The southern side of the entrance to Aberdeen harbour is watched over by two very different structures. The most obvious is the 37 metre high Girdleness Lighthouse built by Robert Stevenson in 1833, which stands at the tip of Girdle Ness and welcomes mariners to Aberdeen. Rather less obvious, and much less welcoming as far as some mariners were concerned, is the Torry Battery, which stands on rising ground above the south shore of the harbour entrance.
Aberdeen has long been an important port, and this ensured its attractiveness as a target for raiders of many different nationalities from as early as the 1400s. From the English (initially at least) and Dutch, to the French and Germans, and not forgetting US raiders during the American Revolution, Aberdeen has had many reasons to feel insecure during the past six centuries.
The first efforts to fortify the harbour revolved around a large blockhouse at Sandness, on the north side of the harbour entrance. This housed artillery intended to fire at enemy ships while still at sea, and it was also designed to allow the city to be defended against enemy troops who had landed at Sandness: the obvious spot for anyone wanting to raid the city.
The first defensive structure on the south side of the harbour entrance was a site for a lookout and warning beacon, built here in 1514. At about the same time the Burgh Council further supplemented the harbour's defences with a barrier made of chains and ships' masts which could be pulled across the harbour entrance in times of imminent attack.
The blockhouse remained in use until 1780, when it was replaced by a more modern defensive battery a little further to the north of the harbour entrance. This only lasted eighty years. Between 1859 and 1861 the War Department built two new batteries. One was sited behind North Beach, further to the north of the harbour entrance. The second was on Torry Point.
On becoming operational, the Torry Battery was manned by the 1st Aberdeenshire Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers) and was armed with nine heavy guns capable of attacking ships over ten miles out at sea. Repair and reconstruction took place in 1904 and the battery was fully operational throughout the First World War. During the Second World War, overhead protection was added to the gun emplacements, and anti-aircraft guns were installed.
It was during this conflict that the battery's guns opened fire in anger for the first, and last, time. On the night of 3 June 1941 two vessels coming towards Aberdeen harbour were fired on after failing to identify themselves: they turned out to be friendly. Later in the same year machine guns at the battery fired on a German aircraft.
In the housing shortage that followed World War Two, the battery was occupied by a number of homeless families. Aberdeen Council later took over provision of housing here, and the battery remained home to many people until the early 1950s. The artillery was removed in 1956, and partial demolition of the buildings followed. A proposal to turn the site into a hotel in the 1960s came to nothing, and the site and surviving buildings were restored in the 1970s. Today Torry Battery is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.