The Russian Cannon

Bridgwater once boasted a trophy from the Crimean War of 1853-1856, which arrived in the town in 1857. It was ultimately removed in 1940, as scrap metal to help the war effort. A replacement naval gun, a smaller piece compared to the original, now stands at the Cross Rifles roundabout.

The Russian Cannon, photographed by Robert Gillo in about 1865. Kindly provided by the Blake Museum.

Wells Journal 2 May 1857

RUSSIAN TROPHY – his worship the Mayor [of Bridgwater], John Ruddock, Esq, having heard that some of the guns captured at Sebastapol, were bestowed as trophies to the authorities of several of our provincial towns, made application to Lord Panmure for a gun for Bridgwater. We are happy to say his lordship acceded to his Worship’s request, and has granted a Russian iron gun for the town of Bridgwater, to be preserved as a trophy of the Russian war.

Sherborne Mercury 16 June 1857

A RUSSIAN TROPHY – A large Russian gun has been presented to this town [Bridgwater], by the Admiralty, as a trophy of the late Crimean war; it arrived here on Wednesday last. It is an iron gun, a 42-pounder, 8 feet 4 inches in length, and weighs 55cwt, 3qrs, 14lbs. Different opinions are expressed as to where this gun should be placed. Some are for having it on the Cornhill, and other in the front of the Town Hall; but we think if mounted in either of these places, it will be an unsightly obstruction, and that the best and most appropriate situation for it is by the flag staff in front of her Majesty’s custom-house, pointed down the river, and we hope the corporation will see fit to place it there.

NOTE: a 42-pounder cannon would be a very heavy gun for the period, most likely either a naval gun in the port utilised in the defences, or else one of the many heavy guns in the coastal defence batteries.

Wells Journal 15 August 1857

BRIDGWATER A sketch of the proposed work on which it is intended to mount the Russian gun lately presented to the town by order of Lord Panmure, has been submitted to the Town Council: but as the probable cost will be some few pounds beyond the sum voted, the subject has been again referred to a committee. Robert Ford, Esq., has kindly offered as much stone as may be necessary for the gun tower, from his quarries at Wembdon.

Bridgwater Mercury 11 November 1857

THE RUSSIAN TROPHY The Mayor reported that Mr. Down, architect, recommended that a superior style of iron railing should be placed around the Russian gun that the one originally decided upon. The extra expense would be about £8, in addition to the £30 already voted. Councillor Smith strenuously opposed any further expenditure. Councillor Parker thought it would be a pity to injure the appearance of the memento for so small a sum, and moved that £10 extra be devoted to the purpose. Councillor McMillan seconded the proposition, and it was carried, Councillor Smith alone opposing.


Squibbs’ History of Bridgwater, page 80, mentions how the cannon was ‘met with bands of music and drawn through the town in procession’.

The location of the Russian Gun (left) on the 1888 OS Town Plan.

POEM: The Russian Gun.

After the gun was presented to the town it was allowed to occupy a somewhat degraded position for some four months; some amusement was caused, in October, 1857, by a copy of the following verses being pasted on it:—

By gallant Englishmen was I

                From Russian fortress captured ;

And when from Woolwich here I came,

                The people seemed enraptured.

With rejoicings and with sweetest strains

                Of music was I greeted ;

But now with gross neglect I grieve,

                Most vilely am I treated.

I and my friends in the Redan,

                Fine carriages reposed on ;

But now with filth and dirt I’m scorned,

                And traitorously imposed on.

When Panmure gave me unto you,

                He named as the condition,

That I should hereafter occupy

                An honourable position.

When I belonged to Russian hosts,

                English valour I respected.

And from British pride of British pluck

                Good treatment I expected.

My fellow guns have elsewhere met

                With flattering receptions;

But here I lie the victim of

                The cruellest deceptions.

Alas! alas! I’ve got into

                An unpatriotic quarter;

Brave Blake I’ll swear was never born

                In spiritless Bridgwater!


