Guernsey's Loophole Towers

History is in plain sight all over Guernsey and nowhere more obviously than around our coastline, which is punctuated by fortifications.  One such set of fortifications are the loophole towers that can be found overlooking many bays.

In 1776 the Thirteen Colonies in North America declared their independence from Great Britain in the American War of Independence.  In 1778 France formally allied with the United States of America and Great Britain found itself at war on several fronts – a situation that was compounded in 1779 when Spain allied with France.  As a result, the Channel Islands (which were loyal to the British Crown) found themselves under threat of attack and in July of 1778 the British Government authorized the construction of fifteen defensive towers around Guernsey’s coast.  Built between August 1778 and March 1779 in local granite, all fifteen are identical and consist of a basement or lower ground floor where powder was stored, and an upper ground/first floor and a second floor with the loopholes (that give the towers their names) through which muskets could be fired.  The towers are 9 metres (30ft) high and 6 metres (20ft) in diameter on the outside, with 4ft thick walls giving an internal diameter of around 3.7 meters (12ft).  The base of the tower, up to the first floor, is sloped. 

Guernsey’s loophole towers were never designed to house artillery and the only way of defending the tower was with muskets being fired through the loopholes.  In 1787 a report highlighted the limitations of defending the coast using only muskets and thus at the onset of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th Century artillery batteries were installed at the base of or near several towers, for which the towers were to act as a barracks or guardhouse, and 12lb carronades (short-range cannons) were installed on the reinforced roofs of the loophole towers.

Through this period of Guernsey’s history a permanent regular garrison of British soldiers was stationed on the island, however there was no way that these troops could guard and defend the entire coastline.  Therefore members of the local militia manned the loophole towers.  Guernsey had four militia regiments, Town, North, South and West, and every adult male had to serve three years compulsory service, often fitting this around their day-to-day work farming, fishing or quarrying.

Of the fifteen original towers, only twelve remain; two in St Sampson were demolished in the early and mid twentieth century to make way for States developments (one for a road widening and tram depot, and the other for a block of flats), and the other on L’Ancresse Common (which was one of several in this area) that was destroyed by the Germans during World War II.  There is one just a short walk from the Bella Luce, overlooking Saints Bay.  Walking along the coast path from Moulin Huet and taking the steps down towards Saints Bay, you will first pass the “Saint’s Bay Left Batterie” where a 12lb cannon was sited, before dropping into Saints Bay and taking the new steps up to Loophole Tower Number 13.  

This tower is not open to the public (the towers at Petit Bot Bay and Rousse headland are, between March and October) but you can walk around it and enjoy the views afforded from its location overlooking the bay.

The loophole towers (and their larger partners the Martello towers such as the examples at Fort Grey or Fort Hommet) are an important and very visible part of Guernsey’s history, serving as a reminder of the perilous position that Guernsey and her inhabitants have found themselves in on numerous occasions in the not so distant past.

Written by:

Bella Luce