Martello tower no 74 on Seaford Esplanade
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1017359
Date first listed: 17-Oct-1978
Date of most recent amendment: 24-Nov-2000
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: East Sussex
District: Lewes (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TV 48464 98492
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
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 74 survives well, and retains many of its original components, as well as a 19th century gun barrel. As a slightly later, isolated addition to the chain of south coast towers, no 74 contributes towards our understanding of the martello tower system and its role in the defence of Britain during the 19th century.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a martello tower set within a dry moat and situated at
the eastern end of the Esplanade, overlooking the shoreline to the south of
Seaford. The tower, which is Listed Grade II, is the most westerly in a chain
of 103 towers constructed around the south east coast between Suffolk and
Sussex. It was added to the existing chain of 73 south coast towers in around
1810, to defend the coastline between the rivers Ouse and Cuckmere.
The slightly elliptical, brick built tower measures up to around 13m in
diameter and was constructed on three levels. It stands to a height of about
10m, with battered (inwardly sloping) walls, designed to deflect cannon shot,
ranging in thickness from 1.6m to 4m, the most substantial section being on
the seaward side. The outer surface of the tower is faced in a cement render,
or stucco, to protect the outer skin of bricks. Internally, a thick central
column rises from the base to the top of the tower, from which springs the
barrel vaulted first floor ceiling which supports the gun platform on the
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 from cannon fire and ground assault. The south
western half of the moat has been enclosed, forming part of the modern
promenade, and provides additional storage, display and work rooms for the
local history museum which now occupies the tower. The north eastern portion
of the moat wall is surmounted by an ornamental balustrade, added during the
later reuse of the tower in the early 20th century. An earthen bank, or
glacis, was constructed against the outer face of the retaining wall, but this
has been substantially destroyed by coastal erosion and construction of the
modern road and adjacent car park.
Access into the tower was by way of a first floor doorway to the north east,
originally 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 in times of attack. The bridge does not survive, and a new
first floor entrance was inserted on the south eastern side during the 20th
century, which is accessible from street level, across the covered moat.
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 north east
and south west. The window openings have since been filled, and rendered
The ground floor was reached by a trap door near the main entrance, leading
down through a suspended wooden floor. The floor has been replaced by modern
timbers, and access maintained by way of a modern staircase. The ground floor
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. The outer wall of the magazine has been pierced to provide access to the
rooms in the south western section of the moat.
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, supported on a central pivot and traversed, on
inner and outer running rails, by a series of rope pulleys and iron hauling-
rings set into the encircling parapet wall. The roof retains many of its
original features, including the running rails and several ammunition stores,
in the form of arched recesses also set into the parapet wall. A 32-pounder
cannon, mounted on a modern replica traversing carriage, is in position on the
The martello tower was subsequently used during the 19th century as a signal
tower and a coastguard station and, during the early 20th century, as an
amusement arcade and a cafe. In 1922, a residential apartment was superimposed
onto the roof of the tower, but this has since been removed. In 1998 the tower
housed a small museum and was open to the public.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all modern
structures and concrete surfaces within the moat, the surface of the modern
pavement around the edge of the moat, the stone balustrade, modern railings
and litter bins, all modern fixtures, fittings and displays within the tower,
all modern materials and equipment stored within the tower and all components
of the modern plumbing, electrical and heating systems, the ground beneath
and/or the structures to which these features are attached is included.
MAP EXTRACT 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.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 32264
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Rose, C, Astell, J A, The Martello Tower at Seaford, (1970)
Sutcliffe, S, Martello Towers, (1972)
Telling, RM, English Martello Towers: A Concise Guide, (1997)
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