Bridgwater Mercury 12 May 1858

THE RUSSIAN GUN

Alderman Bath said he had been requested by many gentlemen living on the Cornhill to draw the Council’s attention to the present state of the Russian gun. They declaed that the gun was now no ornament whatever to the town, and that it could be placed where it might be a very great ornament indeed. He had had plans prepared which he now placed before them, with respect to the proposed erection of the gun in the centre of the Cornhill. If placed there it would leave thirty feet space on either side, and thirty-five feet from the Market House rails to the railing of the gun. In that space there would be room for three carriages to pass abreast. It was disreputable to the town in its present condition. A lamp might be placed over it on the Cornhill More than £57 had been expended in erecting it in Salmon Parade he believed he could get it removed to the Cornhill by subscription, and not cost the town a single farthing. He had received a letter from a person signing himself ‘An Old Burgess’ recommending that this course should be pursued.

Alderman W. Browne: Is the sum of £57 to be returned to the Corporation? (laughter)

Alderman Bath said he didn’t know anything about that. He proposed that the gun be removed to the Cornhill, if the money could be obtained by subscription. That’s the point’. [A Voice, ‘ As, so it is’]. Different people had recommended to him different things. One person said to him ‘if you move it at all send it slap bang into the river’ (loud laughter). Another person said ‘take and sell it, and put the money into the Borough Fund’ (renewed laughter) and this party added ‘if you can do that you are a good fellow’ (continued laughter).

Councillor J.R. Smith would support the resolution, if Alderman Bath would promise to raise by subscription the £57 already spent in the erection of the gun.

Councillor John Browne: I will support it then.

Councillor J.R. Smith said he had always opposed the expenditure of that money, because he believed they might have done without it. The gun was a present to them from the Government. Presents were not always cheap, and they had proved that in this case. When he told them it would cost £5 he was pooh-poohed, but now it had cost £57.

Alderman W. Browne said he should not be satisfied with what Councillor Smith said. He did not go far enough. In addition to the £57 already expended, he should stipulate that £100 should be paid to the Infirmary. (loud laughter). He thought hat whilst they were about it they should get as much out of it as they could. (laughter).

Alderman Hurman was of opinion that if all these various sums were subscribed and the resolution passed, the removal could not be effected. The centre of the Cornhill had been let as market ground on a lease for three years. Until the end of that period Alderman Bath’s motion could not be entertained.

Councillor Good said that no extra expense would be incurred for a lamp over the gun when on the Cornhill, as one could be removed from the Market House. He thought the gun might be made an ornament if removed to where Alderman Bath suggested.

Councillor Doel hoped Alderman bath would raise his subscription and remove the gun. He had no objection to it in Salmon Lane, but when the weigh bridge was locked up he and others wanted to put loads of hay or corn where the gun was. When they did so Haslam [the inspector of nuisances] came and ordered them to remove it, or he would summon them, and have them fined one pound and costs. He didn’t blame Haslam in this matter, for he always came with his Worship’s compliments.

The Mayor said that if there was any blame he was to blame, for he looked well after the gun. The subject then dropped.

[Editorial in the same issue]: Alderman Bath, we imagine, must be a poor student of history. His love for the Russian gun leads one to believe that he labours under the impression that England has only achieved one Victory, ad that was obtained in the Crimea. In Salmon Parade, the Muscovite piece of ordinance rests conspicuous enough, and out of the way; but our eccentric Corporative functionary desires to locate it in the centre of the Cornhill, where it would dbe an obstruction instead of an ornament. Britain’s long list of war triumphs is too lengthy to need the prominent display of a trophy to remind her sons of her renown in arms. It is childish to wish to proclaim our prowess by exhibitions of this class. Noble deeds and noble men are better signs that rail surrounded iron-castings of captured instruments of war. Alderman Bath’s energy would be much more wisely expended in procuring for the centre of the Cornhill a statue of his celebrated townsman, Admiral Blake.

Bridgwater Mercury 6 April 1859

THE RUSSIAN CANNON’S VICINITY – to the editor of the Bridgwater Mercury.

