Stokes Bay

 

 

Browndown Range and Camp

 

 

The area of land west of Stokes Bay has been used by the military as a camping ground and then as a rifle range for many years. Burt's map of 1587 show three beacons on an area at 'Browne Down' to the west of 'Gamoorepond. Browndown, an expanse of stony scrubland, is situated on the northern coast of the Solent, opposite the Isle of Wight. About 16 of the 156 acres were in Alverstoke Parish but the main bulk was in Titchfield parish, and formed the eastern end of the Titchfield Abbey estates which, after the Dissolution passed into the hands of the Wriothesleys, Earls of Southampton. In 1741 these estates, including Browndown, were sold to Peter Delme. The Isaac Taylor map of 1759 refers to the area as 'Bare Down'. The Milne map of 1791 again uses the name 'Brown Down'.

 

A map of 1782 shows two regiments, the Light Infantry and the 16th Light Dragoons, camped at Browndown south of Grange Farm with two more, the Cheshire and the Hereford camped at Haslar close to Fort Monckton. The Cardigans were in Gosport Barracks with more camped on the Portsmouth side of the harbour.

 

Map of 1782 showing camps at Browndown and Haslar.

Camps at Browndown and Haslar 1782

 

Around 1782 plans were drawn up by the Board of Ordnance to fortify the Stokes Bay area which would have seen defences built on Browndown. This did not come to pass but in 1783/84 the whole coast from Portsmouth Harbour westwards was bought by the Board of Ordnance. This included 25 acres at the eastern end of Browndown bought from the Delmes. At the time of the Titchfield tithe apportionment in 1838 the government's holding there had increased to 30 acres.

 

Map of 1782 showing proposed system of fortification: Only the fort at Gilkicker Point was built, eventually becoming Fort Monckton.

Map of 1782 showing proposed system of fortification.

 

Lesley Burton reports in her article 'Browndown Musketry and Mutineers' that in about 1804 the first stop butts for a musketry range at Browndown were constructed by French prisoners who were marched from Forton prison overseen by Royal Marines from Clarence Barracks in Portsmouth. However there appear to be no other references to support this.

 

In 1839 the Ordnance Board decided to sell off most of the western part of its Stokes Bay land. Most of the 30 acres at Browndown returned to the Delme family but two small pieces went to the buyers of adjacent properties in Alverstoke parish.

 

A decade later, when countering French aggression involved building new fortifications, the government had to buy back a lot of the land it had sold in 1839/40. This time (1851) it bought the whole 156 acres of Browndown - 125 acres from the Delmes, 13 acres from John Leveson Gower, and 17 acres from David Compigne. Note 1:

 

In 1845 Browndown was the location for a duel between a Lt. Hawkey of the Royal Marines who fired at and mortally wounded Captain Seton of the 11th. Dragoons to settle a matter of honour.

Last Duel 1845

 

In 1856 a camp was formed at Browndown to accommodate the British German Legion: (The British German Legion or Anglo-German Legion was a group of German soldiers recruited to fight for Britain in the Crimean War).

During the past few days a new camp has been formed at a place called Browndown, a well-situated piece of ground for such a purpose, about four miles from this garrison, on the Gosport side of the harbour, and on the banks of the Solent, almost immediately opposite Osborne House. The camp has, in the first place, been taken up by about 1,300 men of the British Foreign Legion, who have just come home from Scutari. They are expected to be joined shortly by other regiments, and, amongst others, by those who have been for a fortnight or so at Aldershot. About 6,000 men are, it is understood, to be quartered at this camp; but whether permanently or not is not known.

 

The locality of the camp is a slightly elevated strip of land, exceedingly dry and apparently very salubriously situated. Water of a good quality seems to be very abundant; a number of wells having been sunk for the supply of whatever troops might be located here. The whole of the men are under canvas, the ordinary military tent being employed. There are about 130 tents in all, 10 or 12 men being accommodated in each; but to the officers a large proportionate number is allotted. Colonel Dickenson, commandant of the Swiss Legion is senior officer. A fine view of the camp, with its white tents, is to be obtained from her Majesty's marine residence at Osborne, which is clearly discernible from the camp ground. A canteen for the sale of beer, spirits, and tobacco has already been established, and numerous provision dealers have commenced pursuing their avocations among the troops. (The Morning Post July 25th 1856)

 

On August 3rd 1856 900 officers and men arrived at the camp. On August 4th 1,600 men arrived. On August 13th 1856 it was reported that the 1st and 3rd Regiments of Light Infantry were encamped at Browndown. Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales landed at Browndown and visited the encampment on August 23 1856.

