Pevensey Castle: a Saxon Shore fort, Norman defences, a medieval enclosure castle, and later associated remains


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Pevensey Castle: a Saxon Shore fort, Norman defences, a medieval enclosure castle, and later associated remains
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Sussex
Wealden (District Authority)
East Sussex
Wealden (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 64441 04786

Reasons for Designation

Saxon Shore forts were heavily defended later Roman military installations located exclusively in south east England. They were all constructed during the third century AD, probably between c.AD 225 and AD 285. They were built to provide protection against the sea-borne Saxon raiders who began to threaten the coast towards the end of the second century AD, and all Saxon Shore forts are situated on or very close to river estuaries or on the coast, between the Wash and the Isle of Wight. Saxon Shore forts are also found on the coasts of France and Belgium. The most distinctive feature of Saxon Shore forts are their defences which comprised massive stone walls, normally backed by an inner earth mound, and wholly or partially surrounded by one or two ditches. Wall walks and parapets originally crowned all walls, and the straight walls of all sites were punctuated by corner and interval towers and/or projecting bastions. Unlike other Roman military sites there is a lack of standardisation among Saxon Shore forts in respect of size and design of component features, and they vary in shape from square to polygonal or oval. Recognition of this class of monument was partially due to the survival of a fourth century AD Roman manuscript, the Notitia Dignitatum, which is a handbook of the civil and military organisation of the Roman Empire. This lists nine forts which were commanded by an officer who bore the title 'Officer of the Saxon Shore of Britain' (COMES LITORIS SAXONICI PER BRITANNIAM). Saxon Shore forts are rare nationally with a limited distribution. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments which are important in representing army strategy and government policy, Saxon Shore forts are of particular significance to our understanding of the period and all examples are considered to be of national importance.

The monument at Pevensey is open to the public and is well known as an educational resource. The development of its component structures provides evidence for some of the most significant episodes in English history over a period of around 2300 years. Anderita was the last Saxon Shore fort to be built in England and forms one of the best surviving examples, with substantial standing remains. Partial excavation has demonstrated that contemporary archaeological remains and environmental evidence will also survive in buried form within the fort. The reuse and repair of the earlier, Roman fort during the medieval and Tudor periods and during World War II illustrates the continuing strategic importance of the site; it is likely that the Norman defences were amongst the first to be constructed in England. The later, medieval enclosure castle, one of 126 recorded nationally, also survives well in standing and buried form and illustrates, in its utilisation of the walls of the earlier Roman fort and the gradual construction of its component parts, the importance of improvisation in medieval architecture. The eventful history of the monument during the medieval period is well documented by contemporary sources, as is its reuse as a defensive site on a smaller scale during the 16th century, and the gun emplacement dating to this period survives well. The concealed World War II pillboxes and machine gun posts also survive well, although the entrances to some have been blocked. These are of a particularly unusual, inventive form, carefully tailored to suit their historic setting.


