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 a large circular redoubt at Harwich
punctuating the northern end. In addition to tower F, five others now remain
standing and are the subject of separate schedulings: those at Stone Point
(A), Jaywick (C), Eastness (D), Clacton Wash (E) and Walton on the Naze (K).
Martello tower F is the only remaining moated example on the Essex coast; the
others at Beacon Hill, St Osyth (B), Holland Haven (G) and Walton Cliffs (J)
were demolished or destroyed by coastal erosion in the 19th century.
Tower F has seen some significant alterations, particularly in the 20th
century, but the structure remains substantially unchanged and still retains
many details dating from the period of construction. It serves as a valued
local landmark and moreover, when viewed with the other surviving towers along
this part of the coastline, provides a significant insight into the period
when modern Britain faced the most significant threat of invasion prior to the
major conflicts of the 20th century.
The monument includes a martello tower set within a dry moat and situated at
the junction of Marine Parade West and Tower Road, overlooking the promenade
and sea front to the west of Clacton Pier.
The Listed Grade II tower was originally identified by the letter `F' within
the series of towers built along the Essex coastline between 1809 and 1812.
It stands complete to its original height of about 10m. The upper portion of
the tower (approximately one third) protrudes above the lip of the brick
built retaining wall of the moat, which encircles the base at a distance of
some 10m and was intended to provide further protection from both cannon fire
and ground assault. The date stone above the door, and the denticulated stone
mouldings surrounding both the door and the four windows, all protrude
slightly from the exposed brickwork indicating that this tower, like many
others on the east coast, was originally covered by a layer of coarse stucco.
The first floor entrance, to the north west, is still approached by the
original cast iron footbridge which spans the ditch on three pairs of stilt-
like legs. The section nearest the tower is designed as a drawbridge, capable
of being raised to seal the entrance. One of the chains used to raise the
bridge remains in place, together with the slots and iron pulleys set into the
head of the entrance passage. The arrangement of joists for the floor within
the first floor garrison room remains substantially intact, and although the
original oak planking has long since been replaced, the flagstone flooring for
the officer's chamber (above the vault of the main magazine) remains fully
intact. All four of the windows to this floor were framed and glazed during
the 1960s, although the apertures still retain some of the iron bars dating
from 1818. These were installed to improve ventilation by allowing the wooden
shutters (long since removed) to remain open.
The stairways to the roof both survive. The roof itself has been sealed with
silver mastic in recent years but the masonry of the parapet and gun step is
fully visible, together with the box-like recesses used for ready-use cannon
balls and most of the iron hauling-rings used for traversing and preparing the
cannons. The cannons themselves were taken down in the 19th century, and the
pivots for the three traversing carriages (usually three further cannon
barrels embedded, muzzle upwards, in the roof) have also been removed.
A timber-clad observation room, formally a coastguard lookout, stands above
the forward gun embrasure, resting on a metal gantry with legs set into
concrete blocks on the tower's roof. This structure, together with the
attached metal staircase and all associated plumbing and wiring, is excluded
from the scheduling.
The ground floor of the tower is accessible via a modern passageway cut
through the rear wall of a storage alcove on the south west side. All the
other alcoves and casemates remain largely unaltered and the lamp passage to
the main magazine (on the seaward side) is particularly well preserved. The
original ventilation system included an arrangement of flues set within the
thickness of the outer wall and linked to box-like apertures and slots in the
internal walls and alcoves of the ground and first floor rooms. This system
remains substantially complete.
As with all the Essex martello towers, tower F 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 one `Barrack Sergeant
Burnett' of Great Clacton. After 1816 married pensioners from sapper and
artillery units were employed as caretakers - Sergeant Major John Baker being
appointed to tower F. The tower remained in occupation through the remainder
of the 19th century. A report of 1823 states that the ground within the ditch
was sown with wheat, and the tower may later have provided the dwelling for
Edward Quinn, recorded as the Great Clacton battery keeper in the County
Directory for 1848. The battery itself was built at the same time as the
tower and included a V-shaped brick wall pointing towards the sea, terraced to
the rear and equipped with three 24 pound cannons on traversing carriages.
This structure is said to have largely disappeared over the cliffs in 1883,
and all further traces have since been lost to coastal erosion and the
development of the promenade. Two of the guns from the battery were unearthed
and placed on display in nearby Angelfield in 1905. Both, however, were
removed at the outset of World War I, ostensibly for fear of attracting the
attention of passing German warships.
In the mid-19th century the tower was occupied by Mr T W Hook, and in 1888 the
roof came into use as a coastguard look out. Fragments of iron stanchions
which evidently carried steps up the outside of the tower from the drawbridge
may date from this time. In World War I the tower was commandeered as a piquet
station for G Company of the 8th Battalion Essex Regiment. In the inter-war
years the tower came into the hands of the local authority, and in 1931 the
interior was as opened as museum. The museum was short lived as the tower was
returned to military control during World War II and thereafter leased to the
Ministry of Defence. The interior remained in use by the Royal Naval
Auxilliary Service (RNAS) until 1990. A childrens' zoo was established around
the tower in the 1970s but closed in the late 1980s.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the
meteorological and seismographic equipment installed in the recesses in the
tower's parapet, the modern coastguard station on the roof, the steps attached
to the north east wall of the moat, all modern concrete platforms and paving
on the moat floor, the steps below the ground floor entrance to the tower
where they fall within the monument's protection margin, all modern materials
and equipment stored within the tower, all modern fixtures and fittings such
as the ground floor and garrison room doors, and all components of the modern
plumbing and electrical systems, although the structure of the tower where
these features stand or are attached to it 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.