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 66 survives well, and retains a substantial proportion of
its original components and associated features, including its original gun
barrel, which is a rare survival amongst martello towers. As one of the
surviving examples of a series of low-lying towers, no 66 also provides a
significant insight into the strategic integration of the martello tower
system. Recognition of its structural and strategic strengths during the 20th
century, against a new invasion threat, is represented by the addition of a
substantial gun emplacement during World War II.
The monument includes a martello tower and a World War II gun emplacement,
situated at the head of a shingle beach, immediately south of Sovereign
Harbour, on the north eastern outskirts of Eastbourne. The tower, which is
Listed Grade II, lies around 1km south west of its surviving neighbour, no.64,
the subject of a separate scheduling. The pair formed part of a long chain of
low-lying towers, constructed in 1805-6 to guard the vulnerable coastline
around Pevensey Bay from the threat of Napoleonic invasion.
The slightly elliptical, brick built tower measures up to around 13m in
diameter externally, and stands to a height of about 10m. Its battered
(inwardly sloping) walls, designed to deflect cannon shot, range in thickness
from 1.6m to around 4m on the seaward side. Externally, the tower is rendered
in a cement mortar, or stucco, intended to provide further protection to the
outer skin of bricks. The tower was constructed on three levels, with a thick
central column rising between the basement and 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 was by way of a first floor doorway, which was reached
from ground level by a retractable ladder, although this has since been
replaced by a new doorway at ground floor level. The first floor was 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 north east and south west.
Access to the ground floor was from first floor level, by way of a trap door
near the entrance, leading down through a suspended wooden floor, although
this has not survived. The ground floor was used to store ammunition and
supplies, and provision for these included a single, vaulted magazine.
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 gun platform is reached from the first floor level by the original,
internal stone staircase constructed in the thickest part of the tower wall.
The base of the staircase is reached from the ground floor opening by a flight
of modern steps. 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 rotating wooden carriage,
supported on a central pivot, and was traversed on inner and outer running
rails using a series of rope pulleys and iron hauling-rings set into the
parapet wall. During World War II, a concrete gun emplacement was constructed
across the roof of the tower, and this in turn supports a later, temporary
coastguard station. Despite these later additions, the gun platform retains
many of its original features, including the inner running rail and the
original gun barrel, which lies unmounted, within the roof well.
The modern coastguard station on the roof of the tower, the modern steps,
railings and gates and all modern fixtures and fittings, including all
components of the modern electrical system and radar equipment are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath and/or the structures to
which these features are attached is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.