150-year-old gun swings back into action at Portsmouth museum

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DANGLING in the cold sea breeze, a five-ton mortar gun was lifted into place at the Royal Marines Museum after a £7,000 restoration project.

The cast iron mortar, which was used to fire 13-inch shells during target practice at Eastney barracks in the 19th century, is back on display at the entrance of the museum after a 12-month hiatus.

EASY DOES IT The mortar gun is hoisted on to its oak base at the Royal Marines Museum.  Picture: Allan Hutchings (120256-964)

EASY DOES IT The mortar gun is hoisted on to its oak base at the Royal Marines Museum. Picture: Allan Hutchings (120256-964)

A crane truck yesterday delivered a new four-tonne English oak gun carriage which was made in Cornwall to replace the original base that had gone rotten.

After lifting the replica base into place at the entrance of the museum, engineers went about lifting in the gun which was made in 1855.

It took several hours to get the heavy mortar in the right position, but finally it made it into its new home.

Chris Newbery, director of the Royal Marines Museum, said: ‘It’s very exciting to have it back, partially because it’s such a feature of the Eastney Barracks scene and partially because it’s so relevant to the history of the Royal Marines.’

The gun is an example of the mortars used by the Royal Marine Artillery in bomb boats to attack shore positions during the Crimean War.

Positioned in the middle of bomb boat, it could fire shells over a distance of 4,000 yards to devastating effect.

The gun on display at the museum never went to sea.

Instead, it was used for target practice at Eastney Barracks which was built in the 1860s as the headquarters of the Royal Marine Artillery.

The mortar would fire dummy shells at a pole near to the south gate of Fort Cumberland 700 yards away.

It is thought to have been on display in the Eastney Barracks parade square since before 1930.

But after decades of patching up its rotten wooden base, the museum sought to replace it and money was raised.

The new base was made by specialists Mainmast Conservation in Cornwall which has made similar gun carriages for HMS Victory in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The mortar now looks exactly as it did in 1855.

Conservationist Ian Henn said: ‘It’s the first one we’ve done that’s this size.

‘It was a challenge because we only had one photograph to work from but I’m very happy with it.’