Monday, 20 June 2011


During the Napoleonic Wars the threat of invasion by the French caused Britain to strengthen its defences along the south coast in readiness. Initially, more troops were redeployed to the south followed later by other defensive precautions such as the Martello Towers which were built along the Kent and East Sussex coasts. Barracks were set up, most were intended only as temporary accommodation for the troops but the one along the Lewes Road near Brighton became permanent and survived into the 20th century as Preston Barracks. There were others further inland but the local coastal camps were at Blatchington (Hove)below, Southwick, New Shoreham and Worthing.

Preston aside, New Shoreham was the first and most used of these barracks which housed the soldiers and any wives and children that followed them. Whether it was a requirement of coastal parishes of the time or simply the diligence of the parish clerk, the New Shoreham Parish Records recorded the regimental names against marriage and burial entries for all the soldiers and their wives as well as the baptism of their children. Far from being a precise record it nevertheless gives some idea of the regiments that were billeted to the town and how long they were here.

An examination of the New Shoreham Land Tax Records in conjunction with the 1782 Survey of the town tells us exactly where the army camps or barracks were. Perhaps surprisingly, they were nearer to the town centre than may have been thought. The nearest were at the west end of the High Street on two plots of land known as Mill Green and Kings Head.  above sussex infantry
Detail from the 1782 Survey map showing the barracks at Mill Green (134) and Kings Head (117)

Mill Green Barracks 1801 – 1810 first appear around 1801, owned by John Rice – Mill Green is shown on the 1782 Survey map as being between today’s Ropetackle Hard and the road bridge and extended into about half of the residential block that includes the Arts Centre.  By 1810 the site seems to have reverted to non-military use.

Kings Head Barracks 1801 - 1816
 owned by Thomas Tillstone also appears. The Kings Head was thought to have been trading as an inn even as early as 1724 and the property included the land behind it. It is mentioned again in 1807 and again in 1810 by which time ownership had passed to Benjamin Tillstone who remained owner up until 1816, the last time the barracks were included in the Land Tax lists.

Neither plots of land are particularly large although collectively they are more significant and would have accommodated a considerable number of men, perhaps initially in tents and later in rough wooden huts.                                                                 
Detail from the 1782 Survey showing New Barn Field (146) and Wickers Field (147) with the three Trinity Cottages (162) above. (Plots 151 and 49 below them to the right are mentioned later)
Starr Barracks 1795 –1823. By far the largest was in the combined area of New Barn Field and Wickers Field, the land now bounded by Southdown (then called New Barn Lane) and Ravens Roads on the west, east and south and Mill Lane to the north. Known as Starr Barracks it is shown under ownership of the Bridger family who owned much of the land and fields to the north of the town then.  A house (possibly Trinity Cottages) owned or leased by John Boyce senior was also included. By 1801 John Boyce is shown as having purchased the property and in 1807 Starr Barracks together with “Starr Barracks Field” are shown together in 1807. By 1814 ownership passed to John Innott after the death of Boyce, then a Mr. Heyther acquired it by 1816 and he sold it on by 1823 to Thomas Clayton, the Shoreham  cement  manufacturer who had his ‘cement manufactury’ by Star Gap. There is no further mention of Starr Barracks thereafter but more on the regiments that stayed there previously is covered later.below model of eastbourne redoubtFile:Model of the Redoubt Fortress.jpg

Before all this, one of the most common sights in Shoreham would have been the blue coat uniforms of the numerous customs officers in and around the Church Street Custom House. From 1795 the sight of red coated soldiers in town would also have become increasingly common, especially in the inns and particularly the Kings Head where the Tillstone family as owners would doubtless have benefitted from the custom of their new tenants.

During the earlier years the soldiery was made up of militia from around the country. These were not part of the regular, standing army but county units, used for home defence only and raised by ballot from the parishes. It was a fairly loose arrangement and anyone selected could sometimes avoid duty by swopping places with a willing replacement or by paying a sum if he was able to afford it. Marching incredibly long distances one of the first to arrive in Shoreham (1795) were the North Fencibles followed by the Cumberland Militia (1796) Light Company, 46th Foot: 1778which, with the Montgomery Militia that they later joined with, maintained a fairly consistent presence in the town throughout the period. Uniforms then would have been identical to the regular army regiments for each county involved, various differences to the colour of facings (collars and cuffs) but with the usual red infantry/militia coats. Whether all the men though were provided with uniforms from the outset is perhaps questionable.

A Regiment of Foot arriving in New Shoreham.
Viewed from Star Lane (Church Street) the officer appears to be looking thoughtfully towards the Swan Inn.

Some units were at Shoreham for a short while only whilst others (like the Cumberland & Montgomery) obviously stayed longer. It also seems that complete regiments did not always encamp at one site only, rather spreading their resources with a view to defending nearby towns and villages as well. We know this from the regimental records of the Bedfordshire Militia for example who in November 1796 went into winter quarters at Shoreham with detachments at Southwick, Worthing, Cuckfield  and Littlehampton but did not remain there long and moved to new barracks that had been built at Horsham on 24th December 1796. A regiment of regulars, the 40th Regiment of Foot, were in barracks at Steyning and Blatchington but not Shoreham.

It wasn’t until 1804 that units of the regular army started to arrive as we discover from a burial entry of May 1st 1804 “Thomas Parker  27  Private  91st Regiment of Regulars collapsed on parade and died shortly afterwards.” -  this was the famous 91st Regiment of Foot drawn from two Scottish counties better known as the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in later years.  Another burial of 18th October 1805 records that William Coltman  41 Quartermaster  1st Regiment of Dragoons “accidentally drowned in Lancing Brooks near Mr. Holmes’ farm.” A number of deaths from smallpox occurred in 1804 mainly involving the soldiers’ infant children and there were also casualties among Shoreham townsfolk. One final entry of note was that of Henry Medley Kilvington “a barrack-master near 60” buried on 12th February 1808 and whose memorial was once in St.Mary’s church but has since disappeared.

The 1st Kings Dragoon Guards
Left, the updated uniform and helmet at the time of Waterloo
Right, as they looked when at Shoreham

Apart from the regular infantry (the 78th Regiment of Foot in 1805, the 35th in 1806 and the 4th, 5th and 44th in 1814) other regiments here included cavalry units. The 4th Queens Own Dragoon Guards made an appearance in 1805 and again in 1809, the 6th Inneskillen (or ‘Inniskilling’ as it was often officially spelt) Dragoons from December 1805 to April 1807, the 11th Dragoons in 1806, the 7th (1811) and 10th Light Dragoons (1816) but by far the longest stays appear to be the 1st Regiment Kings Dragoon Guards whose register entries span from May 1804 to October 1805 then again in December 1807;  and the 6th Dragoon Guards (The Carabiniers) from December 1805 to April 1807 which indicates that they  were not both in Shoreham at the same time.

The Kings Dragoon Guards had fought at the battle of Blenheim 1704, the Netherlands Campaign of 1793-5 and, after Shoreham, took part in the Battle of Waterloo. The 6th Dragoon Guards specialised in fighting with a light, short-barrelled rifle (carabinier) and went on to participate in the Peninsula Wars in Spain. Both were cavalry regiments and their men and horses must have been stationed at Starr Barracks which was the only barracks large enough to have taken them even if (as is probable) only part of the total complement of men and animals were included.
Left: Detail from Thomas Budgen’s 1797 map (courtesy The British Library OSD 93 (PT3)
Right: Detail from the 1817 map of New ShorehamTower Number 55, East Sussex, East Sussex Cultural, photo, picture, image

No comments:

Post a Comment