 

Her diary records:

...steamed in the Fairy across to Angleseaville, where we landed having received by Maj-Gen. Breton and his staff a detachment of the 22nd forming a Guard of Honour entered carriage (the 2 boys driving with us) and drove a short way out to Browndown a fine healthy campment only a few 100 yards from the sea where the 1st Brigade of the German Legions (2 Reg. the 1st and 3rd) under the command of Brig. Gen. Wooldridge was drawn up. { according to The Times: mustering nearly 2,000 of all ranks} We drove down the line. Wooldridge himself is an intelligent man has served with English troops but was before in the Spanish and Portuguese service. We drove to look at Gomer Fort which is in process of construction and then embarked getting home by 1/2 past 7.

 

Various newspapers reported the event:

On Saturday last her Majesty and H.R.H. Prince Albert, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, and a few more of the Royal family, crossed from Osborne to Browndown, to review the troops of the British Foreign Legion, encamped there. Her Majesty arrived at the beach at Browndown at about half-past four o’clock, and was received by the Lieutenant-Governor, Major-General Breton, Commandant of the Camp Colonel Wooldridge, by a number of the officers of the Staff and Garrison, and a guard of honour from the 22nd Regiment, with its baud. Two of the Royal carriages were in waiting for her Majesty’s use, in one of which her Majesty and Prince Albert took their seats, and in the other H.R.H. the Princess Royal took hers. Her Majesty and H.R R. Prince Albert were in private clothes. The road from the beach to the camp, about three quarters of a mile in length, was guarded by the 22nd Regiment and a detachment of the Legion. The troops to be reviewed were drawn up on the Down in line, two deep, and presented a fine soldierly appearance. They consisted of the 1st and 3rd Regiments of the British German Legion, numbering about 2000 men. Her Majesty drove in front of the line, accompanied by the officers in attendance, the band of each regiment playing appropriate tunes. Afterwards the troops formed an open column, and marched past the Queen in quick and slow time, and no body of troops could have presented a finer appearance. Some other evolutions took place, after which her Majesty and the Court went over the camp, the troops being drawn up in companies in front of their respective encampments ; her Majesty and suite walking round the whole of the camp, and entering some of the tents to view their accommodation, &c. This being concluded, the Queen, the Prince, and the Court drove to the new forts, constructing near Browndown, and made a lengthened inspection of them. The royal party then returned to the beach, and re-embarked on board the Fairy, at half-past six in the evening, under a salute from the ships at Spithead.

 

The Times reported on this event adding that Browndown is a capital spot for a permanent military settlement; 5,000 troops can be comfortably and most healthily camped there; the water is good and abundant; it is easy of access by sea and road; and no sooner does rain cease than the ground is perfectly dry.

 

The Illustrated Times reported November 22nd 1856 that:

It is about four months since the camp was formed at a place called Browndown - a piece of ground well adapted for such a purpose, and pleasantly situated about four miles from Portsmouth, on the Gosport side of the harbour, and on the shores of The Solent, almost immediately opposite Osborne House. the ground on which the camp was formed is a strip of land slightly elevated, and the soil light, sandy and exceedingly dry, and the locality particularly salubrious. Water of excellent quality was very abundant; a number of wells having been sunk for the use of the troops.
The camp was thus funished with the means and appliances for rendering its occupants comfortable, was in the first instance taken possession by 1,300 men of the British Foreign legion, when they returned form Scutari; but is was so constructed as to be capable of accommodating 6,000 men. The whole of the men were placed under canvas in the shape of the ordinary military tent. There were 130 tents, ten or twelve men being quartered in each tent. a canteen for the sale of beer, spirits and tobacco, was at once established, and numerous dealers in provisions commenced the pursuit of their trade among the troops.

 


 

The two earthen Browndown Batteries were constructed to the east end of Browndown at Browndown Point by 1852. The Hampshire Telegraph reported on 6th September 1851 that a company of sappers was sent from to Fort Monckton barracks to assist in the construction of these batteries. They were not in use for very long, were heavily criticised for their inadequacy and the eastern one was demolished by 1860. The western one was replaced by a more substantial battery, Browndown Battery, in 1888. The Hampshire Telegraph also refers (5th. December 1851) to a proposal to build a tower at Browndown, but no other evidence for this has been found so far.

