Martello tower no 28 at Rye Harbour
- 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.
- East Sussex
- Rother (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TQ 94192 18860
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 1805-1810 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 Point in Corsica which had put up a
prolonged resistance to British forces in 1793. The towers take the form of
compact, free-standing circular buildings on three levels built of rendered
brick. 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-CC) 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 16.9m by 17.7m. 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 southern towers carried a single
24 pounder cannon, whilst the eastern line carried three guns (usually a 24
pounder cannon and two shorter guns or howitzers). Three large, circular ten-
gun towers known as redoubts were also constructed at particularly vulnerable
points, at Dymchurch, Eastbourne and Harwich. All three survive.
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 rendered 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 and a few saw use as look out points or gun emplacements
during the two World Wars. Of the original 74 towers on the south coast, 26
now survive, and of the 29 on the east coast, 17 now survive. Those which
survive well and display a diversity of original components are considered to
Martello tower no 28 survives well, and retains many of its original components and associated features, including its glacis bank. Furthermore, when viewed as one of a series of three towers, specifically designed to protect Rye Harbour and the sluices of the contemporary Royal Military Canal, no 28 contributes towards our understanding of the strategically planned integration of the martello tower system and its role in the defence of Britain during the early 19th century.
The monument includes a martello tower, set within a dry moat and outer
glacis, and situated within the grounds of a holiday village, overlooking the
River Rother to the east and Rye Harbour to the west. The tower, which is
Listed Grade II, was one of a group of three moated towers, constructed in
1805-6 to guard the harbour and the sluices of the Royal Military Canal. The
other surviving tower of the group, no 30, is located around 2.5km to the
north west and is the subject of a separate scheduling.
The slightly elliptical, brick built tower measures up to around 13m in
diameter externally and stands to a height of about 10m. The upper half of the
tower protrudes above the lip of the brick retaining wall of the moat, which
encircles the base at a distance of around 10m and was intended to protect the
tower against both cannon fire and, if necessary, ground assault. Soil was
deposited against the outer face of the retaining wall to form an earthen
bank, or glacis, which slopes away from the lip of the moat for a distance of
up to around 28m. A portion of the surviving glacis in the east and south east
has been partly removed, exposing the buttressed wall of the moat.
The tower was constructed on three levels, with battered (inwardly sloping)
walls, designed to deflect cannon shot, ranging from 1.6m to 4m in thickness,
the most substantial section being on the seaward side. The external face of
the tower was originally rendered in a cement mortar, which strengthened the
outer skin of bricks, and traces of this survive. 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
Access into the tower was by way of a first floor doorway to the north, which
was approached by a footbridge which spanned the moat. The section nearest the
tower was designed as a drawbridge, capable of being raised to seal the
entrance. The bridge does not survive. The first floor was originally 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
were lit by two windows to the east and west.
The ground floor was reached by a trap door near the entrance, leading down
through a suspended wooden floor, which is no longer present. This was used to
store ammunition and supplies, and provision for these included a single,
vaulted magazine, partly recessed into the thickness of the outer wall.
Rainwater collection tanks were installed beneath the floor, to supplement the
water supply, and air vents, linking the ground and first floors, were set
into the thickness of the walls.
The open gun platform is reached from the first floor by an internal stone
staircase constructed in the thickest part of the tower wall. The circular
roof space was designed to accommodate a 24-pounder cannon, which had a range
of around 1.5km and could be turned through 360 degrees. The cannon was
mounted on a wooden carriage, which was supported on a central pivot and
traversed, on an inner and outer running rail, by a series of rope pulleys and
iron hauling-rings set into the surrounding parapet wall. The pivot block and
rails survive, partly concealed beneath a low, brick and concrete gun
emplacement superimposed onto part of the roof during World War II, which is
included in the scheduling.
Modern danger signs and materials used to seal the door and windows, and all
modern fences, telegraph poles, and components of other modern services are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath and/or the
structures to which these are attached 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.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Sutcliffe, S, Martello Towers, (1972)
Telling, RM, English Martello Towers: A Concise Guide, (1997)
Telling, R M, Handbook on Martello Towers, (1998)
The Conservation Practice, , South Coast Martello Towers - a report of survey, (1996)
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