Thursday, 29 April 2021

Hillsborough Fort Guard

HILLSBOROUGH FORT was built ca 1650 by Colonel Arthur Hill, the younger son of SIR MOYSES HILL.

The Peerage of Ireland, dated 1789, recounts,
"A castle erected by Sir Arthur Hill in the reign of CHARLES I, which at the Restoration was made a royal fort by CHARLES II, who made Sir Arthur and his heirs hereditary constables, with twenty warders and a well appointed garrison."

"Sir Arthur, having built, at his own charge, and upon his own lands, during the rebellion, for the encouragement of an English plantation, and security of the country, a considerable place of strength, called Hillsborough, fortified with four bastions, or flankers, commanding the chief roads in County Down, leading from Dublin to Belfast and Carrickfergus."

Hillsborough Fort

"His Majesty was pleased to consider that the surprise thereof, upon any insurrection, might prove very prejudicial to his service, and how much it would conduce to His Majesty's service and the safety of the country, that a guard should be placed in that fort for the security thereof."

"He therefore granted a patent at Westminster, 21st December, 1660, for erecting it into a royal garrison by the name of HILLSBOROUGH FORT, with a constable and officers to command it, to be called and known by the name of Constable of Hillsborough Fort, and twenty warders to be nominated and chosen by him; the constable to have the allowance of 3s 4d a day [in 1660 £1 was equivalent to about £206], and the warders 6d each; and this office, which at this day is held and enjoyed by the Earl of Hillsborough, was granted to him, his heirs, and assignees for ever."
In 1690, WILLIAM III stayed for two days at Hillsborough.

The Hill family was effectively authorized "to have, hold, exercise, and enjoy for ever" the office of Constable of Hillsborough Fort; and to raise and maintain a force of twenty men.

Letters patent raised the status of the fort to "a military establishment of the Crown".

Hence the constableship of Hillsborough Fort was vested in the Hill family for ever.

Thereafter the warders were regularly on duty at Hillsborough Castle, wearing "the uniform, somewhat modernised, of the Dutch Guards - blue coat with red lapels; cocked hat trimmed with white lace, and for plume a red feather; white breeches and gaiters."

The navy blue tunic had red cuffs on which was a vertical strip of white lace; collar and shoulder straps were also red; and the tunic was faced with four double bars of white lace.

The sergeant-major's attire was as other ranks, but for a red sash and a steel sword scabbard.

The warders were originally armed with muskets.

The uniform has undergone some alterations over the past three centuries, and that worn by the bugler today is essentially late 18th century in pattern.

Warders were colloquially known as "Castlemen."

Hillsborough Guard during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations at
Hillsborough Castle  (Image: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye/PA Wire)

Hillsborough Fort Guard was one of only two private armies in the United Kingdom, the other being the Duke of Atholl's Atholl Highlanders.

The War Office attempted to disband the Guard in 1874; law officers, however, advised against it, and the War Office continued to pay £5 per warder per annum (equivalent to £578 in 2020), and a free uniform every two years to twenty of Lord Downshire's estate workers.

Towards the end of the century an agreement must have been reached to discontinue this remuneration. 

Warders on parade at The Square, Hillsborough, County Down

THE Hill family, Earls of Hillsborough and Marquesses of Downshire, are proud to maintain the hereditary constableship of Hillsborough Fort today.

Andrew Carlisle, Bugler of the Hillsborough Fort Guard, tells me that numbers in the guard have ebbed and flowed over the years.

3rd Marquess with his favourite hunter, 1833, by George Nairn
(Image: the Marquess of Downshire)

The guard still had its full complement in the early 1900s, comprising a sergeant-major, a bugler, and twenty warders.

It survived for many years in the appointment of the Bugler.

Andrew has had the pleasure of fulfilling this role since 2006.

The Most Hon the Marquess of Downshire & Bugler Carlisle at Hillsborough Fort
(Image: Andrew Carlisle)

Lord Downshire still takes a keen interest in the history and the future of the Guard.

The Hillsborough Fort Guard has grown in numbers in the last few years, and it is hoped that the full complement of 20 warders can be attained in the fullness of time.

The Guard is unique to County Down and, indeed, Northern Ireland, having been the oldest formal military presence in Ireland and one of only two surviving private armies in the kingdom.

The Bugler and six Warders

Today, of course, their role is purely ceremonial, and it is envisaged that they would be on duty at Hillsborough Castle during formal state occasions or functions.
In 2019 Historic Royal Palaces advertized that they wished to create a group of enthusiastic individuals to represent the Hillsborough Fort Guard at Hillsborough Castle, including a sergeant-major, bugler, and two corporals. They envisaged "this team expanding in the future."
If you have any particular information relating to the Hillsborough Fort Guard, or images of a relative or estate worker who served with them, contact me at


Unknown said...

Thank you for this article. I am one of the Fort Guard and am in the photograph taken at our act of remembrance for HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The present guard operates with the permission of Lord Downshire, Constable of Hillsborough Fort. For many years there was only a bugler, but the present group has been put together at the instigation of the Hillsborough Old Guard, the local historical and cultural society.

Timothy Belmont said...

Dear Anon,

Many thanks for your information, and gratitude to the Hillsborough Old Guard, which has done much to keep the spirit of the original Guard alive. Tim.