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Torry Point Battery

Successive harbour defence Blockhouses were built on the north of the Dee from the 1490s and replaced in the 1780s by a battery on the Beach. The Torry Point Battery was built later in 1860.

Torry Point Battery has commanded the entrance to Aberdeen Harbour since 1860. The Battery has 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.

This Aerial Shot of 1947 shows the extent of the Battery and also the wooded estate of Col James Davidson who lived in Balnagask House which was completely demolished for new housing.  It served for a time as an old Peoples home and the grounds extended from Victoria Road to Balnagask Road

 

 

 

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Torry Point Battery was built to defend the city and the harbour of Aberdeen. It superseded a number of older structures including the Footdee Sandness Blockhouse, built in the 1490s as a response to a perceived threat of sea-borne attack by English forces. 

There was no North Pier in those days, and the point from which the north pier now starts was a low, wind-swept sand dune, then called the Sandness, and the houses of Futty stood further west by the waterside, near by where to-day we now see St. Clement's Church. On the Sandness, at this time (1513 -1542), a fort, called the Blockhouse, was built, which stood there till a few years ago, its purpose being to protect the harbour from " Pirats and Algarads," as Parson Gordon puts it in 1661. (It was furnished with 10 cannon, 12-pounders, which were removed to the Torry Fort after the erection of the North pier.)  The mouth of the Dee was locked by a boom, made of chains of iron and masts of ships, stretched across the river mouth.  On the Torry shore, on the Braehead opposite the Blockhouse, there was also a little watch-tower, with a bell and a sentinel, whose duty was to ring the bell on the approach of any ship, while a watch of 4 men was set "at Sanct Fathatk's, (St Fitticks) beyond the water, to have ready fyre and stuff to mak blaise," and other 4 at the "Cunnynger Hills, for resisting of our auld inemeis of Ingland."

'New Aberdene' and the Blockhouse
Here we have Aberdene from the south bank of the River Dee. We are looking west, just above along the pier or bulwark, constructed on the Torry shore in 1607. New Aberdeen is on the left with the spires of St Nicholas Church (left) and Town House (centre left). Old Aberdeen with the spires of St Machar's Cathedral visible - is on the right.  The '
Blockhouse' Slezer mentions in his title for the drawing is the rectangular building almost in the centre on what was known as the Sandness. A Blockhouse is a small isolated fort consisting of a single building housing Cannon.

On the water are people in boats and in a coble, or ferry, while tall ships are moored at the riverside.  Perspective is distorted in the prospect. Figures on the Torry Jetty are smaller than they should be compared to the set of wheels we can see.

It was at Torry Bulwark or Pier, in the very channel of the River, that Men-of-war and great Merchant Vessels lay in those days, for then the shallow harbour, where now our great docks are, was not navigable for bigger ships. Smaller vessels got the length of Futty, and only at high water, and with the help of the tide could they pass up to Aberdeen, where they lay high and dry in the ebb.

The Blockhouse was rebuilt several times but remained the primary defence for the City for many centuries. It was the Medieval Battery, the storehouse for the town’s armaments and, on occasion, acted as a place of execution for pirates.  This Blockhouse was replaced in the 1780s by a new Battery built in the Beach, which was very quickly in need of repair.  Negotiations between the City Council and the Board of Ordnance were intermittent between 1806 and 1860 with neither side willing to fund repairs, or a new Battery, or compromise.  During those long negotiations, several sites were suggested including the Bay of Nigg and 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.  Although 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 late 1850s, when it was agreed to build Torry Point Battery, Britain and France were in fact allies during the Crimean War and the 2nd China War.  Although a French threat was always in the background the Battery was built because: 1st, a new battery had been required for some time and 2nd, the experience of the Crimean War broke the deadlocked negotiations between Aberdeen and Military Authorities.  Britain and France eventually did ‘win’ the war, but the media, reporting on a war for the 1st time, told a story of decadent Generals,  inadequate supply lines and poor Military organisation. This debacle shocked the nation and the resulting change of attitudes caused the deadlocked negotiations to end and a new battery to be built.

1860-1914 -
Construction began on Torry Point Battery in 1859 along with another battery a little to the north on Aberdeen Beach, to defend the City, Harbour and Trade of Aberdeen.  It was completed in March 1861. The Battery was 1st manned by a volunteer force.  This was another dimension of new attitudes adopted after the debacle of the Crimean War: 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 civilians until called on. They were the forerunners 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, adopting the blue uniform common to most of the new Corps.  On completion the Battery was armed with 9 heavy guns: 6 x 68 pounders and 3 x 10-inch shell guns.  Later in 1861, 2 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 (10 Miles) and were installed in September of that year, when the monthly drill formally began at the Battery. 

200-pounder a gun on Sir William Armstrong's design was in course of manufacture. Guns successively designated as the 'Armstrong' the 'vent -piece' and 'B.L. screw guns' using Armstrong's system of construction, in which coils of wrought iron were built up by shrinking one layer over the other, adopted in 1859 before the advent of the interrupted screw 'B.L.' guns of later date. They were rifled on the polygroove system.  Sir William Armstrong designed these heavy guns we still call “Armstrong” guns, with 3 important innovations that swung the balance of power on sea and on land in the favour of the British.  The 1st innovation was its breech-loading system that kept operators in a safer zone behind the gun during re-loading and firing, in contrast to previous practice of loading ammunition down the muzzle at the front.  The 2nd was the rifling of the inside of the barrel – a series of 38 grooves spiralling along the inside of the barrel, that gripped the shell and launched it in a spin, improving the accuracy of its path.  The 3rd was the tight grip of the lead-coated shell in the barrel which guaranteed high compression in the firing chamber behind it and maximum forward thrust (similar to the piston of a car).

