Chain tower and blockhouse at Gommerock.
Reasons for Designation
A chain tower is a small structure built beside a river or harbour to house the mechanism for raising and lowering a defensive chain to prevent the passage of ships in times of danger. They were built on the east, south and south west coasts of England on the important maritime approaches, such as those of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Dartmouth. The approach and towns in the Thames estuary were also chained. There were only 14 examples recorded nationally, and of these only five are known to have extant remains. The chain was normally laid across the riverbed from bank to bank and raised when necessary. One or both ends of the chain would have a tower or building to house the lifting mechanism, and the other end would have a simpler means of attaching the end of the chain. Chain towers were usually strong, stone structures, capable of being defended, sometimes with dry moats or ditches to the landward side, and with accommodation for short term use by operators of the chain and a defensive garrison. There was a great variety in design. The earliest completed example is at Fowey, Cornwall, built after a raid on the town in 1457; a later example is at Gillingham, Kent, in 1667. Gommerock Tower survives well and forms part of a strategic defence mechanism across the River Dart. Such defences are extremely rare and important for understanding the development of coastal defence during periods of significant turbulence and threats to national security.
This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 2 November 2015. This record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.
This monument includes a rock cut terrace representing the remains of a chain tower and associated blockhouse known as Gommerock Tower situated on a cliff overlooking the narrowest part of the mouth of the Dart Estuary. The chain tower survives as a rock cut platform with rock cut gullies and joist holes for a timber building with a pent-roof. This structure represents the eastern end of a chain which was raised to prevent access to Dartmouth Harbour. The second tower which originally contained the lifting machinery is at Dartmouth Castle which is Listed Grade I and a scheduled monument. The blockhouse stands a short distance upslope from the terrace and was built to protect the chain from sabotage. The blockhouse is polygonal in plan, measures up to 13m long by 8m wide internally; its walls are up to 5m high and up to 1.8m thick. On the ground floor is a rock cut terrace enclosed by walls on three sides, roughly rectangular in plan. At first floor level the building is polygonal with the north east end forming a point. A rampart walk and parapet top the walls. The chain defences at Dartmouth are known to have been in existence by 1462 when Edward IV made an annual grant for the provision, amongst other things, for a defensive chain, cables, and "pulleys" at Dartmouth. In 1481 a further grant was made for building towers with a chain. The surviving structures are therefore likely to be of late 15th century date. Subsequently, the terrace was reused as an artillery battery and the blockhouse as a fortified house. The blockhouse was ruined in about 1643 and appears in a 1734 engraving as a roofless shell. It formed part of the Kittery Court estate.