 

Browndown Camping Fields and the two Browndown Batteries in 1857 Browndown Camp in 1856
Browndown Camp Fields and the two Browndown Batteries in 1857 Browndown Camp in 1856 Probably the encampment of the German Legion.

 

 

By November 1856 the British German Legion had earned a reputation as being a riotous lot ..such has been the disorganised state of the legion, and riotousness of its proceedings, that the poor civilians at Browndown consider themselves thoroughly done down, since the Germans were allowed to invade their usually serene locality. Arrangements were made for their departure at the earliest opportunity and on they boarded a troop ship in November 1856 at Portsmouth Dockyard without any more incidents.

 

After the Legions had departed the area to the south of the Browndown camp was used as a rifle range. Volunteers and regular troops used the range for annual training. Troops engaged in practice were quartered at Fort Gomer, the southernmost fort of the Gosport Advanced Lines. The Gosport Volunteers used the range for their annual rifle competition in 1868, firing Sniders. In 1870 the new Martini-Henry rifle was tested at Browndown ranges:

 

Several of the Martini-Henry rifles were forwarded some time since to the south-west military district, and are now being subjected to a series of practical tests over the army rifle ranges on Browndown near Gosport. So far, the opinion appears to be that the new weapon is very superior to the Snider, but that many of the details connected both with the weapon itself and its equipment are open to considerable improvement. the ammunition pouch, carried in front, is decidedly faulty in its arrangement. (The Times Jan 26 1870)

 

 

Browndown rifle match in 1875

 

A fatality was reported in The Times on 26 June 1870:

A fatal accident occurred at the rifle ranges at Browndown near Gosport on Wednesday. A party belonging to the 64th Regiment was practising at the butts. While Private Edwards was in the act of taking aim, the marker, a private soldier named Maccabe, without waiting for the bugle call to cease firing, came from behind to whitewash the target and was shot dead.

 

Browndown Camping Fields and the two Browndown Batteries in 1857

Browndown Ranges in 1877

 

On October 11 1883 a sham fight took place at Browndown in which all the troops of the garrison at Portsmouth were involved. It was assumed for the purpose of the sham fight that a hostile force had landed at Browndown and were intent on attacking Gosport. These were represented by a portion of the troops and they were repelled by the rest using much 'skirmishing and manoeuvring.'

 

In 1888 a question was asked in Parliament as to whether it was true that the War Department had applied to the Board of Trade to have a large portion of the sea on the north shore of the Solent buoyed off for the purpose of a rifle range at Browndown; whether it was not the case that the firing at that range was towards the sea, and whether the limit of the range so buoyed a little more than 1,000 yards from the butts on the shore was not in a fairway of men-of-war and all other classes of vessels proceeding form the Needles, Southampton Water, Cowes Roads &c. towards Spithead and Portsmouth and whether the enclosure of such a portion of the sea and foreshore would not interfere with the fishing industry of the Solent, which had already been much injured by the submarine experiments carried out by the Naval and military departments.

 

Parliament was told that "Last year 7,000 regular troops used the range for individual firing, and 2,500 for field practice, besides 3,000 at the annual prize meetings."

 

In 1891 the Easter manoeuvres took place at Portsmouth with the Second Volunteer Battalion the Middlesex Rifles defending an assault at Browndown, as reported in The Graphic.

 

1891: The Easter manouvres  at Browndown

 

1891: The Easter manouvres  at Browndown

 

By 1877 a hutted camp had been constructed to the east of the ranges with a road connecting it with the Military Road to the Gomer Elson forts. This was provided for the Royal Marines who prior to this had to march from their barracks at Forton to take part in musketry training.

 

Browndown Hutted Camp 1877  
Browndown Camp 1877  
Browndown Hutted Camp 1898 browndown Hutted Camp 1976
Browndown Hutted Camp 1898 Browndown Hutted Camp 1976

 

 

Browndown in 1890: The red lines denote the War Department lands.

Browndown in 1890: The red lines denote the War Department lands.

 

Between 1893 and 1898 1,000 yard ranges and an 800 yard range were established at Browndown fitted with tramways to move the targets into position from the repairing shop and store.

 

 

On 12 May 1894 A halt (referred to as Browndown Station on some maps) on the Brockhurst to Lee-on-the-Solent railway was added directly opposite the Repairing shop at the ranges. This provided an easy way to move troops between Fort Gomer to the ranges.

 

Browndown Halt (Browndown Station on some maps) opened in 1894

Browndown Halt : Closed in 1930

Details on Disused Stations website

 

 

1st Kings Royal Rifle Corp at Camp, Browndown. Life at Browndown. R.M. Camp

1st Kings Royal Rifle Corp at Camp, Browndown.

