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The Sidney Sussex Area vs The French

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In 1875, the rules for bathing on Cleethorpes beach were simple, but included one that forbade anyone bathing nude between the Life-Boat House and the Volunteer Gun Battery. Presumably everywhere else was fine!

That rule is clear – but where was this Battery situated and who were these volunteers?

The story goes back to the end of the Crimean War (1853-560), when it became painfully obvious to the Government War Office that they just did not have enough soldiers should a further emergency occur. Having just completed one war, finance was at a low ebb and consequently the Government were reluctant to recruit further members of the armed forces that may never be used.

Then in April 1859 another war broke out between France and the Austrian Empire and the fear was that Britain could easily become involved. Tensions grew further, following an assassination attempt on Emperor Napoleon III, when it was proved that the assassin had traveled to England to have the bombs that were used, manufactured in Birmingham.

Consequently in May 1859, the then Secretary of State, copied an idea that had been used in the Napoleonic wars and authorized the formation of a volunteer rifle force, together with a volunteer artillery corps, to defend coastal towns. The later were to man coastal guns and forts.

So, under the instruction of the Lincolnshire Lord- Lieutenant, the first Lincolnshire Artillery volunteers were formed and a battery of cannon was installed, all protected by a black-paled defensive enclosure. As far as Grimsby and Cleethorpeswas concerned, the first was situated upon the foreshore at the end of Suggitt’s Lane in Beaconthorpe.

A French invasion looked highly possible and people in our area considered that rather than the more obvious South Coast, a surprise attack would be made via the Humber by the much larger French army. We needed to be prepared.

Men were enlisted forthwith, though with a certain amount of difficulty, as the rules stated you had to pay for your own uniform, arms and equipment. What is more Volunteers were unpaid unless, ‘under arms’, when they were treated as normal soldiers.

The result was that there became a type of class distinction with these volunteers, the working class preferring to join the standing army.

There was of course no invasion, and the cannon never fired a shot in anger.  As time went on the Volunteer battalions became increasingly integrated with the regular army and the Beaconthorpe battery itself, was dismantled towards the end of the century.

Nevertheless and at the time, it is a fair bet that the Beaconsfield area felt itself well prepared to beat the French should they attempt to land.