MOUNT BATTEN TOWER
Mount Batten Tower was built during the Commonwealth period as a result of the First Anglo-Dutch War. It provided protection for Cattewater but was soon superseded by the Royal Citadel which was constructed upon Plymouth Hoe in the 1660s. Thereafter Mount Batten was used as an observation post and, in the twentieth century, became a Royal Navy Air station.
Mount Batten is a rocky peninsula in the north-east corner of Plymouth Sound. It is directly opposite Sutton Pool, historically the main port for Plymouth, and also separates the Cattewater from the Sound. Since the development of artillery, the site has been strategically important as it could be used to control access into the Sutton Pool and the River Plym. A three gun earthwork artillery bulwark was constructed on the site in 1588 following the outbreak of war with Spain. During the Civil War, this structure was occupied by Royalist forces whilst besieging Plymouth and this rendered Sutton Pool untenable (instead Plymouth was sustained by using Millbay in the west). The Civil Wars finally ended in 1651 but almost immediately relations with Holland rapidly deteriorated. Like England, the Dutch were a maritime nation but tended to be third party traders rather than exporters of their own goods. This activity encroached upon English interests and in 1651 Oliver Cromwell approved the first of the Navigation Acts, a legislative measure that mandated that all imported goods must be carried on English ships or those of the exporting nation. This excluded the Dutch and led to the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-54). As Plymouth Sound was increasingly being used as a main operating base for the British navy, with the main anchorages in the Cattewater rather than on the Hamoaze (the site of the modern naval base), a new tower was commissioned to replace the Elizabethan gun battery.
Work started on the tower circa-1652 and it was built on the site of the earlier battery. It was a three storey circular structure constructed from limestone rubble with granite ashlar dressings. The ground floor was a storeroom whilst the two levels above were intended as accommodation. The roof of the upper storey was a domed vault designed to provide a sturdy base for the tower's armament which was a ten gun battery installed on the flat roof. A stone staircase was embedded within the thickness of the wall. The design was very similar to a contemporary fortification, Cromwell’s Castle, built on the Isles of Scilly. Mount Batten was named after William Batten, the Parliamentary military commander of Plymouth during the First Civil War, who had held the town despite a protracted and determined Royalist siege.
Despite the Restoration in 1660, hostilities with the Dutch continued. The outbreak of the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1665 resulted in the commissioning of a major new fortification, the Royal Citadel, to protect Plymouth. Nevertheless, Mount Batten tower remained in use and was still armed in 1716. However, with the navy increasingly using Devonport rather than Sutton Pool and Cattewater, the importance of Mount Batten declined. By the mid-nineteenth century new fortifications had been built around Plymouth Sound and Mount Batten Tower was relegated to use as an observation post for the civil authorities.
From 1913 the Mount Batten promontory was used as a seaplane base, initially by the navy who commissioned it as Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Cattewater. With the formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918, the site was re-branded as RAF Cattewater. It remained in use after the end of World War I and in 1928 was renamed RAF Mount Batten. In February 1929 the base became the home of No. 204 Squadron who operated Supermarine Southampton flying boats. One of Mount Batten's garrison at this time was T.E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who was stationed there under the fake name of Aircraftsman T.E Shaw. During World War II the Squadron operated Short S25 Sunderland long range aircraft which were used for Atlantic patrols to counter the threat from German submarines. The promontory was also armed with light anti-aircraft guns and anti-ship/submarine searchlights. RAF Mount Batten was decommissioned in 1986.
Douglas, D.C, Horn, D.B and Ransome, M (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 7 (1714-1783). Routledge, London.
Douglas, D.C, Coward, B and Gaunt, P (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 5B (1603-1660). Routledge, London.
Duffy, M (1999). Coastal Defences and Garrisons 1480-1914.
Historic England (2014). Mount Batten Tower, List entry 1017599. Historic England, London.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Marriott, L (2015). West Country Forts and Castles. Air Sea Media.
Pye, A (1996). The Historic Defences of Plymouth. Cornwall County Council.
Mount Batten Tower is a round artillery fortification dating from the Commonwealth era.
Mount Batten Tower. The three storey round tower was built from limestone rubble with granite ashlar dressings. There were no internal gun emplacements and instead the fort's entire armament was installed on the roof. The purpose of the tower was to protect the Cattewater anchorages and, in conjunction with Plymouth Castle, the entrance to Sutton Pool.
Peninsula. Mount Batten Tower occupies a cliff-top location that has been the site of an artillery fortification since 1588. During the Civil War Mount Batten was captured by the Royalists but Parliamentary forces maintained a small redoubt on the headland.
Fireplace. Two fireplaces were provided for the residential quarters within the tower.
Domed Roof. The roof of the upper floor was a domed vault designed to take the weight of the guns on the parapet above.
Stairs. A staircase was embedded within the thickness of the wall.
Guns and Parapet. Three seventeenth century canons (with modern, replica carriages) have been installed on the roof. Originally the tower was armed with ten guns.
Devonport Dockyard. The remains of various World War II structures can be seen near the tower including two L-shaped structures upon which anti-ship searchlights were installed.
Mount Batten Tower is now in the care of the Mount Batten Water Sports and Activities Centre. Tours are provided by that organisation and times are published on their website. There is a car park adjacent to the tower.
Lawrence Road, PL9 9SJ
Mount Batten Tower