The monument includes Anderita Saxon Shore fort, traces of later, Norman defences, an enclosure castle, a 16th century gun emplacement and World War II defences situated on a low spur of sand and clay which now lies around 2km north west of the present East Sussex coastline at Pevensey. During the Roman and medieval periods the spur formed a peninsula projecting into a tidal lagoon and marshland, but coastal deposition and land reclamation have gradually built up the ground around it so that it is now completely land-locked. The roughly oval, north east-south west aligned Roman fort is the earliest of the structures which make up the monument and has been dated to the first half of the fourth century AD. Covering almost 4ha, the fort survives in the form of substantial ruins and buried remains. It is enclosed by a massive defensive wall with a flint and sandstone rubble core faced by coursed greensand and ironstone blocks, interspersed with red tile bonding courses. The whole is up to 3.7m thick and survives to a height of up to 8.1m. The wall was originally topped by a wall walk and parapet. Part excavation in 1906-8 showed that the wall was constructed on footings of rammed chalk and flints underpinned by oak piles and held together by a framework of wooden beams. Investigation of the internal face indicated that this was stepped upwards from a wide base so as to provide extra strength and support. Despite these precautions, a landslip on the south eastern side of the fort has resulted in the destruction of a c.180m length of the perimeter walls and, although fragments of the fallen masonry do survive, most have been removed over the years. Smaller sections of wall have also collapsed along the north western and eastern stretches. The defensive strength provided by the perimeter wall was enhanced by irregularly-spaced, externally projecting semicircular bastions with diameters of around 5m. There were originally at least 15 of these, of which 10 survive today. The fort was entered from its south western, landward approach by way of the main gateway. In front of this a protective ditch 5.5m wide was dug, and, although this became infilled over the years, a 40m stretch located towards its south eastern end has been recut and exposed. The ditch would have been spanned originally by a wooden bridge, although this no longer survives. The main gateway takes the form of a rectangular gatehouse set back between two solid semicircular bastions 8m apart. The 2.7m wide, originally arched entrance is flanked by two oblong guardrooms and the whole gateway structure projects beyond the inner face of the perimeter wall into the fort and is thought to have been originally two or even three storeys high. On the eastern side of the fort is a more simply designed subsidiary gateway, originally a 3m wide archway entrance, giving access to part of the adjacent Roman harbour, now overlain by Pevensey village. The extant archway is a modern reconstruction of the Norman rebuilding of the original entrance. Traces of a wooden causeway which led from it into the fort have been found during partial excavation. Midway along the north western stretch of perimeter wall is a now ruined postern c.2m wide, approached by a curved passage set within the wall. Part excavation between 1906-1908 indicated that the internal buildings which housed the garrison of up to 1,000 men, along with their livestock and supplies, were constructed of timber infilled with wattle and daub. A c.1m sq timber-lined Roman well was found in the south western sector of the fort, at the bottom of which were the remains of the wooden bucket with rope still attached. The well was found to have been filled with rubbish in Roman times and the presence of the bones of cattle, sheep, red deer, wild boar, wild birds, domestic dogs and cats, along with sea shells, gives some indication of the diet and lifestyle of the fort's original inhabitants. Anderita is thought to have been abandoned by its garrison by the latter half of the 4th century AD, and although little is known of its subsequent history until the 11th century, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records a massacre of Britons by the invading Saxons at the fort in AD 491. The Bayeux Tapestry states that William the Conquerer landed at Pevensey in 1066, and the Norman army are believed to have made use of the Roman fort as one of their first armed camps. The defences at Pevensey and the surrounding land were granted to King William's half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain. The medieval defences then went through at least 300 years of development, culminating in the construction of a stone built enclosure castle within the largely intact walls of the earlier Roman fort. It is thought that the first Norman defences took the form of a wooden palisade surrounded by a bank and ditch, and a c.40m length of partially infilled ditch up to 9m wide which survives across the north eastern sector of the earlier fort may indicate their original extent. Limited excavations in 1993-94 showed that the ground surface in the south eastern sector of the fort, in the vicinity of the later stone-built keep, was artificially raised some time before 1200, suggesting that a motte may also have been constructed. The original Roman gateways were rebuilt and a new ditch dug in front of the south western gate. Most of the Norman defences and interior wooden buildings will now survive in buried form beneath the later medieval castle, although herringbone-pattern repairs to the Roman masonry, by then serving as the outer bailey of the medieval defences, also date from this time. Around 1100 the defences were strengthened and the accommodation improved by the addition of a masonry keep in the south eastern sector of the earlier fort. The subject of a complex history of alteration, collapse and repair, the keep utilises part of the earlier, Roman perimeter wall and bastions. It takes the form of a rectangular block measuring c.16.8m by c.9m internally, reinforced by apsidal projections on all sides. Now surviving in ruined form up to first floor level, the keep originally took the form of a tall tower with an entrance on the first