Special Branch called in to probe Portsmouth’s ‘private army’

PREMIERE The Fort Cumberland Guard on duty at the first showing of Charge of the Light Brigade at the Odeon, North End, 1968
PREMIERE The Fort Cumberland Guard on duty at the first showing of Charge of the Light Brigade at the Odeon, North End, 1968

THIS WEEK IN 1993: Ballet shoes put on show in museum

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It’s now 53 years since the Fort Cumberland Guard was formed in Portsmouth – the first civilian display group of its kind created in Britain outside the military.

The Guard is modelled on the Royal Marines of the 1830 to 1840 period and was set up to draw attention to the plight of Fort Cumberland at Eastney.

At the time it was established rumours were circulating in the city that when the Royal Marines left the fort it might be sold to developers and demolished.

One unforseen problem in setting up the Guard was the law of the land. No citizen was allowed to raise a ‘private army’ and what the Guard proposed was unique.

Buying, storing and eventually discharging lethal weapons (gun clubs aside) was new.

The society’s first chairman Mike Powell had to write to Buckingham Palace asking permission to wear the uniforms of the Royal Marines 1830-1840 and to fly the colours of the marines at that time and to use and fire muskets they used in that era.

This prompted an investigation by Special Branch whose officers came to the city to discover why a body of people wanted to raise a private army.

Satisfied by their inquiries they handed the matter over to the city’s police at Albert Road police station to sort out all the legalities.

Today the Guard is based at the Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, but only until it moves to the Historic Dockyard. Then it will be seeking a new home.