Concrete Castles: Gallery Trail


The Royal Engineers have been involved in fortifications and defending the landscape for over 300 years. To complement the artwork of Concrete Castles, you can explore some highlights of the rich history of the Corps in the main Museum galleries. These objects have been picked out and researched by a work experience student, Hayden.

Early Engineers Gallery: A map of the river Medway from Rochester Bridge to Sharpness Point. 4201.349.10

A plan of the river Medway from Rochester Bridge to Sharpness Point, surveyed in 1724 by British civil and military engineer John Peter Desmaretz.

The map illustrates several forts and batteries including Cookham Wood Fort and Gillingham Fort. These forts were designed to protect Chatham Dockyard from seaborne attacks, in which Upnor Castle had been responsible for the previous hundred years.

Detail of the Model of the King’s Bastion, Gibraltar, carved from marble panels. Created by Corporal John Brand, completed 1790, presented to King George III in 1793, the model remained in Buckingham Palace until 1820.

Gibraltar Gallery:  Model of the King’s Bastion, Gibraltar. 5601.53

The model of the King’s Bastion was completed in 1790 by Corporal John Brand who had served at Gibraltar as a ‘boy artificer’ during the Great Siege.

When the King’s Bastion was built, it was the most important defensive position of the Rock’s westerly defences. Its shape was based on traditional ideas of bastion fortification: It was a large arrow headed construction which projected from the curtain wall into the sea.

After the Great Siege, Brand trained as a model maker and later was commissioned into the Royal Engineers. The model was presented to King George III in 1793 and remained at Buckingham Palace until 1820.

The King’s Bastion was built in 1773 by General Sir Robert Boyd and was still in military use until the 1960s.

The location of the King’s Bastion is significant in that it could command the majority of the length of Gibraltar’s western sea defences, and nearby anchorages. It also housed casemates, which were ideal as barrack accommodation, and it is therefore understandable that this Bastion became the command post during the attacks of the Franco- Spanish floating batteries on 13th Sept, 1782.

The King’s Bastion has evolved over the centuries, keeping pace with new military technology and the needs of the community.

Waterloo Gallery: Wooden model of Martello Tower. 5501.26.1

A model of the coastal defence tower at Mortella Point in Corsica. The name ‘martello’ comes from this and the fort provided the inspiration for Martello Towers. The Royal Engineers built 164 of these forts. It is ironic that the towers, which were designed to keep Napoleon’s army out, were based on a design from the island of Corsica. Napoleon was born in the Corsican town of Ajaccio in 1769.

Wooden model of Martello Tower, showing the interior.

China Gallery: Chinese matchlock musket. 5101.2.2

Chinese matchlock musket for use on the rampart of a fortress. The rampart gun was intended as a fixed weapon in the defence of fortifications during siege warfare.

While the Chinese are hailed for inventing gunpowder and the gun, firearms in China were never very highly developed. Some argue that it was probably the high weight of early firearms that prevented the Chinese from putting emphasis on their further development. In Europe, firearms served well from the beginning, defending walls and ramparts of towns and castles, leading to their further development in this part of the world.

The Chinese army still used matchlock muskets like this one until well into the 19th century. Despite being technically inferior, some were being put to use with great skill.

Victorian Gallery: A MKII signalling shutter. 4501.72.3

In a shore-based station, there would have been a signalling shutter, featuring a series of bells. When an enemy ship was over a mine, a corresponding bell would ring. An Engineer would then close the circuit and detonate the mine.

A plan of the Thames Defence, Cliffe Fort, showing magazines and drains on the lower floors.

Innovations Gallery: Architectural Memoranda and Sketches. 9110.9

An exercise notebook for the practical building construction and architecture course at RE Establishment, Chatham filled with drawings by Lt. Alfred George Foot from the 16th February to the 29th April 1862.

The course was presumably primarily concerned with building construction, concentrating on all aspects of brickwork. Major General Sir C.W. Pasley, K.C.B wanted his students to be in a position to construct, maintain and extend all different types of ordinary brick buildings such as barracks, hospitals and store-houses. But whilst his interest was primarily military structures, the construction techniques were also equally applicable to civil buildings.

The notebook displays the skills that Royal Engineers were equipped with in terms of building fortresses and protecting them effectively.

Boer War gallery:  Blockhouse.

A blockhouse is a small, isolated fort. It serves as a defensive strong point against any enemy that does not possess siege equipment or, in modern times, artillery. A fortification intended to resist these weapons is more likely to qualify as a fortress or a redoubt, or in modern times, be an underground bunker.

During the First and Second World War, many types of blockhouses were built, when time allowed usually constructed of reinforced concrete. Some blockhouses like those constructed in England in 1940 were built in anticipation of a German invasion; they were often hexagonal in shape and were called “pillboxes”. About 28,000 pillboxes and other hardened field fortifications were constructed of which about 6,500 still survive.

The pillbox was first used in the UK during the First World War as part of the now almost forgotten anti-invasion defences of the East and South coasts. Invasion and coastal raids were a recurring threat throughout the First World War, with vast coastal defences constructed to counter the ongoing risk at the time.

Plan of a Boer War Blockhouse, hand-drawn in colour on gridded paper. Signed and dated, both illegible. Reverse has ‘South African Blockhouse’ handwritten in ink.

Mulberry Harbour Gallery: Model of a German gun casemate. 8609.12.2

A model of a coastal gun casemate from Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. A casemate is a small room in the wall of a fortress, with openings from which guns or missiles could be fired. Inside the model, there is a German 150mm (36cal) coast-gun with camouflaged fortifications.

