Fort Williamsburg - A toy fort with real cannon.
When in 1549, John Wynn was King Edward VI’s standard bearer the king rewarded him with a gift of Bardsey Island. In the 17th Century, his descendant, Thomas Wynn, married Francis Glynne, sole heiress to Glynllifon uniting their two powerful estates. Yet, more land was acquired making the Glynllifon Wynns the most prominent family in Caernarvonshire.
Two hundred years passed until, their descendant Thomas Wynn, born in 1736, inherited the substantial fortune. He married Maria Stella Patronialla, who claimed, her father was Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans - later the King of France. Her claim was never proved. By the age of 25, Thomas had been knighted, become a Member of Parliament, was the Constable of Caernarvon Castle and Lord Lieutenant of the County; duties which he took seriously. Sir Thomas, an eccentric, was of the opinion that the Lord Lieutenant of the County needed a fort and so he built one in the grounds of his estate. He named the new bastion Fort Williamsburg and, on the 22nd September 1761 - the day of the King George III’s coronation, Sir Thomas published laws and an enrolment book for the garrison. The rules for the garrison were based on the principles of ‘Freedom, Firmness and Friendship.’ There was also a female branch of the garrison known as ‘The Holy Order of Sisterhood.’ The ‘Militia Act’ of 1757 allowed auxiliary forces to be raised to defend the realm, independently of the regular army.The rectangular fort, built by Sir Thomas, contained a parade ground, magazine and tunnels linking the surrounding earthworks and a watchtower. Batteries of cannon lined the ramparts. It resembled a real military establishment, complete with soldiers, but had no practical defensive purpose.
The American War of Independence had started, in 1775, and France was supporting the colonial rebels. War in Europe was becoming a distinct possibility. The king signed a warrant allowing Sir Thomas to mobilise his militia and in 1776, Sir Thomas was elevated to the peerage as Lord Newborough. The French revolution started in 1792 and the following year King Louis XVI and his family were executed. Britain’s aristocracy watched with horror as thousands of French nobles went to the guillotine and Paris streets ran with blood. Would the French ‘reign of terror’ travel across the channel? In 1797 the French Republic sent a fleet to Wales and landed an army at Fishguard. The invasion failed but the warning was clear; the Republic of France was an enemy.Lord Newborough examined Gwynedd’s defences and decided that an improved coastal fort was needed at Llandwrog. The existing battery, Fort David, was inadequate and Newborough built a new one at his own expense. The new fortification was named Fort Belan and manned with militia from Fort Williamsburg. Williamsburg had been built for fun but Fort Belan had a more serious purpose, to defend against a French attack. By now his Lordship’s private force was called ‘Loyal Newborough Volunteers’ and considered one of the best equipped regiments in the country.