Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
Crimean War Trophies
Details:

Crimean War Trophies.
Location: Park Terrace, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow.
Date erected: July 1857.
Removed: c. 1940.
Image Copyright: Gary Nisbet.

Crimean War Trophies, Glasgow
Glasgow's lost Crimean War Trophies


A battery of Russian guns captured during the Crimean War of 1854-6, the Crimean War Trophies were the first monuments erected in Kelvingrove Park. Erected during the first week of July 1857, these historic monuments disappeared long ago and, until recently, no detailed photograph of the guns was known to exist. Thanks to the discovery of a magnificent photograph taken shortly after the guns were put into position, found by Gary Nisbet, of glasgowsculpture.com, we are now able to see how the battery and its location looked after they were erected as a finishing touch to this section of the park. This unique, contemporary record of the guns on Park Terrace is published here for the first time, together with their history, to mark their otherwise forgotten 150th anniversary.

The guns were three of the many thousands of cannons and mortars captured from the Russians during the Crimean War. Most of these came from the beseiged port of Sebastopol, whose fall to the British and French in September 1855, revealed a huge arsenal of ordnance stored in artillery parks and foundries around the city. Together with the guns taken from the city's defensive works and the warships in its harbour, as well as the ordnance taken in other battles, the captured guns were divided amongst the allies and distributed as war trophies to towns throughout their territories, in accordance with the Treaty of Paris, of 1856. Hundreds of these were taken by the British and originally and ignominiously dumped at the Royal Armoury at Woolwich, where they were scheduled to be melted down for iron, with the brass guns being forged into gates. After protests in the press about their fate, the government distributed them to towns in Britain and the empire which had contributed significant donations to the war funds, although the towns themselves had to apply for them.

Glasgow's guns comprised a trench mortar, which had been captured by HMS Blenheim in the ill-fated assault on the fortified town of Hango at the southern tip of Finland, during the first Baltic Campaign of March - June 1854. The other guns were two ship's cannons "of a large size and beautiful finish, mounted upon strong handsome carriages", which were captured at the fall of Sebastopol in 1855. The city's Lord Provost, Andrew Orr, obtained the guns after he had petitioned the Secretary of State for War, Lord Panmure, for the Hango mortar or "some such memorial of the great contest", on 24th December 1856. He stated that as he had observed other towns in the kingdom receiving "presents of the late war", then Glasgow should have some too, "to lend interest and attraction to the Kelvingrove Park".

Amongst other towns awarded Russian guns were Edinburgh, which received three shortly before Glasgow, on 1 July 1857; Greenock, whose guns were mounted on iron carriages in Battery Park; Arbroath, Stirling and Perth, which received four guns on 15 July, 1857. Towns in England and Ireland in receipt of trophies included Bath, Bradford, Salford, Swansea, Dublin and Dun Laoghaire, while others were shipped to towns in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Glasgow's initial request was for the trench mortar from Hango only, but the War Office, in accepting the request, offered the two iron ship's cannons and their wooden carriages, which had been captured at Sebastopol, as well, provided that the city could organize their transportation to Glasgow from the Royal Armoury at Woolwich. The guns were put into position during the first week of July 1857, just before the laying out of this part of the park was completed. Facing west towards Gilmorehill, the guns were muzzled and positioned side by side, with the mortar between the cannons, and enclosed within a Chevaux de Friese - a fearsome looking defensive work comprising iron spikes bristling outwards from linked, horizontal metal poles, which would have been used in a similar way on the battlefield as a disruptive obstacle to advancing infantry and cavalry.


Crimean War Trophies, Glasgow Crimean War Trophies, Glasgow

The idea of enclosing the guns in this way came from a Captain Fitzroy Somerset, who recommended it in a letter to the Lord Provost in October 1857. He also gave an estimate of its cost, suggesting that the whole expenditure on its construction would not exceed £30 or £35. The guns were also provided with ammunition. This was presented to the city by John Downie of the North Woodside Ironworks, who had a government contract for mortars and guns throughout the Crimean War. The iron round shot was piled up in three pyramids comprising twenty six 36lb balls for the cannons, and four 13inch shells for the mortar. These were stacked at the front of the gun carriages.

For all the interest shown in the war after the cessation of hostilities and the distribution of its captured guns, and especially with the first presentation of the Victoria Cross having taken place in London a few days before the guns were sited, no official ceremony or celebration was held to commemorate the battery's arrival in the park. The press did, however, follow the scheme's progress to its conclusion and occasionally made reference to the guns and the city's other war trophies well into the 20th Century.


Crimean War Trophies, Glasgow

A rare sketch of the guns without their Chevaux de Friese, c. 1860s, from an unidentified publication.

In 1898, the guns' wooden carriages were replaced after the originals had rotted and had become dangerous. Some years later, the guns were moved back from the position shown in the stereoscopic view, and placed closer to the Park Terrace gates, without their Chevaux de Friese. Their original location was later occupied by the statue of Lord Roberts in 1916, during the First World War. After the war, the guns gained a new companion in the form of a captured German howitzer, which was presented by Hugh B Spens, the commander of the 5th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), which had captured it at Cléry on 9 October 1918.

These were not, however, Glasgow's only war trophies. The earliest of these were four cannon barrels from the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, which were placed at the corners of the King William III statue at Glasgow Cross in 1735. Two of these were later given to John Downie of the North Woodside Ironworks, who converted them into shot for firing at the Russians in the Crimean War, whilst the remaining guns were to disappear in 1929, when the statue was moved to Cathedral Square. The other trophies were a pair of Russian guns in Queens Park, and a further pair in Alexandra Park, together with at least one cannon from the Boer War of 1899-1902, which was exhibited at the International Exhibition in Kelvingrove Park in 1901, and a German tank and machine guns from the First World War which were also placed in Alexandra Park. All of the guns, with the exception of the battery and howitzer in Kelvingrove Park, were sold as scrap after their future was debated and sealed by the city's Corporation in 1928.

Ultimately, the Kelvingrove guns were themselves the victims of war, when they were requisitioned as scrap for the war effort in the 1940s, a fate unproven as yet but suggested by that of the guns in Edinburgh and Greenock which were requisitioned for that purpose (the German howitzer was returned to the Cameronians). After they disappeared the Crimean guns were quickly forgotten by the public and historians alike until 2007, when the stereoscopic view was discovered by the author in the 'bargain bucket' of an American antique photographics website. The story of the photograph's discovery was featured in The Evening Times on 24 November 2007: 10-year hunt for Glasgow picture ends in America.

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