Reasons for Designation
Martello towers are gun towers constructed to defend the vulnerable south
eastern coast of England against the threat of ship-borne invasion by
Napoleonic forces. Built as a systematic chain of defence in two phases,
between 1805-1808 along the coasts of East Sussex and Kent, and between 1808-
1812 along the coasts of Essex and Suffolk, the design of martello towers was
based on a fortified tower at Mortella in Sicily which had put up a prolonged
resistance to British forces in 1793. The towers take the form of compact,
free-standing circular towers on three levels built of rendered brickwork or
stone. The towers of the south coast were numbered 1-74 from east to west,
while those of the east coast were identified by a system of letters (A-Z, and
then AA, BB etc) from south to north.
Although they exhibit a marked uniformity of design, minor variations are
discernible between the southern and eastern groups and amongst individual
towers, due mainly to the practice of entrusting their construction to local
sub-contractors. Most southern towers are elliptical in plan, whilst the
eastern group are oval or cam-shaped externally, with axes at the base ranging
between 14.4m by 13.5m and 16.59m by 14.4m. All are circular internally, the
battered (inwardly sloping) walls of varying thicknesses, but with the
thickest section invariably facing the seaward side. Most stand to a height of
around 10m. Many martello towers are surrounded by dry moats originally
encircled by counterscarp banks, and/or have cunettes (narrower water
defences) situated at the foot of the tower wall. The ground floor was used
for storage, with accommodation for the garrison provided on the first floor,
and the main gun platform on the roof. The majority of towers carried a single
heavy gun, although a four-gun, quatrefoil-shaped tower was built at
Aldeburgh, and three large, circular ten-gun towers known as redoubts were
also constructed at particularly vulnerable points, two of which survive at
Eastbourne and Dymchurch.
As the expected Napoleonic invasion attempt did not materialise, the defensive
strength of the martello tower system was never tested, and the tower design
was soon made obsolete by new developments in heavy artillery. Many were
abandoned and fell into decay or were demolished during the 19th century,
although some continued in use into the 20th century as signalling or
coastguard stations. Of the total of 105 single-gun towers built, some 46
examples survive, 29 on the south coast and 17 on the east coast. Those which
survive well and display a diversity of original components are considered to
Martello tower no.24 at Dymchurch survives well in carefully restored form,
retaining its original appearance externally and a substantial proportion of
its constituent components and features, including, unusually, its original
gun barrel. As one of a pair of closely-spaced examples, no.24 illustrates the
clustering of towers around particularly vulnerable points and the carefully
planned integration of the martello tower system.
The monument includes a martello tower, one of a pair lying towards the south
western edge of Dymchurch, a modern seaside town situated on the south Kent
coast. The tower, which is Listed at Grade II, lies c.250m north east of its
twin, tower no.25. The pair were constructed in 1805-6 as part of a chain of
21 towers guarding the coastline of Romney Marsh, between Hythe in Kent and
Rye in East Sussex. They were specifically designed to protect Marshland
Sluice, the main drain of the three which emptied into the sea at Dymchurch,
then the administrative centre for the Marsh.
Tower no.24 lies c.12m behind Dymchurch Wall, the c.4.8km long bank which
protects the eastern part of the reclaimed marsh from the sea. The slightly
elliptical, brick-built tower measures up to c.13m in diameter externally and
was constructed on three levels. It stands to a height of c.10m, with battered
(inwardly sloping) walls ranging from 1.5m to 4m in thickness, the most
substantial section being the wall base on the south easterly, seaward side.
The brick walls are faced with channelled cement render designed to simulate
the appearance of Portland stone ashlar. A thick central column rises from the
basement to the top of the tower, from which springs the barrel-vaulted first
floor ceiling which supports the gun platform on the roof.
Access into the tower is by way of a first floor doorway with stone dressings
situated on the landward side, originally reached from the ground by a
retractable ladder, although this has not survived. The doorway is headed by a
plaque displaying the tower number. The first floor is divided into three
rooms by wooden partitions and provided accommodation for the garrison of 24
men and one officer. Two fireplaces heated the rooms, which are lit by a pair
of splayed window openings containing sash windows to the west and east. These
are headed by vents designed to draw off smoke from musket fire. Further
indication of the role of small arms in the tower's defences is represented by
a wooden musket rack fixed around the central brick column.
The brick-lined, unlit basement is reached by a trap door leading down through
the suspended timber floor near the entrance. This was used to store
ammunition and supplies, and provision for these includes a barrel-vaulted
gunpowder store partly recessed into the thickness of the outer, seaward wall.
Safety features include ventilation slits in the double-skinned walls and a
carefully designed light box separated from the magazine by a pane of glass.
Cisterns dug into the basement floor, fed by rainwater pipes leading down from
the roof, were designed to augment the water supply. These were originally
covered by timber floorboards, which have not survived.
The open gun platform is reached from the first floor by an internal stone
staircase constructed in the thickest part of the tower wall. Mounted on a
central pivot is the original, cast iron 24 pounder gun barrel, manufactured
and supplied by Samuel Walker and Company of Rotherham, set on a mainly wooden
traversing carriage, a modern replica. The operation of the gun, which can be
turned through 360 degrees by a series of rope pulleys, required between ten
and fourteen men. It had a firing range of one mile. Four ammunition stores in
the form of arched recesses are set into the c.1.8m high, sloping parapet
which encircles the roof.
The martello tower was used during the later 19th and early 20th centuries as
a coastguard station and look-out tower. Between 1959-69 it was restored by
the Ministry of Works, work which included the re-rendering of the exterior
brickwork and the replacement of most of the original woodwork. The monument,
which houses a small museum, is now in the care of the Secretary of State and
open to the public.
Excluded from the scheduling are the modern metal steps which lead up to the
first floor entrance, and all other modern fixtures, fittings and display
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.