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The Master Gunner St James' Park

Towards the end of the 15th century the increase in the number of guns and Gunners in the King's service called for improvement in the organisation and control then existing. Wherever Gunners where stationed a Chief or Master Gunner was put in charge of them. It was therefore logical to place a superior Master Gunner in overall charge, to inspect the various stations from time to time, and make sure the Master Gunners were doing their job, ie maintaining personnel and equipment in all respects ready for action. 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.

When the Royal Artillery 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 title then in use. However, as no superannuation was payable in those days, and as all Gunners signed on for life, the Master Gunner, then Colonel James Pendlebury RA, was permitted to retain the title and remain on the payroll until his death in 1731.

Now since 1678 there had existed simultaneously with the Master Gunner of Great Britain a Master Gunner of Whitehall and St James' Park. On appointment this Officer automatically became Firemaster to the Grenadiers as well, ie he supplied grenades to the Grenadier Guards, and assumed certain other responsibilities not normally expected of a Master Gunner. Probably for these reasons he was not paid by Ordnance but from funds allotted for guards and garrisons. Thus, he escaped the Ordnance economist's axe, and survived to supplant the premier Master Gunner. In 1796 his title was changed to 'Master Gunner, St James' Park'.

The need for the Master Gunner gradually waned; his pay (issued in addition to his ordinary pay for rank) eventually became a token amount only, and in 1914 was stopped. Now purely honorary, the Office is granted to distinguished Gunner General Officers. Duties, which are mainly of a ceremonial nature, include the selection of Colonels Commandant. The Master Gunner, St James' Park, is selected by the Sovereign, our Captain-General, and acts as her deputy in Gunner matters.

WL Ruffell
September 1988

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