From the summer of 1941, Hitler moved ever more troops to fight the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. At the same time, however, Nazi Germany was expecting a sea-borne Allied invasion in the west. The solution to the dilemma was the construction of the Atlantic Wall between 1942 and 1945. The ‘Wall’ was actually a series of concrete bunkers, manmade barriers and natural obstacles like cliffs and rocks, stretching along five thousand kilometres of North Sea and Atlantic coast from northern Norway to the Spanish border. These coastal defences turned the Nazi-occupied west of Europe into a virtually impregnable fortress that could be held by relatively few troops.

The German Organisation Todt undertook the development of casemates for the large coastal guns of the Atlantic Wall. Built of concrete up to 10 metres thick, they were thought to be able to withstand any form of attack.

This model was made by M. R. Grundy, Liverpool School of Architecture and Building Engineering.

Courtyard: Berlin wall. 9407.5.7

This is part of the 91 mile long Berlin wall, from the area of Staaken checkpoint, and dismantled by 38 (Berlin) Field Squadron November 1990.

The Berlin Wall was designed to stop disaffected East Germans fleeing the Communist regime for a better lifestyle in the capitalist west.

For four years the panel, daubed with graffiti sprayed on by ecstatic Germans from the east, remained outside the guardroom of 38 Field Squadron’s barracks. But when the Royal Engineers’ unit disbanded in 1994, the section of the Iron Curtain was donated to the museum.

Courtyard: Sanger (Northern Ireland).

A sangar is a temporary fortified position with a breastwork originally constructed of stones, and now built of sandbags, gabions or similar materials. Sangars are normally constructed in terrain where the digging of trenches would not be practicable. More recently, the use of the term has been extended to cover a wider range of small, semi-permanent fortified positions.

A modern day sangar is a protected sentry post, normally located around the perimeter of a base. Its main function is to provide early warning of enemy/terrorist activity/attack in order to protect forces both within the base and those deployed within sight of the sangar.

21st Century Corps Gallery: Camp Bastion.

Royal Engineers carried out a number of construction tasks during Operation HERRICK, the largest being Camp Bastion.

Camp Bastion was the largest British military construction project since the Korean War. Bastion was designed and constructed by Royal Engineers. It took just four months to turn a desert site into a 2250 man camp with amenities.

Located in the north-west of Lashkar Gah in the Helmand province, Camp Bastion was a prominent UK military base in Afghanistan. The base was developed in a distant desert area. It was serving as the fifth busiest UK-operated airport and was the largest overseas military base camp installed by the UK since World War II.

Camp Bastion was operated by HM Armed Forces, and categorised into two divisions, namely Bastion 1 and Bastion 2. Camp Barber (US) and Camp Viking (UK) were the two tenant camps located in Bastion 1. Two more camps Camp Leatherneck (US) and the Afghan National Army (ANA) Camp Shorabak were situated adjacent to the Bastion camp. Approximately £50m was spent on the construction of Camp Bastion, two adjacent bases and an airfield.

Field Marshal Room: Durand and Fowke medals.

Durand medal. 3801.203: The Durand Medal was first awarded in 1882 and is awarded to an Officer, NCO or Sapper who has “distinguished himself as a soldier and Sapper by good and efficient service.” The award is given on a three yearly rotation between the Indian and Pakistan Corps of Engineers and The Queens Gurkha Engineers.

Fowke medal. 3801.18.1: The Fowke medal was awarded from 1872 as the prize of the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. Francis Fowke, a captain in the Royal Engineers and architect, planned the building for the International Exhibition in Kensington in 1862 and the original design for the Royal Albert Hall.

The Fowke medal is a memorial prize for young officers who have been especially distinguished during their course in the School of Construction at the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME).

A bronze medal, with a bust (facing left) and inscribed “FRANCIS FOWKE” on the obverse. On the reverse is inscribed ‘MEMORIAL MEDAL ESTABLISHED BY OFFICERS OF THE ROYAL ENGINEERS AS AN ARCHITECTURAL PRIZE IN THE CORPS”. Around the rim is “No 24874 2ND CORPORAL E. A. WILMSHURST. R.E. 1904.”

Victoria Cross Room: William Lendrim and Gerald Graham VC.

William Lendrim. 3801.213.1: The Victoria Cross awarded to Corporal (later Quarter Master Sergeant) William James Lendrim, 7 Company Royal Sappers and Miners, for three actions where he showed steadiness under fire whilst building or repairing seigeworks at Sevastopol in the Crimean War.

Lendrim was the first non-Officer Royal Engineer solider to be awarded a Victoria Cross.

On 14th February 1855 during the Siege of Sevastopol, Crimea, Corporal Lendrim supervised 150 French Chasseurs in building No. 9 Battery and replacing the whole of the capsized gabions under a heavy fire.

On 11th April, a Battery was under heavy attack from Russian artillery and a live shell hit the magazine roof, setting on fire nearby sandbags. Lendrim immediately volunteered to extinguish the fire, jump up on the roof and remove the burning sandbags.

On 20th April, Lendrim was in a small party that charged a Russian rifle pit and then, quickly cleared and occupied it.

His citation says he was given the medal for jumping “on top of a magazine and extinguishing sand bags burning and making a breach under fire” on April 11, 1855.

Gerald Graham. 1210.1.1: The Victoria Cross awarded to Lieutenant (later Lieutenant General Sir) Gerald Graham for his action leading a ladder party in an attack on the Redan fort during the Siege of Sevastopol, Crimean War, 18 June 1855.

Graham won his Victoria Cross in the first assault on the Redan. The Redan was an occupied Russian fort and in order to enable the Siege of Sevastopol, the Redan had to be captured. The assault was a failure for British forces. Graham made repeated rescues of casualties, under fire, bringing them back to safety.

He also showed determined gallantry at the head of a ladder party at the assault on the Redan at Sebastopol.

For more information about any of the artefacts shown here, please contact us, or stop by and pick up a leaflet!

7 March 2024