Volunteer Artillery

Great Britain and Continental Europe  had enjoyed a period of peace from the defeat of the Napoleonic French  at Waterloo in 1815 to the middle of the Century.  In 1854 France and Britain had gone to war against Russia in support of the Ottoman Empire. The Crimean War resulted in a victory for the Anglo-French Forces, however, the British Army was severely weakened. It also highlighted that the main bulk of the regular Army was deployed in garrisons throughout the Empire, leaving Britain's defence in a perilous situation.

 There was concern that the French Emperor, Napoleon III, with a much larger than the British Army may take advantage of the Britain's military weakness and launch an invasion.  The need for reform of the Army was recognised, and as part of the need to strengthen home defence a Volunteer Force of citizens who were serve part time would be established.

 On 12th May 1859, the Secretary of State for War, Jonathan Peel, circulated a letter to the Lieutenants of the Counties  authorising them to raise a force of part time rifle, artillery and engineer corps. Officers would hold a Lord Lieutenants Commission, and volunteers would be under Military Law.

 The Volunteers could be called upon “in case of actual invasion, or of appearance of an enemy in force on the coast, or in case of rebellion arising in either of these emergencies.” Members were expected to attend eight drill days and exercise in four months, or 24 days in a month to be classified as effective. The Volunteer Corps were to provide their own uniforms, arms and equipment.

 The Artillery Corps were formed to man coastal guns and batteries.

The River Tyne was one of the powerhouses of the British Empire. Coal, Shipbuilding and Armaments were major economic and strategic activities. 

Captain Bodford Pim Royal Navy in address to the populace of North Shields outlined the poor state of the defences at Tynemouth and their inability to protect the Tyne. On 7th May 1859 a meeting was held to promote the formation of a volunteer corps for local defence. Following the circulation of the Secretary of State's letter, a a further meeting was held at the Town Hall to eleect officers and commence recruiting.

 On the 25th May 1859 the first drill was held at the George Tavern. Formal enrolment began on 16th August 1859, and the Tynemouth Volunteer Artillery (TVA)  became the first Volunteer Artillery unit within the Volunteer Force.

The 2nd Corps of the TVA was formed in January 1860, to be followed by the formation of a Corps in Berwick in February, and the 1st Durham Volunteer Artillery in March. There followed the formation of more Corps to defend the harbours on the Northumbrian Coast. By June 1860, nine Volunteer Artillery Corps were formed from the Tees to the Tweed.

Artillery Volunteers
Date Formed
1st Northumberland
18- Aug-1859
2nd Northumberland
12 Jan 1860
1st Berwick-upon-Tweed
27-Feb -1860
1st Durham
Durham City
(HQ to Sunderland Dec1860)
14 Mar 1860
2nd Durham
14 Mar 1860
South Shields
14 Mar 1860
4th Durham
14 Mar 1860
3rd Northumberland
22 Mar 1860
1st Newcastle upon Tyne
2 Jun 1860

Source: Lineage Book of British Land Forces 1660m- 1978 JMB Frederick

3rd Durham Volunteer Artillery
First Drill March 1860
The individual Corps expanded, new batteries were formed and attachments took place. Over the next 30 years the size of each Corps varied as batteries were disbanded or others formed depending manning levels and recruitment.

As a result of the Regulation of the Forces Act 1871, the Volunteers came under War Office Control, removing the jurisdiction of the Lord Lieutenants and increasing the integration with the Regular Army.

1st Berwick-upon-Tweed Artillery Volunteers, circa 1880
A Divisional structure for Volunteers Artillery units was introduced in April 1882. 

Tynemouth Volunteer Artillery c1895
On 1st June 1899 a Royal Warrant issued which , provided that the Royal Artillery would be divided into two Corps; the mounted branch of the Royal Horse and Field Artillery, and the dismounted branch, the Royal Garrison Artillery comprising of coastal defence companies, mountain, siege and heavy batteries.
In October 1899 war broke out in South Africa as a long standing conflict with the Boers escalated. The initial phases of the war did not go well for the British resulting in a series of defeats and sieges. In 1900 it was decided to send re-enforcements  and to meet the numbers required, a call was made to the Volunteers. Amongst the units volunteering were members of the 1st Northumberland Volunteer Artillery, mainly workers from Armstrong's Factory in Elswick. The Elswick Battery sailed for South Africa in April 1900. After service in the Boer War they returned home in July 1901.


On 1st January 1902 the Volunteer Artillery Divisional structure was abolished and the units re-designated as Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers).

1st Berwick upon Tweed RGA (V) Annual Camp Scarborough 1905