Fowey Blockhouse


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019057

Date first listed: 13-Mar-1959

Date of most recent amendment: 14-Mar-2000


Ordnance survey map of Fowey Blockhouse
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Fowey

National Park: N/A

National Grid Reference: SX 12178 51332


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A chain tower is a small structure built beside a river or harbour to house the mechanism for raising and lowering a defensive chain to prevent the passage of ships in times of danger. They were built on the east, south and south west coasts of England on the important maritime approaches, such as those of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Dartmouth. The approach and towns in the Thames estuary were also chained. There were only 14 examples recorded nationally, and of these only five are known to have extant remains. The chain was normally laid across the river bed from bank to bank and raised when necessary. One or both ends of the chain would have a tower or building to house the lifting mechanism, and the other end would have a simpler means of attaching the end of the chain. Chain towers were usually strong, stone structures, capable of being defended, sometimes with dry moats or ditches to the landward side, and with accommodation for short term use by operators of the chain and a defensive garrison. There was a great variety in design. The earliest completed example is at Fowey, Cornwall, built after a raid on the town in 1457; a later example is at Gillingham, Kent, in 1667; most were constructed in the late 16th century.

The Fowey chain tower, known as Fowey Blockhouse, is one of only five known to exist in England. It and the chain tower on the opposite bank of the River Fowey at Polruan are the earliest chain towers to have been constructed. Although it was not in use as a chain tower for long, becoming obsolete in the 1520s when St Catherine's Castle at Fowey was built, it did undergo some alterations, as indicated by the blocked doorway and window. Despite the loss of its south east wall, the tower survives well as a good example of its class.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a chain tower known as Fowey Blockhouse at Fowey on the south coast of mid-Cornwall. The chain tower survives as a ruined three storied rectangular building, built into the side of the cliff which forms the bank of the River Fowey, and is located opposite another chain tower known as Polruan Blockhouse (SM 31863). The structure is roofless and is orientated north west-south east. It is constructed of the local slate stone, with three walls surviving, the south east wall having collapsed at some time in the past. The tower is approached via a flight of modern concrete steps down along the south west wall to an entrance at ground floor level. The entrance has a flattened arch on the exterior and a rounded arch on the interior. To the north west of the entrance is a tall rectangular fireplace at ground floor level and a recess in the wall, known as a putlog hole, to one side; a further fireplace with a chimney is at first floor level. There is a rectangular recess at first floor level to the north west of the fireplace. The north west wall is built directly on to bedrock, which has been cut back to form the ground floor level of this wall. The lower courses of this wall form a slight ledge, possibly to support a wooden floor at first floor level. There is a round arched doorway at first floor level in the north corner of this wall with another blocked round arched doorway above, this upper doorway having traces of a moulded arched entrance, possibly of Pentewan stone. These doorways may have given access between the first and second floors probably via a spiral staircase. To the south of these doorways there are two corbels jutting out of the wall, probably to support the roof, and a third at a lower level with a putlog hole below, possibly to support the second floor. The north east wall has a putlog hole at first floor level and a round arched window at second floor level with a moulded surround, again possibly of Pentewan stone; this window is also blocked. At ground level the floor is of natural bedrock with some concrete patches, with a flight of steps, the upper ones of concrete, the lower ones cut into the rock, down to a small sandy cove or beach which lies to the north of the tower. There are three low modern pillars of stone and cement, about 0.3m high, probably to support a wooden bench close to the base of the north west wall. There is another such pillar to one side of the entrance, which has an iron fitting attached, possibly for iron railings for the flight of steps down the side of the cliff. There are no obvious gun ports or stairway to link the ground floor to the first floor; presumably these features were lost when the south east wall collapsed. The tower is a Listed Building Grade II*. Both this chain tower and the one on the opposite side of the river were probably built in response to a raid on the town of Fowey by the French in 1457. Leland, travelling in the 16th century, states that the towers were built during the reign of Edward IV (1461-1483). The two chain towers were designed to have a chain laid across the river between them which could be raised to prevent enemy shipping reaching the town of Fowey. It is possible that this tower contained the winding mechanism to raise and lower the chain, as it appears to have been larger than Polruan Blockhouse. Leland also records that after hostilities with the French had ceased, the men of Fowey continued to raid French shipping and as a punishment had their ships confiscated by the men of Dartmouth and the chain between the two towers removed. In 1776 two links of a large chain were dredged up from the Fowey estuary, which were believed to be part of the chain across the river. Advances in artillery made the tower obsolete and it was superseded by St Catherine's Castle in the 1520s. Although the tower was not in use for long, it underwent some alterations, as the blocked window and doorway indicate. The tower is illustrated on a map of around 1540. Marked `decayed', it is shown as a three storied building with crenellations and a drawbridge giving access at second floor level. Gun ports are shown in the lower walls to the south east and south west, facing out to sea and towards Polruan, the areas most likely to come under attack, and there are three gun ports shown below the crenellations on the south west face. The tower is also shown on an engraving of 1734 on a low promontory jutting out into the river and a later engraving of 1786 which locates it more accurately, neither of which show the drawbridge. The tower is in an exposed location, and at some time after 1786 the south east wall collapsed. The metal hand rail and the modern concrete steps alongside the south west and north west walls, the concrete patches on the floor and concrete upper steps down to the cove to the north of the blockhouse are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these all features 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: 31864

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Chandler, J, John Lelands Itinerary: Travels in Tudor England, (1993)
Keast, J, The Story of Fowey, (1897)
Keast, J, The Story of Fowey, (1987)
Keast, J, The Story of Fowey, (1987)
Saunders, A D, Fortress Britain, (1989)
Saunders, A D, Fortress Britain, (1989)
Consulted Jan 1999, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 26849,
Consulted Jan 1999, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 26851,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 05/15; St Austell and Fowey Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing