Local reserves

The Sea Fencibles: 1798-1810

By Tony Drury

The Sea Fencibles was the first organised reserve of volunteer seafaring men in Britain, it was formed during the Napoleonic Wars to defend against the threat of sea borne invasion by the French.  The force composed of seafaring and semi-seafaring men of the towns and villages around the coast of Great Britain, charged with the defence of the coast in their vicinity against the threat of French invasion.  They were trained and exercised in the use of cannon and pike.

Local defence
In Sussex the Sea Fencibles were responsible for the area between Beachy Head to the east and Selsey Bill to the west. Locally the Sea Fencibles comprised of 300 men and 45 boats based at Brighton and 40 men and 1 boat at Shoreham. Other Sussex units were established at Selsey, Worthing, Newhaven and Seaford.

Trained at the local Batteries
The men of the Sea Fencibles were allowed to train on the two artillery batteries built on the sea front in Brighthelmstone in 1793 as part of the local coastal defences.  The West Cliffe battery opposite Artillery Place, on King's Road, consisted of eight muzzle-loaded 36 pounder cannons installed in late 1794. These cannon, and another four installed at he East Cliffe Battery, at the bottom of Marine Parade, were captured from the French fleet by Admiral Richard Howe, (1st Earl Howe), in the battle of the Glorious 1st of June, 1794 (also known as the Third Battle of Ushant); while these were capable of firing in anger, they were used to fire salutes and the instruction of gun crews.

After the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 the need for the Sea Fencibles seemed to have passed, the force was disbanded in February 1810, when the two Sussex divisions (Brighton and Hastings) comprised 728 officers and men.

Photo:The West Battery consisted of six cannons on King's Road, installed in 1793. These muzzle-loaded cannons could fire a cannon-ball of about 40 pounds in weight, but were never fired in military defence.

The West Battery consisted of six cannons on King's Road, installed in 1793. These muzzle-loaded cannons could fire a cannon-ball of about 40 pounds in weight, but were never fired in military defence.

Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

This page was added on 24/09/2007.

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