Save our Cannons

England's historic cannons are at risk.

Today they stand proudly on the walls of castles and forts across the country as vivid reminders of our island story. They are an integral part of the landscape, but unless we act now, they could be lost to the elements. Battered by strong winds and corroded by salty sea spray, many of them are rapidly deteriorating.

We need to act now to save these precious objects and keep their stories alive for future generations, but we need your support.

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With your help, we can carry out urgent repairs to protect four historic guns most in need of care and ensure their stories of service survive. Discover their stories below.

Read the case studies
An 18th Century cannon from Etal Castle

18th-century cannons at Etal Castle

The majority of the guns in our care are made of iron and/or steel and unfortunately when this rusts the corrosion forms unsightly lumps or blisters. If it is not treated and repainted the corrosion continues. This can thin the metal and weaken the structure.

These identical mid 17th-century cast iron 9-pounder cannons at Etal Castle in Northumberland have flaking paint and small areas of corrosion. They are sitting on replica wooden carriages, and exposure to the elements is also causing these to rot.

Cannons of this date in England are rare survivors. When in use, they fired solid iron balls, to distances up to 1,600m.

To save the guns we need to remove them from their carriages, remove old paint and corrosion and repaint the metal with protective paint. The wood has lost structural stability, so we also need to commission replacement carriages.

WWII anti-aircraft gun located at Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall.

WWII anti-aircraft gun at Pendennis Castle

Within 1.5km of the coast, bare metal degrades twenty times faster than further inland. Coastal guns are regularly battered by strong winds blowing corrosive moisture and salt spray over them. Sadly, the sea air has taken its toll on this WWII anti-aircraft gun located at Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall.

The QF (quick firing) 3.7-inch AA (anti-aircraft) gun was designed in the 1930s. By 1941 it was the main British anti-aircraft gun of the Second World War. It could fire 10 - 20 shells per minute, reaching up to 30,000ft.  From April 1944, 16 of these mobile 3.7-inch AA guns were sent down to Falmouth to cover the build-up of troops and supplies embarking for the D Day landings.

Unfortunately, this example is suffering from extensive corrosion. The holes and thinning surface  resulting from continued corrosion of the metal are affecting the gun's structural stability, especially where water has been collecting. We need to deconstruct the gun to remove paint and corrosion using air abrasion cleaning. We also need to repaint the surface, wax internal areas and re-install it on a new platform to prevent its wheels sinking into the grass.

WWII anti-aircraft gun at Dover Castle

WWII anti-aircraft gun at Dover Castle

Another QF 3.7 mobile AA gun in need of conservation can be found at Dover Castle. In addition to the damage of sea air, this gun is also subject to the corrosive power of pollution from the busy port it overlooks.

By April 1940, there were 12 of these mobile AA guns in the Dover defences. They were replaced later that year by static versions in fixed positions, guarding the skies above this key port. Like Falmouth, defences at Dover were increased in the build-up to D Day. From June to August 1944, 28 3.7-inch mobile AA guns were deployed to the town.

The gun is suffering from extensive deterioration. Its paint is beginning to fail and flake, and thinning of the metal is threatening its structural integrity. We need to deconstruct the gun and its mount, repaint the surface of the gun and its trailers, and re-inflate its wheels.

Current Cannon Conservation Projects

The care of our cannons is a complex process. Our conservators carry out a comprehensive condition survey and our scientists are at the forefront of research into the most effective treatments.

This year, a specialist conservation team has already worked on the cannons of the Garrison Walls on the Isles of Scilly. Both the cannon barrels and carriages have been given some loving care. Areas of rust have been treated and one damaged carriage has been shipped off the island to a specialist workshop for repairs.

A 12-pounder quick-firing gun has also been conserved at Pendennis Castle. Our conservators repaired many years of damage caused by exposure to wind, rain, and salt water. And as part of a major new interpretation project  a new volunteer gun crew has been trained to fire the historic gun.

  • Cannon Conservation on the Isles of Scilly

    Follow Bethan Stanley, our Senior Collections Conservator, as she travels to the tiny St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly to work on some cannons in need of TLC.

  • Cannon Conservation on the Cornish Coast

    As part of an ambitious reinterpretation of Pendennis Castle in Cornwall, English Heritage have conserved and restored to full firing condition, one of the guns from the castle's collection.

  • Dover Castle: Recharged Battery

    In 2015 English Heritage restored an anti-aircraft gun used in the First World War and placed it at Dover Castle, where identical gun batteries were used to see off German Zeppelins.

  • Conservation work at Iron Bridge

    Conservation at English Heritage

    Discover more about how our experts conserve and maintain over 400 historic buildings and monuments, their associated gardens and landscapes, and half a million artefacts.

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