In 1895 the Battery was decommissioned and partially dismantled when the guns and mountings were returned to the Ordnance stores at Leith

Thereafter, the Battery was used principally 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. It was re-fortified in the early years of the 20th century and was permanently staffed during the 1st World War. At this time 2 new 6 inch MK VII guns, on CP MK II mountings, were also installed. The works took 2 years to complete at a cost of £5640

1914-18 -
During the 1st World War the Battery was again manned on a permanent basis and used as a training ground.  During the interwar years the Battery was not permanently manned but did retain its guns.  The inter-war years saw the start of a housing shortage in Britain and this was the 1st time the Battery was used as temporary accommodation.

During the inter war years the Battery became home, for the 1st time, to a number of homeless families, during a housing crisis. 

1939-1945 -
During the 2nd World War the Battery was again permanently staffed and owing to the advances in warfare technology, especially the development of bombers, it underwent a number of changes.    The Battery’s guns were provided with concrete overhead covers as protection against dive-bombing attacks and landward 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 Battery personnel liaised closely with the RAF squadrons at Dyce, and in 1943 a combined Army and Navy plotting room was built at the Battery. 

During the war years the Battery’s gunners engaged a number of German bombers and took direct hits. 

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

Artillerymen who trained at Torry Point Battery saw action all across the world.  It was during the 2nd World War that the Battery’s big guns opened fire for the only time in their history, against a friendly vessel. On the night of 3 June 1941 two unidentified vessels approached Aberdeen harbour. As only Admiralty ships were allowed to enter the harbour at night, the gunner took no chances and fired 2 shells.  As it turned out the vessels 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.

1945-70
After the war, Aberdeen, along with the whole country, experienced an acute housing shortage. 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.  An Ammunition Recess proves a handy place to keep your in use Northern Co-op Quart milk bottle cool from the heat of the day - Domestic ingenuity in hard times before refrigerators were available.

Torry Battery Squatters

In 1953, the housing crisis was over and the families left the Battery. The guns were next to go, although they had been given 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, the site abandoned and gradually became a ‘dangerous eyesore’.  The buildings that survived the demolition were without roofs and windows. The main square was littered with debris from the building’s past and its partial demolition. At this time calls were made to demolish this eyesore, championed by the mothers of children who played on the wrecked buildings. The City Council never completed the demolition. It was during this period that the remains became home to many species of migratory birds. Around 30 different species, some of them rare to these shores, took up residence, including the Ortolan Bunting and the Wryneck.

Dolphins off Balnagask

1970 -
In the early 1970s action came in the form of a facelift for the Battery.  During this renovation period the car park was laid out and the retaining walls reinstated.  In 2004, shortly after the Battery was scheduled as an Ancient Monument by Scottish Ministers, in recognition of its national significance, an archaeological excavation explored areas of the Battery’s interior. The dig confirmed that the heavy gun emplacements on the east side of the Battery had been fully demolished in the 1960s and the area used for disposal of building materials.  However, well-preserved foundations of rooms against the outer wall of the Battery were carefully excavated and recorded by the archaeologists. These were some of the buildings occupied by military personnel from the 1860s and by Aberdeen families in the period after the 2nd World War. One room 1st used as a Barrack and later as a bedding store had a coal-fuelled fireplace with an elaborate external flue. Objects found included structural ironwork, domestic pottery and a few bullets, reflecting the varied functions of the Battery over the years. Plans are currently being developed to consolidate the Battery structure to ensure the preservation of this richly historic Aberdeen landmark. Today Torry Point 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 1000 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 while also providing a rare chance of seeing a Minke Whale moving up and down the coast.

Torry Battery


Girdleness Battery
This coastal artillery battery was built at the start of the 2nd World War and was issued with 2 x 6-inch naval guns on 28 May 1940. The guns were subsequently removed after the war finished in 1945 and the Battery itself was demolished.  Concrete bases of the gun emplacements can still be seen at the site, both at the top of the cliff and on the shore.  Girdleness Battery was one of 14 batteries that defended Aberdeen during the war and was probably manned by the gunners at nearby Torry Point Battery.

Near the Harbour Mouth there were 3 batteries mounting 19 guns.

The Battery Gunners have fond memories of the Aberdonian's as a generous and welcoming people. In particular they mention Mrs. Douglas from Douglas Farm at Torry Point.  Her son was in the RAF as a fighter pilot and was KIA early in the war. Mrs Douglas would lend the Battery Troops his records and gramophone player.  There were earlier raids on Aberdeen. While 6 LAA Battery were there between 1939 and 1940. They were manning Lewis guns and had telegraph poles made to look like Heavy Guns


Aberdeen Beach Battery

An Artillery Battery was situated near Queens Links above the lower Esplanade and the Sea Defences

A heavy anti-aircraft battery has been identified from RAF WWII vertical air photographs situated on the esplanade immediately NE of the Beach Ballroom. The battery had 4 square-shaped gun-emplacements with a command centre, all located within the width of the esplanade. The gun-emplacements were possibly designed in a square-shaped form to fit into the width of the esplanade. The remains of the crew accommodation camp is also visible to the West of the esplanade.  There is a GL (gun-laying) Radar unit at the North end of Golf Road  some 600m to the NW, which may possibly be connected with this battery. It was, however, constructed post May 1942 and there is a yet no evidence to connect the anti-aircraft battery to the Radar site.  Nothing is visible of this anti-aircraft battery, which stood on the esplanade at Aberdeen Bay, immediately NE of where the leisure centre now stands. Like most of the other defence installations that were situated on the beach front at Aberdeen, it was probably removed soon after the 2nd World War.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013