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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 17

The Halifax Citadel, 1825-60: A Narrative and Structural History

by John Joseph Greenough

Appendix E: Casemates

The first problem to be overcome in any discussion of the casemates in the Halifax Citadel is that of determining their number. In fact, one could make a case for almost any number of casemates, from 54 to 80, depending on one's definition of the term. "Casemates" may be stretched to include almost any arched masonry structure; the seven arched rooms in the cavalier are considered casemates, and the three ravelin guardhouses are invariably described as "casemated defensible guardhouses." Even the six storage cellars under the parade square in the redan have the same basic structure as the casemates. At the other extreme, a really narrow definition of the term would exclude a number of the arched structures under the ramparts — the privies, for example, or the shifting rooms. For the purposes of this report, any arched structure found beneath the ramparts will be treated as a casemate. This gives a total of 60, counting the three privies, the shifting rooms, the small casemates in the redan re-entrants, and the two small arched rooms off the western sally ports.

The second problem arises when one attempts to devise a numbering system to encompass all 60 casemates. There have been at least three numbering systems in use since the first was devised in the late 1840s, and all of them are, in some ways, inadequate. No two of them arrive at the same total, and all leave some casemates out. The system currently in use is perhaps the best, but even it has some anomalies. It has, for instance, a casemate No. 0, completely ignores the casemates of defence in the western bastions, and for some reason numbers the shifting rooms as 6A and 15A. Early in my research, it became obvious that a comprehensive system was necessary, and, at the risk of making an already complicated situation worse, I devised a numbering system of my own, which I use throughout this report. It utilizes Nos. 15 through 50 of the previous system and re-numbers the remaining 23. Numbering is consecutive going clockwise from the southernmost casemate in the curtain. Even this system has one anomaly: I mistakenly numbered the privy off the north end of the northern sally port in the curtain and the small room behind it as 7A and 7B respectively. In fact, as I discovered later, the two are entirely separate entities, having been built at different times. However, rather than alter all the numbering used in the report, I leave the system as it is Following is a comparison of the standard system with that presently in use.

Nos. 1—5 (formerly 7—10 with one unnumbered): South end, curtain.

Nos. 6—11 (formerly 11—4 with two unnumbered): North end, curtain. The first casemate past the sally port (the privy) and the small room behind it are numbered 7A and 7B respectively.

Nos. 12—13 (formerly unnumbered): The casemates of defence in the northwest demi-bastion. No. 12 is the westernmost.

No. 14 (formerly 15A): Shifting room, north magazine.

Nos. 15—23 (numbered as before): North side, northeast salient.

Nos. 24—33 (numbered as before): East side, northeast salient.

Nos. 34—42 (numbered as before): North side, redan.

Nos. 43—50 (numbered as before): South side, redan.

Nos. 51—3 (formerly 0—2): East side, southeast salient.

Nos. 54—5 (formerly 3—4): South side, southeast salient.

Nos. 56—7 (formerly 5—6): South side, southwest demi-bastion.

No. 58 (formerly 6A): Shifting room, south magazine.

Nos. 59—60 (formerly unnumbered): Casemates of defence, southwest demi-bastion.

No. 60 is the westernmost.

Building the Casemates

In Colonel Nicolls's original plan for the Citadel, casemates were intended solely for storage and the defence of the ditch. He provided for 16 of them, arranged in pairs, to flank the ravelin ditches.1 The alterations of the early 1830s brought about two major changes in this plan. In the first place, the decision to build a redan on the eastern front caused the deletion of four of the original casemates (those intended for the eastern curtain to flank the east ravelin) and the addition of eight more casemates of defence to flank the ditch on both faces of the redan and the eastern faces of the eastern salients. This brought the total number of defence casemates up to the present figure of 20.

The second major change resulted from the decision not to build the north and south cavaliers. Additional barrack space was required, and Colonel Jones decided that the best solution to the problem would be the construction of dwelling casemates. The real reason for this change in policy may have been the result of the escarp collapses of the early 1830s. Casemating was one way of taking the loading weight of the ramparts off the escarps, and Jones and the Fortifications department may well have felt that casemating would, in the end, prove cheaper and more efficient than building escarps of a very thick profile.

