The Town Guns are large bronze cast guns. They were cast by Francis Kinman, a brass founder of London, in 1795, who owned two foundries produced many guns for the government.
Nearly all field guns were made of bronze at this date. Bronze was much lighter than iron, which therefore made bronze guns more manoeuvrable. Bronze also resisted the shock of firing and retained its shape afterwards.
Whilst the guns were not made in Sheffield, they were evidently an important part in the story of Sheffield. They also symbolise the role conflict played in Sheffield’s history and the town’s involvement with defence. Only half a century later, Sheffield firms were embarking upon colossal armament programmes and Sheffield became known as the Armourer to the World.
The Town Guns were made for the Sheffield Loyal Independent Volunteers, one of the numerous volunteer companies set up at the end of the 18th century because of possible revolt and invasion. The Sheffield Loyal Independent Volunteers were raised in April 1794. They were led by Colonel RA Althorpe, and there were about 490 men.
The Town Guns were 6 pounders, which was the most widely used calibre for British artillery guns. 3, 9 and 12 pounders were also used for some guns. The barrels of the Town Guns were 5 feet long. They had a range of 350 yards with the barrel level, and a range of 2,000 yards if the barrel was elevated by 10%.
The Sheffield Volunteers were called out to deal with disturbances in Norfolk Street in Sheffield on 4 August 1795. Soldiers from a newly formed regiment refused to march until they had been paid. The volunteers were called in, and the riot act was read. The troops were ordered to fire. Whilst tradition has it that it was the town guns that were fired, there is no evidence to support this
The regiment was disbanded in 1802, and the Town Guns were used for practice and ceremonial purposes. They were used in 1809 to celebrate the Jubilee of George III; the gunpowder cost 10 guineas.
In 1821, the Town Guns were handed over by the volunteers to the Town Trustees. The Town Trustees were one of three groups who handled the administration of the town prior to 1843 and the creation of a Borough and Corporation. The other two groups were the Church Burgesses and the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire. In 1873 the Sheffield Town Trustees Act was passed which meant the Trust became a charity. They were involved in defence in the 20th Century. In the First World War they issued a grant of £500 towards the cost of uniforms, rifles and other equipment and increased their sub to University of Sheffield’s Applied Science Department to £250 for the duration of the war.
The year that the Town Trust took possession of the Guns, they made a brief appearance to be fired for the Coronation of George IV on 19 July 1821. The Town Trustees paid 20 guineas for this privilege.
In 1861 the guns were handed over to a new regiment, the Sheffield Artillery Volunteers. They had become dangerous due to defective vents, so in 1863 the guns were repaired and provided with new carriages. However, the new regiment never saw them as a practical weapon. Neither did they use them for training purposes. In fact there was an on-going question of what to do with them.
In 1897, the regiment handed over for display in the grounds of the Mappin Art Gallery and then in the 1920s they were moved to the Botanical Gardens.
The guns suffered by being outside for such a long period of time. They were rescued from an officer of the regiment and restored in 1953. He noted that they were in a decrepit state. The woodwork was in a particularly bad condition and they only had one and a half wheels between them! They were restored by the Tinsley Rolling Mills Company where Harold Pickles, the pattern maker, took charge of the repairs including making an artillery wheel which was a highly skilled job. The guns were dismantled completely and all the rotten timber was replaced using local timber yards. The barrels were put in the pickling tank which revealed to their amazement that they were in fact beautiful solid brass and engraved.
They were then displayed at barracks in York and Sheffield.
Finally, in 1974 they went to Sheffield Museums and stored at Kelham Island until the museum opened in 1982. They are now displayed in the main gallery of the museum.
Each gun barrel has an inscription on it. LINK There is a cast of the barrel on the wall behind the Town Guns.