At the start of the 18th century British artillery in peacetime was made up of government arsenals of guns plus a tiny number of professional gunners. Some of these specialists would be stationed in various outposts, along with some guns, with the rest based at the Tower of London. In time of need the gunners would recruit full gun crews (‘matrosses’) from amongst the infantry and give them the necessary training on serving the gun. The drivers and other support personnel would be raised from civilians, and only when all this was completed would a train of artillery be ready to move. After that the men learned on the job, with one professional gunner in charge of each gun. Depending on circumstances, further infantrymen might be assigned to the guns in the field if more physical manpower was required, but at the end of the war everyone went back to their normal jobs. It was not a great system, but it was cheap, and on the whole the artillery served Marlborough well in his many campaigns.
Beginning with the guns, there are two in this set. The first one pictured has a barrel length of 18mm (130 cm, not including the cascabel) and a carriage length of 30mm (216 cm), not including the wheels. The wheels themselves have a diameter of 19mm (137 cm). In an age before standardisation, or even agreement on the appropriate size of carriage for any given piece, these sizes would suggest the gun is a four- or eight-pounder. The second gun has a barrel length of 27mm (194 cm, not including the cascabel) and a carriage length of 40mm (288 cm), again not including the wheels, which are identical for both weapons. Such a barrel length would imply a 12- or 16-pounder, but such things could vary greatly, particularly when captured enemy guns were used, so there is much scope for interpretation here. However we liked the multiple gun sizes, which helps to make the set more useful. The two gun barrels are quite plain (i.e. have none of the usual decoration), but of more concern is the dolphins (the handles used to lift the barrel), which here have been placed behind the trunnions, and so well back from the point of balance. They have also been made virtually horizontal. This is all a big compromise because the mould technology does not allow the correct arrangement, but it does look odd and we would be inclined to remove them entirely (or cut and paste them in the correct position if you want the hassle). The carriages are also a cause for concern, because while of the correct basic shape, they lack all of the iron and other fittings. This is not particularly unusual for guns in this hobby, but here the simplification has been taken a long way as the missing fittings include any suggestion of tyres or the iron tie bands that held them. The wheels are nicely dished, as they should be, but they have only 10 spokes, and while there were no patterns that we know of at the time, every illustration or recreated carriage we have seen for this period has 12 spokes.
Depending on the conditions, it was reckoned that between eight and 12 men were required to serve a gun, so there are too few figures in this set for the two guns supplied, though again this is quite normal for plastic figure sets. Indeed for games a skeleton or token crew might be desirable, but we were very surprised at the choice of poses on offer. There are three men holding a sponge, which is excessive for only two guns, although the two with rammers are obviously perfect. We have two poses attending to the touch hole (one pouring powder in and one covering it) which are fine, and two men holding what would seem to be tridents but must be linstocks. There was no set pattern to linstocks, which came in many forms, but this one is very unusual and we would be tempted to do some cutting away to create a more typical shape. That just leaves the officer with telescope, which means our brace of guns has no one with a ladle, no one with ammunition and no one to move the gun, with or without handspikes. These are all crucial roles for a gun crew, and their absence is very hard to understand. Even if you are only able to make 10 poses, we would have expected at least one of each crew function in a set. We note that the corresponding set of French artillery fills some of these gaps, so perhaps the tactic is to supply all poses over a number of sets, but we feel they could have been spread out more evenly than this, since you can’t make one full crew with the poses here.
Artillerymen of the day wore the same clothes as all other military branches, and this has been properly reflected here. The men wear a tricorn hat, coat with big cuffs and a neckcloth at the throat, breeches, stockings and buckled shoes. Needless to say the officer is more splendidly dressed, with his long fashionable wig and his waist sash. The men’s kit is minimal, as is normal for gunners. All have a hanger (a basic-quality sword issued to all infantry), and a couple have a pouch as might be used for tools of their trade. The two men tending the touch-hole also have powder horns, as they should. Strangely however every man here has a bayonet on his belt, despite the fact that such men did not carry firearms (they were considered as technical specialists rather than fighting men, so not armed). As we said, sometimes infantrymen were seconded to help out, and they would have a bayonet, but these are clearly trained gunners, as infantry would not be using these tools. A typical warrant of 1703 to raise a train for Portugal shows that the men all had the hanger, but the only firearms and bayonets were issued to the Provost Marshall, so they are wrong here.
We liked the sculpting of the figures, which has nice detail and makes them look very lifelike. There is a fair amount of flash, mainly around the men’s legs, and also in the holes in the wheels for the axles. In fact we found all of these needed to have those holes drilled out both to remove flash and the enlarge them so they can be put together. Once that is done of course the fit is firm and needs no glue. Unlike some earlier Strelets guns, the parts here are very sharp and well-defined.
So we liked the look and the sculpting for these figures, and we found them accurate in most respects, although the bayonet they carry is wrong. The guns suffer from over-simplification, and while painting will help to remedy this we thought more could reasonably have been done to make the carriages more authentic. Each pose is perfectly fine in itself, but the mix on offer here, and particularly the many missing ones, is very disappointing as customers should reasonably expect to get at least a half-decent crew out of a single box. The first item next to the officer is a wedge (also known as a quoin), of which there are two to elevate the guns. The function of the other item is a complete mystery to us. The faults with the British system of raising artillery in time of war were laid bare with the rising in Scotland in 1715, and as a result the first permanent artillery regiment, the Royal Regiment of Artillery in their trademark blue coats, was established the next year. The faults with this set are few but annoying, particularly the guns, and will not be so easily resolved.