Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Berry Head - Xmas Holiday Day Out

HMS Bellerophon at anchor off Berry Head with Napoleon on board and drawing interested spectators from the shore - 24th July 1815
The Berry Head Fort can be seen on the headland behind the sail on the cutter to the left of Bellerophon

The Berry Head Fort and nearby Hardy's Battery above Brixham and Torbay in South Devon are scheduled monuments and are described by Historic England as representing;

' ... a major and rare survival of a monument of the Napoleonic era on the south coast of England. The Berry Head defences are exceptionally well preserved and the fort is one of only a very small number from this period which survive with anything approaching completeness.'

Historic England - Berry Head

Historic England - Hardy's Head Battery

The Berry Head site is on the eastern end of the South Hams promontory with the naval base of Plymouth on its western side

In 1780 this part of the south coast of England was in the cockpit of war between France and its allies who had entered the war between Britain and its thirteen colonies in North America, with the Channel Fleet on constant alert against an enemy landing supported by the Combined Franco-Spanish fleet.

Torbay itself was a popular anchorage for the Channel fleet, situated as it is between the two principle naval bases at Portsmouth and Plymouth, and the bay would have served a similar function for any attempt at an enemy landing, providing good shelter from the stormy English Channel.

Torbay, encompassed by the seaside towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham forms a perfect anchorage and shelter on the western approaches to the English Channel from the Atlantic to the west

Thus it was that the first land based emplacement was established in 1780 with the building of a gun battery at Hardy's Head and fort to house a defence garrison at the Old Redoubt.

With the end of the American War of Independence in 1783, the battery and fort fell into disuse only to be resurrected in 1794 with the start of the French Revolutionary and later Napoleonic conflict with a reemergent threat of Franco-Spanish invasion.

Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe, commander of the Channel Fleet,
victor at the Glorious First of June in 1794

There was a need to defend an anchorage that became a favourite of Admiral Richard Howe who preferred a tactic of distant blockade of Brest, L'orient and Rochefort with Torbay forming a useful forward anchorage for the fleet.

To further bolster the defences a larger construction, the Berry Head Fort, was built from 1795 and completed in 1809, by which time the principle threat of invasion had subsided.

The fortifications of Berry Head guard the approaches to Torbay from the Atlantic side and date back to the American War of Independence when the gun battery was established in 1780 during the potential threat of a French invasion.

The bay and its fortifications would play host to perhaps its most famous visitor, Napoleon Bonaparte, aboard the veteran 74 gun ship of the line HMS Bellerophon, the 'Billy Ruffian', which had been one of the British ships to resist the Emperor's attempts at defeating his most determined foe from The Glorious First of June, to the Battle of the Nile and Trafalgar.

The entrance to the Berry Head Fort

Today the fortifications serves as lovely place to see the glories of the South Devon Coast, with porpoises breaching off the rocks on the day we visited and with a tea room and short walk into the historic harbour of Brixham for lunch offering all the facilities needed for a perfect day out walking in between Xmas and New Year.

The old guard house now serves as a welcome cafe/tea house and information centre. Beyond is the Coastguard observation post and lighthouse

Not only walking in beautiful surroundings but also getting time to reacquaint myself with some local history in a place I hadn't visited for a few years.

The landward gun battery protecting the approaches to the fort from any enemy landings

The view out over the Torbay anchorage from the end of the landward battery of Berry Head Fort, with Torquay in the distance

Small boats were gathered off the point to watch a group of porpoises breaching close by

The view from the opposite end of the fortress wall, looking along the coast towards Plymouth

The point has served through World Wars and Cold Wars with this the remains of the Royal Observation Corps watch tower and entrance to underground facilities

The old 1802 Powder Magazine now serves as a foundation for the Coastguard Observation point

This rather unprepossessing building was once the Artillery Store, dating to 1802

Further on round the point to its western base is the Old Redoubt and this illustration from the information board helps give an idea of its original look during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 

The wall is in pretty good condition as is its forward ditch

The remains of the guardhouse are just to the right as you enter the redoubt

The interior of the position with the defending wall to the right and behind camera and the cliffs on the other sides. Ahead is the accommodation block and commanders office

A gun position on the landward side of the Old Redoubt 

The view out over the cliff top from the Old Redoubt looking in the direction of Brixham and the bay

We had a great day out and the weather was perfect for getting some much needed fresh air, followed by lunch in front of a roaring wood burning stove in a pub on the harbour front at Brixham and a great memory to start the new round of posts in 2020 with.

Next up, I have a book review to do from my Xmas reading list.


  1. Sorry to say JJ that to my shame I have walked past this twice and never realised it was there, thank you for highlighting will not miss next time.


  2. Great stuff JJ, I do enjoy walking around port fortifications, I was in Saint Malo last weekend for a visit on the other side of the channel!

    French Wargame Holidays

  3. Nice to see on the map a mention of Galmpton,a small village where a tiny Mr Steve went to primary school,an event which is still talked about to this day by the common folk.

  4. I just love this sort of stuff!
    I think you need to take more vacations like this one!

  5. Thanks for the comments chaps. It one of the best parts of the hobby, being able to combine an interest in history with a great day out and walk.

    Hey Steve, I believe we might have seen the blue plaque put up in your honour!