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Ness Battery

Battery (17th Century)

Site Name Ness Battery

Classification Battery (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Gumpick; Deer Sound; Ness Farm; Cromwell's Fort; Tankerness

Canmore ID 3011

Site Number HY50NW 5

NGR HY 5454 0897

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish St Andrews And Deerness
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY50NW 5 5454 0897

(HY 5454 0897) Fort (NR)

OS 6" map, Orkney, 2nd ed.,(1903).

A sub-circular hollow depicted.

OS 25" map, Orkney, 1st ed.,(1887).

On the point of Ness, there is the vestige of a small rude fort, consisting of a circular embankment of earth and stones, which is said to have been used, in days of piracy, for annoying vessels when entering Deersound. One piece of ordnance still lies on the spot.

New Statistical Account (NSA) 1845.

A mound, the remains of one of Cromwell's forts.

Name Book 1880

This fort is in danger of being destroyed by coastal erosion. It would appear to have been constructed by the scarping of the interior to form the banks. One cannon barrel has recently been mounted on a dry stone base near the W corner of the fort, and another cannon has been utilised as a mooring post on a pier at HY 5229 0853.

Surveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (NKB) 12 April 1964

This battery is in a poor state of preservation. Although now giving the impression of being sub-rectangular, it is well known locally to have been circular, and its present condition is mainly due to extensive rabbit burrowings. Outside, in the NE, are vague indications of an annexe.

Visited by OS (IMT) 20 May 1973

On the extreme point of The Ness, commanding the entrance to Deer Sound, are the remains of a lozenge-shaped earthwork, which has been formed by excavating the interior to provide material for banks. Erosion reveals a foundation of horizontal slabs underlying the banks. An iron cannonball is in Tankerness House Museum, Kirkwall (catalogue no.74) and two iron guns survive. The first was one of two moved last century to the pier at Tankerness (HY50NW 52), one of these, however, being lost in transit; the second was dug up by the present farmer of Ness, Mr D Harcus, and mounted on a stone plinth at the site. This battery was regarded as old in 1842 and it and the guns are consistent with the seventeenth-century date. A possible context is the Dutch Wars when Deer Sound may have been used for the mustering of convoys.

NSA 1845; Name Book 1880; RCAHMS 1946; RCAHMS 1987, visited April 1979.


Publication Account (1999)

The main western and southern approaches to Scapa Flow, through Hoy Sound and the Sound of Hoxa respectively, demanded special protection, and around Stromness there is a complex sequence of fortification reflecting the vital strategic need to provide close defence of Hoy Sound and a vessel examination service. Unlike the Sound of Hoxa and most other coast batteries in Orkney, however, the powerful, fast-flowing currents in this channel meant that the coast batteries in the immediate vicinity of Stromness could not be associated in the normal manner with undersea obstructions such as anti-submarine booms or blockships. The nearest such barriers could be placed was in Burra Sound, between Graemsay and Hoy, where blockships were sunk, and in Clestrain Sound where a fixed 'fence' of upended railway lines was constructed.

At the beginning of the First World War Hoy Sound was unprotected but by September 1914 the Royal Navy had landed and installed (on temporary mountings) two 12-pounder, quick-firing guns. Later, two more were mounted at the Point of Ness and during 1915 three new batteries of six-inch and five-inch guns were added to the Stromness defences, these weapons having been obtained from the Bethlehem Steel Company of the USA (then a non-combatant). The 12-pounder guns were dismounted and sent to Upper Sower to form Clestrain Battery (associated with the barrier mentioned [above]). Two of the newly-created batteries were manned by Royal Marines (each equipped with two six-inch guns) and one (equipped with three five-inch, breech-loading guns) by local Territorial gunners. All three were closed down at the end of the war and the guns scrapped.

During the Second World War, Hoy Sound came to be defended by four coast batteries under the Stromness Fire Command based on Ness Battery. Equipped with a pair of six-inch, breech-loading guns like its counterpart at Hoxa, Ness Battery itself was built in 1938 close to the site of the First World War No 2 Battery. In its design and construction it exhibited all the refinements of a pre-war battery with underground magazines and concrete or brick ancillary buildings. It was one of only two coast batteries in Orkney operational at the outbreak of war in September 1939; indeed, the first shots of the war from an Orkney battery were fired from Ness on 29 September 1939, when two 'bring to' rounds were put across the bows of a suspect vessel. Manned by 141 Coast Battery during the war, Ness was placed in care and maintenance in 1945, re-activated in 1950 for training purposes, and the guns dismantled in September 1955. Since then and until recently, Ness Camp has been used by the Territorial Army, with the result that it is now the best-preserved of all the Orkney coast batteries and the only one in Orkney to remain complete with most of its camp buildings. Its future is under active discussion.

Plans exist to show the layout of Ness Battery in the Second World War, and almost all of the buildings depicted on these plans survive in complete form or are identifiable as foundations. Detailed survey by RCAHMS has included one of the gun-houses of the two six-inch gun emplacements with their associated magazines and crew-shelters (a typical crew-shift comprising about 13 men, incidentally). It has also included the Battery Observation Post, a deceptively simple-looking structure which is actually quite complex in its structural and functional arrangmenets, having developed over at least three main stages and served at least three main purposes: as a BOP; a Fire Command Post covering the whole of western approaches to the Flow; and as a Naval Signal Station.

The huts have also been recorded in detail, graphically and photographically, given that this is the only military site in Orkney to retain a complement of huts for officers and men, all of well-maintained weatherboarded construction. The canteen at Ness was brightened up, as so many were, with a mural painting (signed by one A P Woods) depicting rural life that is most definitely English, not Scottish. Its tone is disarmingly quaint, rustic and peaceful. Evidently, a now-missing section of the mural above a stage (also missing) was of much more warlike character. It showed warships beneath a banner which some recall as having borne the martial legend 'Let them come from every quarter, we will blow them out of the water'; the wording that other persons recall is less McGonagallesque but more explicit: 'Let them come from every quarter and we will sink them'.

Of the First World War coast batteries at Stromness nothing remains above ground of No 1 Battery which is buried beneath modern housing development at Innertown (HY 243089). Of No 2 Battery, one barbette and part of the magazines, later re-used, are clearly visible, respectively just in front and just behind the 1938 gun emplacements. No 3 Battery, which was the one manned by the Territorials and equipped with three five-inch American guns, remains on the nearby golf course, virtually complete with its three gun emplacements and magazine. None of the four searchlights associated with the First World War batteries survives, only two from the later phases of the Second World War.

The surviving remains of No 3 Battery on the golf course is laid out in a characteristic First World War fashion that is, on an overall 'horse-shoe' plan with impressive rock-cut trenches leading back and curving in towards a shared semi-subterranean magazine, on or near to which was mounted the Battery Observation Post. As always, the emplacements or barbettes are uniformly open, without gun-house canopies, since the threat of aerial attack was then regarded as negligible.

Information from 'RCAHMS Excursion Guide 1999: Commissioners' field excursion, Orkney, 8-10 Septembe 1999'.


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