Browndown Camp Royal Marines. Life at browndown. Why Work?

 

 

In 1899 an article in Navy and Army Illustrated recorded the Challenge Cup, an inter services shooting contest held at Browndown Ranges.

 

Browndown Ranges: Challenge Cup in 1899 Browndown Ranges: Challenge Cup in 1899 Browndown Ranges: Challenge Cup in 1899
Browndown Ranges: Challenge Cup in 1899 Browndown Ranges: The Repairing Shop

The ranges in 1899 during the Challenge Cup.

The Repairing Shop can be seen in the background. The buildings were demolished in the 1980s.

 

BrowndownRanges1895 Lady Rifle Shooting Competitors Browndown. Army & Navy Illustrated
BrowndownRanges1895 Lady Rifle Shooting Competitors Browndown. Army & Navy Illustrated

 

 

From 1900 the Royal Marines held their annual shooting cup at the Browndown Ranges.

Browndown camp and ranges in 1910 Browndown camp and ranges in 1932.
The narrow gauge tramways used to move the targets can be seen on this plan of 1910.

Another butt with tramway for the targets was added by 1932.

 

 

 

The Browndown ranges and the area to the north of the modern Gosport to Lee on the Solent Road were used extensively to train troops in trench warfare during World War One. Many of the trenches can be seen today.

 

In March 2014 the press reported on the great significance of these trenches which appear to be unique as a remaining WWI training facility. The extent of the trenches was investigated by Rob Harper, Gosport Conservation Officer, who looked at their layout and recognized their uniqueness. They appear to form two opposing sets of trenches representing a mini battlefield. Rob studied aerial views of the site dating from 1951 and reported it to the County Archaeologst. It is safe to say that although many Gosport residents have always known of the existence of these trenches none understood their true significance. They were not simply produced by soldiers practising the art of digging tenches but were a complete Battlefield training facility. Study of the trenches is ongoing. Perhaps documentary evidence may be found.

 

 

WWI Trenches at Browndown

 

In 1919 it was proposed to abolish the Royal Marines entirely but Parliament rejected the proposal. In 1928 the number of Royal Marines was reduced from 55,000 to 9,500. The Royal Marine Artillery and the Royal Marine Light Infantry were amalgamated under the historic title 'The Royal Marines'. The Light Infantry Barracks at Gosport was closed. The School of Land Service Artillery continued at Fort Cumberland whilst the Small Arms School was based at Browndown.

 

In 1942 the Royal Marines Commandos were formed to fight alongside the Army Commandos already established. Ten R.M. Battalions became R.M. Commandos. The R.M. Snipers' Courses took place at Browndown Camp. The Small Arms School continued at Browndown until 1957, when it closed.

 

23rd Musketry Instructors  at Browndown 1920 A 'Rough House' at Browndown Browndown MTIs Class R.M. Musketry Class of 1922
Musketry Staff at Browndown 1920 A 'Rough House' at Browndown Browndown MTIs Class R.M. Musketry Class of 1922
209 squad RM at Browndown 1935 Browndown R.M. Field training Company 1927 Browndown R.M.L.I. Training Course 1909 Infantry at Browndown circa 1932 with Lee-Enfields, Lewis LMGs.
209 squad R.M. at Browndown 1935 Browndown R.M. Field training Company 1927 Browndown R.M.L.I. Training Course 1909. Infantry at Browndown 1932 with Lee-Enfields, Lewis LMGs.
Browndown Camp R.M.L.I.      
Browndown Camp R.M.L.I.      

 

 

In 1925 an incident occurred at Browndown when the steam cutter Culverin of the Naval Armament Depot Marchwood was lying off Browndown. She was struck by bullets from a machine gun fired at the ranges. One bullet penetrated the neck of Sidney White aged 17. He was conveyed to Hospital.

 

The 1939 Byelaws for Browndown Ranges allowed the range to be used by Anti-Tank guns, Anti-Tank Rifles, Grenades, Machine guns, Mortars, Revolvers and Rifles.

 

During WW2 it was used as a Royal Marine camp. During D-Day it was designated as Marshalling Area Camp A19.

