Martello tower C, St Osyth Beach, Clacton-on-Sea
- 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.
- Tendring (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TM 13618 12753
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 up to Walton on the Naze - with the large circular redoubt at Harwich punctuating the northern end. In addition to tower C, five others still stand and are the subject of separate schedulings: those at Stone Point (A), Eastness (D), Clacton Wash (E), central Clacton (F) and Walton Mere (K).
Despite the loss of the associated forward battery, martello tower C survives well - the structure remaining largely unaltered and containing numerous original features from the period of construction. Although it has been used as both a dwelling and a function room, the most notable alterations to the tower are those related to World War II. This particular reuse is now recognised as being significant in its own right, reflecting a further period of intense national crisis during which the tower resumed a military role.
The monument includes a Martello tower situated towards the eastern end of
St Osyth Beach, to the rear of the Jaywick sea wall and promenade - a location
formerly known as Bush Wall Point. The tower was originally identified by the
letter `C' in the series of east coast towers built in Essex between 1809 and
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 brickwork indicating that this tower, as with many on the east coast, was originally covered by a layer of coarse stucco. Patches of render, including possible traces of the original coating, still adhere to the brickwork.
The first floor entrance retains its original metal-clad door. It is approached by two opposed flights of concrete steps, believed to have been added in World War II when the tower served as an army observation post. The oak floor within the garrison room remains substantially intact and other features such as the internal door frames and the hoist ring for the basement trap door all remain in place. All four windows are currently boarded up and one stairway (to the west) has remained blocked since World War II. The open stairway leads on to the roof through a boxed hatchway, built in concrete and finished with the same smooth grey render which covers the interior walls and top surface of the ramparts. These adaptations are again believed to date from about 1940, at which time a reinforced concrete superstructure was built over the forward embrasure. The platform for this structure, presumed to have supported range-finding equipment or a gun mounting, remains in position. Although some elements of the upper platform have been obscured by such reuse, many features still survive. A single iron hauling-ring (for traversing and preparing the cannon) remains visible in the centre of the eastern embrasure, and most of the others also survive concealed behind blisters in the modern rendering. Alcoves for ready ammunition and other supplies have been retained intact, together with the three cannon barrels embedded (muzzles pointing upward) in the roof to serve as the pivots for the rotating gun carriages.
The ground floor is accessible via a passageway of unknown date cut through the rear (seaward) wall of the main magazine. The brick vaulted ceiling of the magazine chamber remains fully intact, together with its associated lamp passage. Other storage alcoves and internal divisions survive largely unaltered, retaining evidence of the ventilation system - an arrangement of flues set within the thickness of the outer wall and linked to box-like apertures in the garrison room above. A massive concrete revetment block of comparatively modern date occupies most of the floor space in the northern storage alcove and extends almost to the central pillar.
According to one author the tower was built to command a sluice which could be opened to flood the surrounding marshland in the event of an invasion. This has not been confirmed, however, when completed, the tower did compliment a forward battery built a few years before, 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. The position of this structure is still reflected in the angle of the modern sea wall and promenade which replaced it in the late 1960s.
As with all the Essex martello towers, tower C 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, Gunner Thomas Ruff being appointed to tower C. Little is known of the tower's use through the remainder of the 19th century, although an Inspector of Towers, Cornwallis Coughley, is recorded at Clacton in the County Directory for 1848. In 1906 the War Office sold the tower, and it became a private residence which was commandeered as a piquet station in World War I. In the 1930s the tower changed hands, and the new owner, Mr C H Gibbon from Great Bentley, opened it as a club. Commandeered once more for military use in World War II, the tower was subsequently returned to use as a refreshment room and later as a storehouse for a caravan holiday park.
The furniture, materials and equipment stored within the tower are excluded from the scheduling, together with the modern ground floor door and all wiring and electrical installations post-dating the World War II use of the building, although the structure of the tower where these features stand or are attached to it is included.
MAP EXTRACT 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.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Gifford, P R, Resist the Invader: The Story of Essex Forts and Castles, (1982), 33
Hutchinson, G, Martello Towers - A Brief History, (1990), 22
Sutcliffe, S, Martello Towers, (1972), 105
Walker, K, The History of Clacton, (1966), 57
Walker, K, 'The Essex Review (October 1938)' in Martello Towers And the Defence of NE Essex in the Napoleonic War, , Vol. 188, (1938), 171-85
AM107 FMW Long Internal Report, Patterson, H, Martello Tower C west of Lion Point, (1984)
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