Major battles in the English Civil War would very often
begin with a large barrage from the artillery of either side, in order
to "soften up" the enemy prior to the main attack. This is equally true
of many modern battles. Then during the main battle the gun crew would
need to be prepared to move the gun to a better firing position as the
ebb and flow of the battle dictated.
Good shots from artillery could easily cause devastation
amongst companies of soldiers as the ball, often weighing several pounds,
tore through the ranks. This would be extremely demoralising for soldiers,
to see the entire file stood next to them get ripped to pieces in the
blink of an eye by a cannon ball! Alternatively the guns may fire "grape shotte", which would be a large spread of smaller shots designed to take
out a wider frontage of soldiers. Grape shotte would only be effective
at a closer range than a large ball though, as the smaller shots would slow down and drop sooner.
A good Gun Captain would need to be a master of the science
of ballistics, and was a very valuable asset. In fact the enemy would,
if they could help it, not kill Gun Captains if they captured one with
his artillery piece because he was more valuable alive if he could be
put to work for them.
Col. Sir William Compton's Company
The artillery company is the third fighting arm of the
Earl of Northampton's Regiment, and is named after Sir William Compton,
third son of the 2nd Earl of Northampton Spencer Compton and
commander of the Banbury Garrison. It currently has approximately 10
members (including 3 Gun Captains), and has 2 artillery pieces available. The guns we have are:
- Elizabeth-Henry: The pride of the regiment and one of
the finest pieces in the Sealed Knot. A battery piece that has double barrels bound in
leather, complete with a large four-wheeled limber and display colours. Each barrel fires a 2oz charge.
- Roaring Meg: Another battery piece, this single barrelled gun has been with the regiment since it was first formed. She is a Falconet with a 2 & 3/4" bore, firing a 4oz charge. Named after one of the original guns of the Earl of Northampton's regiment, she has recently had the trail and wheels rebuilt.
We will also soon have a third artillery piece
available called Vulcan, recently purchased by a member of the regiment and
undergoing licensing. It is a Robinet with a 1 & 5/8" bore and
firing a 2oz charge. This type of gun is light enough to be
manoeuvrable for infantry support. The Regiment is also soon to purchase a fourth artillery piece, hopefully to be available in 2006. In case you were wondering, all guns are fully proofed for live firing of real
cannonballs, although they never do, of course!
We also have an impressive mock cannon, together with all the proper tools, made by Brian Osborne of our regiment. It is named
Rebecca after his late daughter. Its purpose is to train children of the society in the proper drill procedures of a gun crew, and has proved immensely popular with the children since first displayed in June 2001.
Training and Safety
In order to work on a gun crew you should, like musketeers
and dragoons, obtain from the police a licence to acquire black powder.
Gun Captains must also have the appropriate shotgun or firearms licence.
In addition it is common for members of a gun crew to carry swords as
a sidearm, in case the gun gets attacked by the enemy and the crew have
to fight to defend themselves. If a member of the gun crew wishes to carry
a sword on the battlefield they must, like anyone else, undertake sword
training prior to taking the Sealed Knot sword test.
The Gun Captain, as the name suggests, is the person who
runs the crew. Safety is of the utmost importance on a gun crew for obvious
reasons. Although no live rounds are being fired large quantities of black
powder go into the dummy charges, and the slightest spark at the wrong
time can easily lead to serious injury. For that reason careful and intensive
training is given to any person wishing to work on a gun crew by the Captain.
The number of people who may work on a gun crew can vary considerably,
but generally depends on the size of the artillery piece being worked
There are a number of stages in the preparation of a gun
for firing, such as worming, wet mopping, dry mopping, loading the charge
then wadding, pricking and priming the pan, before actual firing. Each
stage must be carried out in a carefully practised manner. As far as the
safety and control of an artillery piece is concerned the buck stops at
the Gun Captain.
If you are interested in joining Sir William
Compton's Company of Artillery please contact the Company Commander:
Tel. 01745 888580
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