Sir, When the Russian gun was placed in Salmon Lane as a trophy of the prowess of the British forces in the Crimea, the worthy Mayor of that year was deeply impress with what he considered to be the necessity of keeping the approaches to the sacred memento unencumbered and cleanly. Inspector Haslam had special direction to keep his eye on the locality and every person passing the spot had reason to remark upon the orderly  manner in which it was kept. With a view to carry out the desirable state of things any unfortunate individual who left a wheelbarrow upon the venerated ground was immediately hunted up and fined; but if any person so forgot himself as to leave a wagon or cart near the trophy the enormity of that crime was such that, without a moment’s delay the offended was summoned to the Town Hall, mulcted in a heavy fine, and heavier costs, and severely reprimanded on account of his extraordinary guilt. I underwent that terrible ordeal, Sir, so I know what it is. I remember with what antipathy the Mayor and magistrates looked upon me, and I verily imagined that my poor inoffensive cart must have committed some offence of a character too heinous to be properly appreciated by my limited comprehension. My vehicle was left there out of pure accident, but I bowed to the magistrates’ infliction, submitting with that patient resignation for which Bridgwater men are famous. Look at the Russian gun’s neighbourhood now, Sir. What a change had come o’er the vision of somebody’s dream! There must be something wrong somewhere. Why, no it’s a timber, hay, and stonemason’s yard. The other day I observed two or three men industriously plying the chisel on a large quantity of paving slabs that had remained there a month at least. I consoled myself with the idea that the stone must be for raising up of another cannon; but no, Sir, on enquiry I find it nothing of the sort. Last year the ground was sacred, not it is a stone yard. What a difference of taste between the authorities who yearly preside over our town! One plants and the other cuts down. What one reveres the other despises. If it was law last year to fine the unfortunate owners of intrusive carts, wagons, and wheelbarrows, surely it must be law now. I have not heard of any statutes being repealed on the subject, although I am a pretty constant reader of news, both with reference to nlocal and national Parliaments.

Yours obediently,

JUSTICE

At Bridgwater April 2nd 1859.

Southern Times and Dorset County Herald 30 August 1862

Report of a tightrope walker having set a rope between the Russian Gun to the opposite quay, then having crossed and back, then ran across the rope and back a second time.

Somerset County Gazette 09 November 1867

Mentions of bonfires being lit by the cannon, along with the Cornhill, to celebrate Guy Fawkes night.

An anonymous verse from the newspaper. This refers to the placing of the gun next to the toilets by the Town Bridge


Bridgwater Mercury 13 March 1889

We have the pleasure in giving publicity this week to a letter from the Vicar of St John’s, in which is mooted the idea of what we agree with him would be a very desirable and substantial town improvement. We have previously had occasion to refer to the many improvements recently effected in the Eastover or St John’s district, and the new line of railway, now in course of construction, which will have its terminus near the junction of the Bath and Bristol roads, cannot fail, from a commercial point of view, to prove greatly beneficial to that part of the town. Not long since the residents in Monmouth Street and its vicinity, at their own expense, converted a waste space used as a stone depot into a miniature garden plot, in the centre of which was planted the mounted Russian gun, removed thither at their request from Salmon Parade, and the suggestion now is to supplement this improvement with another which, if it can be effected, will make one of the principle approaches to the town, in close proximity to the new railway station, present a very creditable appearance. As is remarked by the Vicar of St John’s, th cottage property known as ‘the Rookery’ is well known, and it is of such a description that if there can be any opportunity of razing it to the ground, every inhabitant of Bridgwater will be well pleased. Alderman Foster, who acquired possession of it a few years since, with the view of facilitating the improvement referred to, has expressed his willingness to dispose of it on very favourable terms, and the suggestion of the rev. gentleman, to whose letter we direct the attention of our readers, is one which we venture to think will commend itself to their most favourable consideration.

The Russian Gun in about 1910, when at the junction of the Bristol and Bath Roads.
The Russian Gun on the 1905 OS Map for the town.

MKP 25/10/2020