In all, Jones estimated for 28 new casemates:2 12 two-storey casemates in the redan for officers' quarters; eight additional casemates of defence; five storage casemates on the north front; two small casemated privies on the west front; and one small two-storey casemate at the redan salient, the bottom storey of which was also a privy.3

As work proceeded on the casemates provided in the revised estimate, Jones's successor, Colonel Calder, decided that even 40 casemates would be insufficient for the needs of the garrison. In January 1843, he proposed that casemating be extended to fill most of the available space under the ramparts.4 London responded by inviting him to justify the additional casemates.5 Calder canvassed the other department heads to see how much space they would need in the completed fort, and, on the basis of the information he received, decided that 19 additional casemates were necessary. He formally proposed their construction in an estimate for the completion of the Citadel dated 22 May 1843.6 He also included in the estimate an item providing for the rebuilding of the area wall of the casemates of defence in the northwest bastion to replace an earlier wall which had collapsed.7

As Calder's estimate was being debated, the redan casemates reached completion and it became necessary to provide them with their interior partitions. Unfortunately Jones had neglected to leave a plan of the proposal for the partitions behind when he left. After a lengthy exchange with London, a plan was decided upon, and the partitions were constructed.8

The casemates included in Calder's 1843 estimate included four on the west front, two on the north front, seven on the east side of the northeast salient, one in each of the redan re-entrants, two on the south front and two shifting rooms for the magazines. These were brought forward in the Ordnance annual estimate in the years following 1843. The detail provided in these annual estimates was infinitely greater than the brief sketch of the proposed service provided in the 1843 estimate, but unfortunately only the text of the Ordnance annual estimate for 1844-45 has been located.9

The new casemates were still in the process of being constructed when Calder submitted his supplementary estimate in March 1846.10 The casemate provisions of the earlier estimates were reiterated in this document, but no additional information was provided. The only new projects involving casemates were the demolition and rebuilding of the retaining walls of the casemates of defence in the western curtain and the casemates of defence in the northwest demi-bastion.11

By 1848, all the casemates were completed.12 But the problems with them were only beginning. Most of them leaked.

Staunching the Casemates

The Engineer department in Halifax spent almost a decade (1848-56) trying to find a satisfactory solution to the problem of casemate waterproofing. I have already dwelt at some length on the problems involved and the solutions adopted. This section is a brief summary of the earlier chapter on the subject.

The heart of the staunching problem lay in the difficulty of finding a satisfactory covering for the casemate dos d'anes which would shed water. The problem was influenced by three main factors. In the first place, the comparative severity of the Halifax winter, with its sudden thaws, made frost and water damage in subterranean structures a major difficulty. This was further complicated in the case of the casemates by the nature of the drainage system initially adopted to lead the water off the dos d'anes. In fact the only drainage provided was a lead gutter in the troughs between the casemates leading to a gargoyle in the retaining wall and an exposed down pipe. The pipe, needless to say, blocked up at the first frost, leaving the surface water trapped in the rampart earth. To cap everything else, neither the casemate arches nor the dos d'anes were carried very far into the end walls of the casemates. This meant that there was a comparatively weak join between the casemate roofs and the end walls, and it was this part of the casemates which was particularly likely to leak.

Colonel Jones, the engineer responsible for the introduction of dwelling casemates into the Citadel design, did not anticipate that leakage would be a serious problem; indeed, he proposed to cover the dos d'anes with only a layer of tiling laid in cement.13 After some practical experience with the work, he substituted duchess slates for tiles,14 and this arrangement remained unaltered until after his departure from Halifax.

Colonel Calder, on taking over the command, decided that the slate and cement covering was inadequate for the demands of the climate, and requested that he be allowed to substitute granite flagging for the slates.15 London equivocated, but in the end, flagging replaced both slates and tiles on most of the casemates.

By 1848 Calder had come to the conclusion that flagging alone was not enough. He was beginning to encounter serious leakage problems, most of which involved dampness on the end walls of the casemates. To solve this, he experimented with hipping the dos d'anes and flagging and counterflagging the hip. In February 1848, he wrote to the Inspector General of Fortifications to inform him of the extent of the problem, and of the means he had adopted to combat it.16

The question of waterproofing then became the subject of a trans-atlantic controversy. London's response was to provide information on expedients adopted to meet similar situations in other stations (notably Plymouth and Kingston) and to press for radical alterations involving the use of asphalt.17 Calder, in the meantime, went on experimenting with solutions of his own devising, a process which his successor, Colonel Savage (who arrived in June 1848), continued.

