Bréhon Tower

Bréhon Tower

The Bréhon Tower (Fort Brehon) is accessible only by boat and sits on Bréhon rock, an island in the Little Russell channel about 5 km northeast of St Peter PortGuernsey, between the port and the islands ofHerm and Jethou. Thomas Charles de Putron (1806-1869) built the oval tower of granite from Herm, completing the work in 1857.[1] Though not strictly a Martello tower, Bréhon Tower represents the final evolution of the basic design of the Martello tower.

In 1914 the War Office transferred ownership of Bréhon Tower to the States of Guernsey. During the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, the German military placed an anti-aircraft gun on the tower.

Today, although the site is open to visitors, the tower is closed. The tower holds a light operated by the Guernsey Harbour Authority.[2] The island is home to a breeding colony of Common Terns.


An obelisk was erected on Bréhon in 1744 to serve as a sea mark. However the lack of visibility of the obelisk led to its replacement in 1824 by a tower 40 ft high and 34 ft in circumference, topped by a globe.[3]

During the tenure (1803-1813) of Lieutenant Governor General Sir John Doyle, there were plans to erect a guardhouse on Bréhon, but nothing came of these.[1] Doyle was responsible, however, for substantial fortification efforts elsewhere in Guernsey, including the construction of the Martello towers of Fort GreyFort Saumarez, and Fort Hommet.

Bréhon Tower with Jethou in background
Bréhon Tower with Jethou in background

Then in the 1840s there was a renewed concern about British relations with France, with particular concern for the protection of Alderney and the other Channel Islands because of their strategic importance in the Channel. Lieutenant Governor Major-General Sir William Francis Patrick Napierproposed a number of works, including the establishment of a fort on Bréhon.[4]

In 1850 the British became concerned that the French had created fortifications at Cherbourg. This led to the construction of several towers and forts in the Channel area.

The Alderney cutter Experiment was wrecked off Bréhon in March 1850.[3]

A review of Guerney’s defences in 1852 recommended the construction of three artillery barracks, Fort Richmond, Fort Hommet, and Fort Le Marchant, the upgrading of Fort Doyle, and the construction of Bréhon Tower. Work on Bréhon Tower commenced in 1854 and was completed in 1856.[Note 1]

Construction began in 1856 and was completed the next year.[6] The builder was Thomas Charles de Putron, who carried on business at the Pierre Percée.[6] The total cost was £8,098 18s 10d.[7]

Bréhon Tower’s role was to guard the shipping channel between Guernsey and Herm, and help protect the harbour of St Peter Port. The fort’s footprint measures 65 feet by 85 feet (at the widest point), and the tower stands 34 feet high. The tower has three levels. The magazine, shell room, shifting room, stores, and fresh-water cistern were all on the ground floor. It also had latrines on the same floor, a Victorian innovation. The first floor contained the garrison’s living quarters. The original plan was to put three heavy guns on the gun platform at the top, with five guns on the (second) floor below, sharing the 14 cannon ports. However, during construction the armament was cut back to three 68-pounder and two 10-inch shell guns, all on the gun platform.[5][8] When the garrison fired the cannons for the first time the concussion created a fracture that extended from top to bottom.[6] There is also a jetty on the St Peter Port side of the island.

The tower’s garrison was drawn from the Royal Artillery. The garrison was originally to have consisted of two officers and 60 NCOs and other ranks, but with the reduction in armament, two officers and 30 men was deemed sufficient.[8]Boats from Guernsey brought provisions and fresh drinking water; the cistern provided the water for general use.[6]

By World War I the tower was obsolete and the War Office turned it over to the States of Guernsey.[1]

During World War II, the Germans placed an anti-aircraft gun on the tower. This is credited with shooting down several allied planes, and one German plane,[1] which crashed on Crevichon.

Notes, citations, and references

  1. ^ Two other towers were built in England at the same time – the Pembroke Dock Gun Towers, and the Spit of Grain Tower, Sheerness.[5] In addition the British built Nothe Fort, on the Isle of Portland. On Alderney, they built Fort Clonque and Fort Houmet Herbe.
  1. a b c d BBC – Guernsey history – Brehon Tower [1].
  2. ^ Rowlett, Russ. “Lighthouses of Guernsey”The Lighthouse DirectoryUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  3. a b Coysh, Victor (1985). Channel Islets. Guernsey: Guernsey Press. ISBN 0902550128.
  4. ^ (1868), Vol. 2, p.127.
  5. a b Lowry (2008), pp.53-54.
  6. a b c d Priaulx Library: The Star, 31 August 1915.[2] -accessed 27 October 2014.
  7. ^ Grimsley (1988), p.53.
  8. a b Clements (1998), p. 135.
  • Bruce, H.A., ed. (1864) Life of General Sir William Napier, K. C. B., author of ‘History of the Peninsular War’, etc: Edited by H. A. Bruce. With portraits. (J. Murray)
  • Clements, William H. (1998) Towers of Strength: Martello Towers Worldwide. (London: Pen & Sword).ISBN 978-0-85052-679-0.
  • Grimsley, E.J. (1988) The historical development of the Martello Tower in the Channel Islands. (Sarnian Publications). ISBN 978-0951386804
  • Lowry, Bernard (2008) Fortifications From the Tudors to the Cold War”‘. (Osprey Publishing). ISBN 9780747806516

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