Martello tower E, 300m south west of junction of Marine Parade West and Wash Lane, Clacton-on-Sea


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Tendring (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TM 16714 13756

Reasons for Designation

Martello towers are small coastal artillery forts constructed after the renewal of war with France in 1803 to defend England against the threat of invasion. Their design and name were taken from a tower at Martello Bay, Corsica. The 103 towers in the chain were developed in two phases, those in East Sussex and Kent being built between 1805 and 1808, and those in Essex and Suffolk between 1809 and 1812. The south coast towers were numbered 1-74 (from Beachy Head to Dover) while those to the east were identified by a system of letters (A-Z from St Osyth to Alderton and AA-CC from Hollesley to Aldeburgh). The towers are usually circular or near circular in plan, with an average height of 10m containing three levels. They were built in brick, and often rendered. The tower walls are both massive (up to 4m thick on the seaward side) and battered (slope inwards) so as to resist cannon fire. The top floor, open to sky and supported by a massive central pillar, carried swivelling cannon or cannons within a deep embrasure. The middle floor served as living quarters for about 25 men and contained the only external door in the tower, some 3m-4m above ground level. The semi-basement ground floor was reached via a trapdoor from the garrison room above and contained the powder magazine, alcoves for shot, cartridge and general stores, and a water cistern. Some towers were supported by forward batteries, and many were surrounded by dry moats and/or water-filled moats, crossed by bridges or drawbridges. The east coast towers are slightly larger than the earlier examples to the south, measuring an average of 17.5m in diameter at the base. They are also oval in plan rather than circular, allowing a still thicker wall to face the direction of fire. They carried three guns on the fighting top (usually a 24 pound cannon and two shorter guns or howitzers) set on swivelling carriages within a clover leaf shaped embrasure, as opposed to the single rotating cannon of the southern line, and had an additional internal staircase to speed transfer of ammunition from the middle floor to the roof. East coast towers have four windows at the middle level (compared to two on the south coast towers). The defensive strength of the Martello tower system never needed to be tested before the end of the Napoleonic War. They were brought to readiness on a few further occasions in the early 19th century, but the whole concept of the Martello tower was soon rendered obsolete by developments in heavy artillery. Some served a variety of other uses (such as signalling or coast guard stations) into the 20th century, and a few saw use as lookout points or even gun emplacements during the two World Wars. Of the original 29 towers on the east coast, 17 now survive. Those which survive well and display a diversity of original components are considered to merit protection.

Eleven martello towers were originally constructed along the 20km stretch of Essex coastline known as the Clacton Beach, some adding to existing batteries or replacing earlier signal stations. The line of towers, identified by the letters A to K, ran from Stone Point on the north bank of the Colne Estuary northwards to Walton on the Naze - with the large circular redoubt at Harwich punctuating the northern end. In addition to tower E, five others now remain standing and are the subject of separate schedulings: those at Stone Point (A), Jaywick (C), Eastness (D), central Clacton (F) and Walton Mere (K).

Despite the loss of the associated forward battery, martello tower E survives well. The tower has seen some 20th century alterations, but the structure remains substantially intact and is known to retain original details and features dating from the period of construction. It serves as a valued local landmark, but moreover provides a valuable insight into the period when Britain faced a threat of invasion only surpassed by the major conflicts of the 20th century. This impression is made still more vivid by the intervisibility of tower E with its nearest neighbour, tower D, the two towers together illustrating something of the original appearance of the overall defensive line.


The monument includes a martello tower situated towards the western end of the Clacton foreshore (an area formally known as Clacton Wash) and originally identified by the letter `E' in the series of east coast towers built in Essex between 1809 and 1812.

The Listed Grade II tower stands complete to its original height of about 10m. The date stone above the door and the stone mouldings around the door and windows all protrude slightly from the exterior brickwork, indicating that this tower, as with many on the east coast, was originally covered by coarse stucco. Although this material has largely been replaced by modern rendering, the overall appearance is not dissimilar to the original. The openings, the four windows, the door and the ladder chute below the door, have all been sealed in recent years to prevent vandalism. The interior is, however, believed to survive largely intact and to retain many original features.

According to a contemporary report, the tower was built to command the `landing place at Clacton Wash and the great road leading from it into the country'. When completed in 1812 it stood some distance back from the shoreline, positioned behind a forward battery which had been built here in 1805. The battery was of the barbette-type: a `V'-shaped brick wall pointing out to sea, terraced to the rear and equipped with low embrasures to allow three 24-pound cannons to fire from traversing platforms. All traces of this structure, and of the guard house and magazine which may have accompanied it, have long since disappeared. The greater part was probably removed following an auction of building materials in 1819; any remains to have survived this process have since been lost to coastal erosion and the construction of modern sea defences. The tower itself now stands just behind the modern sea wall.

As with all the Essex martello towers, tower E was armed and provisioned but not garrisoned after its completion in 1812. A report by the Ordnance Barrack Department in that year pointed to the unhealthy nature of the Essex coastline and recommended that the artillerymen be stationed at Weely (some 8km inland) where barracks had been built for the Essex defence regiments in 1803. Throughout the period leading up to the settlement of Europe in 1815 the entire line of Essex towers was in the charge of `Barrack Sergeant Burnett' of Great Clacton. After 1816 married pensioners from sapper and artillery units were appointed as caretakers. Little is known of the tower's use through the remainder of the 19th century, although Cornwallis Coughley, Inspector of Towers and Edward Quinn, Battery Keeper, are recorded at Great Clacton in the County Directory for 1848. In 1904 the War Office sold the tower to the West Clacton Estate. By 1935 it lay within Butlin's Holiday Camp and the roof was subsequently used to mount a cistern supplying water to the chalets. The holiday camp closed in the early 1980s and it has since been replaced by housing developments (Martello Bay).

The modern warning signs attached to the tower are excluded from the scheduling although the structure of the tower where signs are attached is included. Sections of the sea wall and associated promenade which abut the base of the tower, and where they fall within the monument's protective margin are also excluded, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 1 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

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Books and journals
Sutcliffe, S, Martello Towers, (1972)
Walker, K, 'The Essex Review (October 1938)' in Martello Towers And the Defence of NE Essex in the Napoleonic War, , Vol. 188, (1938), 170-85
AM107 Long Internal (FMW) Report, Patterson, H, Martello Tower E in former Butlins holiday camp, (1993)
Hall, D & Hornby, P, Discussions with officers from Tendring District Council, (1998)


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