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Gun Hill Guns - Barbary Corsairs

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 13 November 2007

The Guns of Gun Hill
English Civil War specialist John Tincey contacted the programme about a discovery he made in the British Library which finally disproves a local legend in Suffolk. A sign close to six Tudor canon on Gun Hill in Southwold claims that they were a gift to the townspeople from the Duke of Cumberland after his success at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

However, John came across a booklet which shows that the guns were in place at least a century earlier during the reign of Charles 1st (1625-1649). It shows that ‘culverin’ (‘long guns’) were sent to the towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold to protect the coast from attacks by the pirates of Dunkirk – privateers who enjoyed the support of the Spanish.

The Barbary Corsairs
During the years when the pirates of Dunkirk harried shipping in the English Channel and attacked the merchant fleets of North Sea ports, the Barbary Corsairs were a threat to vessels from Christian states sailing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. Indeed the Corsairs attacked villages in the west of England and in southern Ireland.

Professor Nicholas Rodger from the Centre of Maritime Historical Studies at the University of Exeter told Making History that these pirates operated out of ports in North African states from the time of the Crusades right up until the nineteenth century. They understood the value of people and would kidnap merchants and hold them to ransom. Ordinary seamen would be taken and put to work in galleys and other vessels.

By the eighteenth century the British had agreed a truce with the Corsairs and in return for regular payments our merchants were left alone. This was doubly beneficial because shipping from competing nations was still threatened.


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