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
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.
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.