 

During the 1950s Browndown was used by the Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve to train in 'station keeping and beaching exercises'. They carried out beach landings from landing craft and attacked an imaginary installation on Browndown. The 7th Royal Tank Regiment Amphibian Wing, based at Fort Gomer, used the Browndown ranges as a training area. The Times reported on 7th June 1950 ..Sir Ouvry Roberts, Commander-in-chief Southern Command and other British officers observed a demonstration of amphibious warfare given in Stokes Bay. From a D.U.K.W. he saw two unarmoured troop carrying amphibians launched from a landing craft, and two tanks, one a gun tank, made buoyant by canvas structures. As the gun tank reached the beach its guns were brought into action, and a bulldozer from one of the amphibians demonstrated how it could be used in levelling a beach for landing purposes.

 

In 1959 an anti-tank rocket hit a bungalow in nearby Chester Crescent although the Army stated that there was 'no one using that type of missile at Browndown but perhaps it was left behind by a previous unit'. They suggested that it was set off by a gardener's bonfire!

 

Post WWII the Solent Home Guard Rifle Club and the cadets used the ranges for training and practice.

 

In the mid 1960s the old target tramways were removed and replaced with ex-mine railways. These were also removed in the 1990s.

 

Browndown ranges in 1974 showing the new tramways.

 

By 1974 the old tramways had been removed and relaid.

 

 

Narrow gauge (2ft) railway used to move the range targets. Uncovered in 2014. Narrow gauge (2ft) railway used to move the range targets. Uncovered in 2014.

Sections of the narrow gauge railway used to move the range targets were uncovered in 2014.

 

In 1966 'Hovershow 66' was held at Browndown during which the new Vickers hovercraft was displayed to the public. They had expected 3,000 official visitors from 110 different countries.

 

The Browndown Battery and the area adjacent to it was used by the Hovercraft Trials Unit from 1966 to 1974 when it was disbanded. 200 Hovercraft Trials Sqn (200 Hovercraft Squadron R.C.T. from 1968) was based there using the SRN6-617 hovercraft. They added a hangar and some ancillary buildings to the north east of the battery and an observation post on top of Browndown battery itself. The SRN3 build by Saunders Roe was tested at Browndown by The British Inter-Service Hovercraft Trials Unit but was never adopted for service.

 

In 1969 Browndown was on the shortlist as a possible site for a new nuclear power station.

 

In the 1990s the east end of the site, close to Browndown Battery, was taken on by an Army signals unit, 63 (Special Air Service) Signal Squadron (Reserve), who erected a large High Frequency antennae array on the shingle in front of the hangar. This was used for HF communications s from the UK to the Balkans.

 

In 1977 it was reported that live firing was suspended at Browndown for a period of one year but other training facilities were to continue at the range. In 1978 the ranges at Browndown were reopened.

 

In 1987 the Browndown site was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest by the Nature Conservancy Council.

 

In 1990 Browndown was included in the MOD list of managed conservation areas. The area continued to be used for Amphibious Training.

 

As part of 'rationalisation measures' the Browndown camp became superfluous in 2009 and The MOD put the Browndown Camp up for sale in 2011. They have retained the camping ground and ranges for military use. The ranges area is open to the public when not in use. The Solent Way Coastal Path follows the shore line through the ranges on the section between Lee-on-the-Solent, and Gosport. The Browndown site is in an area of archaeological interest and is part of the strategic gap, the area of land from the shoreline up to the Alver Valley. Gosport Borough Council Policy seeks to maintain the integrity of the Strategic Gap so development proposals should not physically and/or visually diminish the gap. Any future proposals should be designed sympathetically to respect the open character of the Strategic Gap with regard to the existing built footprint.

 

The site also includes Browndown SSSI designated by English Nature under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to protect flora, fauna, geological or physiological features of special interest. This includes the adjoining retained training area.

 

Browndown Ranges: View looking east towards Stokes Bay Browndown Ranges: View looking west towards Lee on the Solent Browndown Ranges:Target mantlet with target control levers
Browndown Ranges: View looking east towards Stokes Bay Browndown Ranges: View looking west towards Lee on the Solent Browndown Ranges:Target mantlet with target control levers
Browndown Ranges: View looking east towards Stokes Bay    
Browndown Ranges: View looking east towards Stokes Bay    

 

In 2012 it was reported that Browndown Camp was sold to Jumbuck Ltd for £750,000. They have no set plans for redevelopment at present but had hoped to develop a leisure operation on the site however, no pre-application discussions have yet taken place with the GBC Planning Officers.

Note 1:

Thanks to Gosport Historian Philip Eley for information concerning the early purchase of lands at Browndown.

Browndown ranges on Flashearth

 

 

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