and the heavy reliance on fighter planes, meant that the Battery also had to have anti-aircraft guns and search lights installed. Throughout the war the Battery personnel liased closely with the RAF squadrons at Dyce, and in 1943 a combined army and navy plotting room was built at the Battery. The Battery was staffed by a variety of personnel during World War II, including men from the Home Guard and the City of Liverpool Battalion of the Royal Artillery. During the Second World War, artillery men trained at Torry Point Battery saw action all across the world. World War II was also the only time that the Battery’s heavy guns ever opened fire. On the night of 3 June 1941 two unidentified vessels approached Aberdeen harbour. Only Admiralty ships were allowed to enter the harbour at night, the gunner took no chances and fired two shells. The vessels (as it turned out) were friendly ones. Later in 1941 the Battery’s machine guns engaged a German plane, which had dropped bombs off Kinnaird Head. It was later brought down in flames at St Cyrus.

1945-1953 After the war Britain, as a whole, experienced an acute housing shortage. Aberdeen felt this problem badly and a number of solutions were worked out. In 1945, a number of families began to squat at the Battery. The City Council eventually formalised the pattern that had emerged, and a large number of families were housed there. Locals recall a great sense of community spirit amongst those living there.

1953-Present Day In 1953, the housing crisis was over and the families left the Battery. The guns were next to go, although they had a brief reprieve, owing to the growing Suez crisis. The following years were the wilderness years for the battery: gone were its guns, functions and looks. The Battery was partly demolished and the site abandoned, it gradually became a ‘dangerous eye sore’ to the city. The buildings, that survived the demolition, were without roofs and windows. The main square was littered by the general detritus of its past and its partial demolition. At this time calls were made to demolish this eyesore, championed by the mothers of children whose lives were endangered by playing on the wrecked buildings. The Council never completed the demolition. It was during this period that the remains became home to many species of migratory birds. Around thirty different species took up residence, some of them rare to these shores: the Ortolan Bunting and the Wryneck, for example. In the mid 1960s proposals were put forward to turn the structure into a hotel. In the early 1970s action came in the form of a facelift for the Battery. These works were partly financed by the City Council but the majority of the money came from the then Scottish Development Department. At the time of these renovations the car park was laid out and the retaining walls were reinstated. Ornithologists kept a close eye on these works to ensure that they did not deter the birds, and the project included creating a number of nesting holes for the birds. Today the Battery and its surrounding area is an important area for wildlife. Spring and autumn migrations include many common and rare birds. In the spring willow warblers and blackcaps are regular visitors; less common are barred warblers or yellow browed warblers. In the autumn you may be lucky to see flocks of a thousand or more fieldfares and redwings arriving from their Scandinavian breeding grounds. At sea the elegant eider ducks often shelter close in shore whilst gannets plunge-dive for fish. The harbour entrance is one of the UK's best places to watch dolphins and porpoises with the chance of seeing a minke whale moving up or down the coast.

In 2000, the Battery was scheduled by Scottish Ministers as an Ancient Monument, which affords it a measure of protection under law and recognises its unique history and significance as the one of the few remaining coastal defence batteries dating back to 1860 Text mainly from the Torry Battery Imformation Leaftet with some additions