In the course of 1848, Calder and Savage came to realize that correcting the weak joins at either end of the arches and dos d'anes would not by itself be sufficient to solve the problem. Something had to be done about the drainage. The solution decided upon was the provision of an internal down pipe running from the mid-point of the dos d'ane gutter through the arch and down inside the casemate beneath. (It is not clear who was most responsible for the changes — probably it was Savage.) The warmth of the casemate would, they hoped, keep the pipes from freezing in cold weather.18

In November 1848, Savage had Lieutenant Burmester, RE, inspect the casemates and produce a report. This document is especially interesting for the light it throws on the staunching expedients tried up to that time.19 It reveals that no fewer than five different methods of casemate covering were then in use. Of the 54 casemates (the re-entering angle casemates and the privies were not included), 12 had been flagged and hipped, 30 had been flagged, two still retained their tile covering, four were covered in a combination of tiles and dry flagging and six were flagged, hipped and piped.20 In his report, Burmester did not recommend the introduction of internal piping. He thought it an unnecessary extravagance. Savage disagreed, but to keep the expense down, he proposed the re-location of the down pipe from the centre of the pier wall to the corner formed by the pier and retaining walls.21

Without waiting for London to react to his proposals, Savage framed an estimate for staunching the casemates and sent it off in April 1849.22 This was the most elaborate of all the general estimates ever drawn up in the course of the construction of the Citadel. It represented a culmination of Savage's (and Calder's) experimentation with the types of waterproofing needed to withstand Halifax's formidable climate. It estimated for an extension of the hipping, flagging and counterflagging to all the casemates (privies and re-entering angle casemates again excepted), the provision of internal down pipes, the construction of a system of drains and water tanks, the alteration of the top of the rampart retaining wall to alleviate some of the water problems, and a number of lesser changes.23 The estimate was unique in that it also proposed similar alterations to the terreplein of the cavalier.

Unfortunately few of the provisions of this very detailed estimate were ever carried out. The Fortifications department had its own ideas about the best means of staunching leakage. In the end, a system involving the extensive use of asphalt and asphalted brick was adopted. It is unfortunate that we know little about the nature of the change. The estimates for the service were included in the Ordnance annual estimates beginning in 1851-52, and, since the texts of these documents have not been located, we can only speak in very general terms of the changes made. The major component in the new solution was "Claridge's Patent Seyssel Asphalte."24 The other materials were brick, concrete and course shingle. The dos d'anes were altered so that the hip extended to the centre of the casemate and the down pipe was moved back to the centre of the pier wall. The top of the retaining wall and escarp and the chimney casing were also altered, and extensive use was made of asphalted brick.25 In February 1854, Colonel Savage reported on the measures adopted26 and was relatively sanguine about their success.

Ten months later, Savage's successor, Colonel Stotherd, had the casemates inspected.27 The results were depressing. Despite all the care and attention lavished on them in the preceding six years, 21 of the rampart casemates and all of the cavalier casemates still leaked. This revelation provoked something of a minor crisis. It is impossible to determine the exact nature of Stotherd's response to the problem, but he seems to have confined himself to repairing the asphalt and repointing the masonry. This seems to have worked. A second inspection report, made in the summer of 1856, describes a substantial improvement.28 And with that, the long history of the casemate staunching appears to have come to an end.

Subsequent Events

There was a good deal of routine maintenance done, however, and items for such work appear in almost all of the annual estimates. Unfortunately few of these documents have survived. In some instances, we have the abstract of an estimate, but not the detailed calculation of materials and labour. It is therefore impossible to tell to what extent the casemates were altered in the course of ordinary repairs.

As an example, in 1862 the Barrack Annual Estimate included the following Citadel items:

Citadel. Sheet the ceiling of all the rooms £70

Citadel. Cavalier Casemates. Renew the floor boarding £1,466

Citadel. No 18 Casemate [standard system No. 25] — Convert into a Woman's Wash House £111

Citadel. Ablution Room No 23 Casemate. [Standard system No. 30]. Provide 5 baths £64

Citadel. Provide 1 Steel Oven and 15 Boilers £249

Officers' Quarters, External Pointing. £11

Officers' Quarters. Preparatory Repairs. £9

Soldiers' Quarters. External pointing £94

Soldiers' Quarters. Preparatory Repairs £28

Soldiers' Quarters. Internal Whitewashing £22229

It would be interesting to know if, for example, the cavalier floor was much altered in the process of being renewed, but the lack of detail in the abstract makes it nearly impossible to find out. We can, therefore, only conclude that the casemates were subject to continual repair and renewal work and may have been substantially altered from their original form.

We do possess detailed estimates for three such alterations. In 1856, a supplementary estimate for the construction of cess pits and drains and the alteration of the soldiers' privies was submitted and approved.30 This is especially important, since we have no other documentation for the privies.

The other two alterations for which we possess estimates both reflect the continuing preoccupation with waterproofing. In 1859 an item was inserted in the Fortifications annual estimate for 1860-61 for the construction of a subterranean area between the pier of the southernmost casemate in the curtain and the adjoining ramp.31 In 1861 two items were inserted in the Civil Buildings Estimate for 1862-63 for waterproofing and ventilating the magazine shifting rooms and for renewing the floor of the south magazine shifting room.32 It is not certain whether either of these proposals was carried out. They probably were.

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