floor. A rectangular building measuring 7.6m by 6m was later constructed in the south eastern angle between the keep and the Roman wall. At around 1200 work began on the construction of a smaller, stone-built inner bailey in the south eastern sector of the earlier fort. An L-shaped ditch around 20m wide was dug to define the new enclosure, and this retains water in its northern arm. The material excavated from the ditch and from the destruction of the earlier bank was spread over much of the outer bailey to a depth of up to 1.5m. The ditch was recut during extensive renovations carried out during the early 20th century. The first structure to be built in this phase was the gatehouse to the south west which has an arched entrance between twin, semicircular external towers, now ruined. The basement chambers beneath each tower have ashlar-faced walls and barrel-vaulted ceilings, the southern chamber being entered by way of a newel staircase, the northern by a trapdoor. Both were used to house prisoners. Many subsequent alterations included the replacement, during the 15th century, of the wooden bridge over the outer ditch by a stone causeway. The originally embattled curtain wall enclosing the inner bailey was built within the ditch and inner berm around 1250. This survives almost to its full original height and is faced with coursed Greensand ashlar. Three semicircular external towers provided flanking cover from the narrow embrasures which pierce their walls. Each has a narrow staircase to a basement, a branch staircase off it into the ditch and a room and garderobe, or latrine, at ground floor level. Upper rooms were entered by way of the wall walk and were heated by fireplaces. The basement of the northernmost tower has two rib-vaulted bays, the keeled ribs resting on stiff-leaf corbels. The interior castle buildings continued to be built mainly of wood and these will survive in buried form, although the stone foundations of a chapel were exposed during partial excavation of the northern sector of the inner bailey. Around 20m south east of the chapel is a large stone-lined well at least 15.5m deep, and near this is a pile of medieval stone missile-balls, a selection of those recovered from the ditch. These were thrown from trebuchets during the four sieges of the castle. William, Count of Mortain forfeited Pevensey after an unsuccessful rebellion against Henry I in 1101 and the castle, which remained in the royal gift until the later Middle Ages, passed into the hands of the de Aquila family. The most famous siege took place in 1264-65 when the supporters of Henry III, fleeing from their defeat by the Barons at Lewes, took refuge in the castle. In 1372 the castle was given to John of Gaunt, and during his period of office was used to imprison James I, King of Scotland, who had been seized in 1406, and Joan, Queen of Navarre, accused of witchcraft by her stepson, Henry V. By 1300, the sea had gradually begun to recede from around the castle and its military importance declined as a result. Contemporary records show that the castle walls were constantly in need of expensive repair and by the end of the 14th century were not being properly maintained, although the roof leads were kept intact until the middle of the 15th century. By 1500 the castle had ceased to be inhabited and fell rapidly into decay. The threat of the Spanish Armada led to some renewed interest in the defensive value of the site, and a survey of 1587 records that the castle housed two demi-culverins, or heavy guns. These were sited on the contemporary, south east orientated, M-shaped earthen gun emplacement situated in the outer bailey around 90m north east of the main Roman gateway. This takes the form of a raised level platform c.20m long bounded on the seaward side by a slight bank c.0.4m high and around 3m wide. One of the cast iron guns, manufactured in the East Sussex Weald, is now housed within the inner bailey on a modern replica carriage. From the 17th century the castle passed through the hands of various private owners. Valued as a picturesque ruin during the 18th and 19th centuries, it features in many contemporary engravings and illustrations. In 1925 the Duke of Devonshire presented the monument to the state, and extensive repairs began with a view to opening the monument to the public. These were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, when the castle resumed its original military purpose of protecting the south coast. The castle was refortified in May 1940 as an observation and command post. It was continuously occupied by regular troops, including Canadian forces and the United States Army Air Corps, who used it as a radio direction centre, and by the Home Guard until 1944. The World War II defences include two pillboxes and three machine gun posts of concrete faced with rubble and flints, carefully concealed and camouflaged within the earlier Roman and medieval fabric. An internal tower was built just to the south of the Roman east gateway and a blockhouse housing anti-tank weapons was built in front of the main Roman gateway. The blockhouse no longer survives. Modifications carried out to the medieval mural towers included lining the interiors with brick and inserting wooden floors. In 1945 the monument was returned to peaceful use and is now in the guardianship of the Secretary of State and open to the public. Excluded from the scheduling are Castle Cottage Restaurant, the toilet blocks and outhouses within its grounds and the modern wall which encloses them, the modern surfaces of all roads, tracks, paths and steps, the modern wooden bridge over the medieval ditch, all modern fences, gates, railings, signs, grilles, fixtures and fittings and the modern ticket office, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Peers, C, Pevensey Castle, (1953)
Salzman, L F, 'Sussex Arcaheological Collections' in Excavations at Pevensey 1907-8, , Vol. 52, (1909), 83-95
Salzman, L F, 'Sussex Arcaheological Collections' in Excavations at Pevensey 1906-7, , Vol. 51, (1908), 99-114
Fulford, M, Excavations at Pevensey Castle: Interim Report, 1993,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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