“The office of master-gunner was a very ancient one. As soon as there were guns, there was a master-gunner in charge of them, responsible for their upkeep and efficiency, and in command of the gunners who served them.” (Maurice-Jones, 2012, p.138).
This article provides an overview of the role of the Master Gunner, St James’s Park – a position that can trace its lineage to the Royal Regiment of Artillery, which forms part of the British Army.
The Master Gunner, St James’s Park has links with the role of Master Gunner, although the two should not be confused.
2.0 What is the Role of the Master Gunner, St James’s Park?
The Master Gunner (of), St James’s Park is the ceremonial head of the Royal Regiment of Artillery (RA) and channel of communication between the RA and the Captain-General (the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II).
The Master Gunner, St. James’s Park is the most senior ceremonial post in the RA after the Sovereign.
3.0 Who is Eligible for the Role?
The appointment of Master Gunner, St James’s Park is held by a distinguished Royal Artillery Officer selected by the Queen in her capacity as Captain-General, on the advice of the Colonels Commandant of the regiment and has honorary status over all other Commonwealth Artilleries.
4.0 What is the Difference between Master Gunner and Master Gunner, St James’s Park?
The appointment of Master Gunner, St James’s Park should not be confused with that of Master Gunner, which is an appointment of warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers (SNCO’s) in the British Army’s artillery branch and enlisted personnel in select US Army branches.
Other commonwealth countries, for example Canada, also utilise the master gunner role. The reader can found out more here.
5.0 Brief History of the Master Gunner, St James’s Park
Towards the end of the 1400s, the increase in the number of guns and soldiers manning them, known as ‘Gunners’, in the King’s service called for improvements in their organisation and control.
Wherever Gunners where stationed a ‘Chief Gunner’ or ‘Master Gunner’ was put in charge of them. It was important to place a ‘superior’ Master Gunner in overall charge, whose purpose was to (Maurice-Jones, 2012):
- Inspect the various stations from time to time; and
- Make sure the Chief/Master Gunners were doing their jobs. For example, maintaining personnel and equipment ready for battle.
To this end Patrick de la Meyte was appointed Chief Cannoner in 1484. Patrick was the first of a long line of Master Gunners which continued with periodical variations in title down to the end of 1731.
The appointment was instituted in 1678 and originally known as the Master Gunner of Whitehall & St James’s Park. The earlier master gunners were responsible for the artillery defence of Whitehall Palace and the Palace of Westminster.
The first post holder was Captain Thomas Silver (1678 to 1710), followed by Lieutenant Colonel’s Jonas Watson (1710 to 1741) and James Deal (1742 to 1760).
When the Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly known as the Royal Artillery (RA), was formed in 1716 the Master-General of the Ordnance recommended the abolition of certain posts in the interests of economy, one of them being the Master Gunner of Great Britain (the premier Master Gunner, and the title then in use). However, as no superannuation was payable in those days, and as all Gunners signed on for life, the Master Gunner of Great Britain, then Colonel James Pendlebury RA, was permitted to retain the title and remain on the payroll until his death in 1731.
Between 1678 and 1731, there simultaneously existed the Master Gunner of Great Britain and the Master Gunner of Whitehall and St James’s Park. However, unlike the Master Gunner of Great Britain who oversaw all Chief and Master Gunners, the Master Gunner of Whitehall and St James’s Park had other responsibilities:
- The normal duties of a Master Gunner;
- The post-holder automatically became Firemaster to the Grenadiers as well (i.e. supplied grenades to the Grenadier Guards); and
- Assumed certain other responsibilities not normally expected of a Master Gunner.
Probably for these reasons the post-holder was not paid by Board of Ordnance, but from funds allotted for guards and garrisons. Thus, position escaped the Board of Ordnance economist’s axe, and survived to supplant the premier Master Gunner.
Since 1760, the position has be held by a general officer, except between 1770 and 1783 when it was held by a non-commissioned officer (NCO).
In 1796, the title of the Master Gunner Whitehall and St James’s Park changed to Master Gunner, St James’s Park.
By 1834, “The appointment of Master Gunner, St James’s Park, came with a house located at St James’s Park.” (House of Commons, 1834, p.459).
In 1834, it was stated that “The duty of master-gunner generally is to take care of the small forts, the stores in them, to fire salutes, &c., and is generally held by a pensioner, with a salary of 21 l. or 22 l. The master-gunner in St James’s Park has always been considered an honorary appointment. The duty has been to fire royal salutes when the King has been going to the House [of Commons], and so on. It is now held by Sir Alexander Dickson, adjutant-general of the artillery.” (House of Commons, 1834, p.459).
As the need for the Master Gunner gradually waned, their pay (issued in addition to their ordinary pay for rank) eventually became a token amount only, and in 1914 was stopped.
Now purely honorary, the office is granted to a distinguished Gunner officer of General Rank.
Duties, which are mainly of a ceremonial nature, include the selection of Colonel’s Commandant.
The Master Gunner, St James’ Park, is selected by the Sovereign, as Captain-General, and acts as the monarch’s deputy in Gunner matters.
6.0 Useful Publications
- Maurice-Jones, K.W. (2012) The History of Coast Artillery in the British Army. Luton: Andrew UK Limited.
Maurice-Jones, K.W. (2012) The History of Coast Artillery in the British Army. Luton: Andrew UK Limited.
House of Commons. (1834) Reports from Committees: Fourteen Volumes. Session 04 February-15 August 1834. Available from World Wide Web: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=InBbAAAAQAAJ&pg=RA3-PA3&lpg=RA3-PA3&dq=master+gunner+st+james%E2%80%99s+park&source=bl&ots=Ov8v5odtcX&sig=ACfU3U2blWqS3kXdPV4XAcRLMz11Y_OUAQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwia5YT79ufkAhUNJBoKHR3CCUg4KBDoATACegQIBxAC#v=onepage&q=master%20gunner%20st%20james%E2%80%99s%20park&f=false. [Accessed: 25 September, 2019].