Orkney’s Napoleonic Defences

Hackness Battery – One of Orkney’s most notable military landmarks celebrates its 200th anniversary

Work began on Hackness Battery and the Martello Tower on the island of Hoy in 1813. At the time, Britain had been fighting in the Napoleonic Wars for several years. These defences were built to discourage French and American warships from targeting British merchant ships travelling past the north east coast of Scotland. The battery, which was the first of the buildings to be built, was designed to provide a gun platform and also provided room behind for a barracks, store and powder magazine.

Hackness Martello Tower
Hackness Martello Tower
Two towers followed at Hackness and Crockness, the latter now in private ownership, and are two of only three in Scotland, the other being in the Port of Leith in Edinburgh. Taking their name from the round fortress at Mortella Point, in Corsica, their elegant and compact design combines military and domestic functions and are more commonly found in South East England.

The battery was upgraded in 1866 against a perceived threat from the American Fenian Brotherhood during the American Civil War. However neither the battery or the tower saw the action for which they were intended, but each continued to be used for military purposes into the 20th century.

Kit Reid  Historic Scotland
Kit Reid
Historic Scotland
To mark the anniversary, Historic Scotland, which looks after the battery and tower, operating them as seasonal visitor attractions between April and September each year, is running special costumed tours each Wednesday throughout the summer which will help bring to life this fascinating site. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet a tour guide in the uniform of a royal artillery gunner, and find out more about the history of the site, which includes the opportunity to see examples of barrack room furniture and other military memorabilia.

Kit Reid, Interpretation Manager for Historic Scotland explained that “Hackness Battery and Martello’s Tower provide a fascinating insight into military history of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. We hope that visitors enjoy the new tours which are designed to help bring the buildings to life and provide a flavour of what it would have been like to stationed here all those years ago.”