The Martello Towers of the Kent and Sussex Coast

74 Martello Towers were built along the coast of Kent and East Sussex, between 1805 and 1808 to guard against invasion by Napoleon along with other defensive measures such as Forts, Redoubts and the Royal Military Canal (which runs through Hythe).

The inspiration for the south coast implementation of these distinctive round towers came from a British attack in 1794 on Mortella Point in Corsica. The Mortella Point tower resisted attack from the Royal Navy ships HMS Fortitude and HMS Juno, resulting in 60 casualties on the British ships and the ships had to abandon the attack.This article is copyright UK Shore 2008 (coastpx.uk) It was left to the army to eventually take the tower after 2 days of heavy fighting. The tower had achieved this long resistance with only 38 men, one 6-pounder gun and two 18-pounder guns.

The name Martello Tower took a while to settle on by the English military planners, probably originating from ‘Torri de Martello’, the name given to watchtowers in parts of Western Italy, but also perhaps from one Naval officer who described Mortella Point as ‘Myrtello Point’ as the headland that the tower stood on was covered with wild myrtle. Other descriptions used were ‘sea-towers’, ‘bomb-proof towers’, or ‘Corsican towers’ and in 1803 finally as ‘Martello towers’.

The towers never actually saw active service of course, Napoleon’s planned invasion came to nothing particularly after the Battle of Trafalgar defeat for the French Fleet which forced Napoleon to look elsewhere for conquest.

Today only around 26 of the original towers are still standing, many were built upon shingle beaches and the sea has inevitably claimed them, others were demolished to make way for modern developments, for example the Promenade at Hythe/Sandgate. Several have been restored and converted into residences, tower 24 at Dymchurch is now a museum, and the Wish Tower (Number 73) at Eastbourne is also open to the public.

1* Folkestone On the 200ft cliff above East Wear Bay. Currently undergoing restoration (2008).
2* Folkestone Converted into dwelling in 1964. Slightly inland from Tower 1. It is currently a holiday let.
3* Folkestone On the cliff edge above Copt Point, with a good view of Folkestone harbour and towers 1 and 2. Features in a painting of Folkestone by Turner in 1830. Fully restored and converted into a museum. Open to the public.
4* Folkestone Stands in the garden of a private house at the Western end of the Leas. Was fitted with a semaphore machine in 1820, as were three others (towers 27, 31, and 55). Was used during World War II by the Observer Corps.
5* Folkestone In the grounds of the Girl’s Technical School behind Sandgate High Street, off Coolinge Lane. In good condition, the door of one of the two magazine compartments is still covered with copper with details of the contents painted. It is in line with Sandgate Castle on the shore below.
6* Shorncliffe Camp Overgrown with trees growing in the moat/ditch, and the roof covered soil and vegetation. On the edge of the military camp, but accessible via footpath.
7* Shorncliffe Camp Sealed to prevent vandalism, a wooden floor is laid inside but this may not be the original floor. In poor condition now. Not accessible but can be seen from the nearby military cemetry.
8* Shorncliffe Camp Converted into a dwelling, situated amongst other housing just outside of the Shorncliffe Camp area.
9* Shorncliffe Camp In a fair state of preservation, with most of the stucco in place, and the ditch brickwork in good order. Can be seen from the Sandgate/Hythe promenade below.
10 Hythe Promenade Was sited near near where the Imperial Hotel now stands.
11 Hythe Promenade Was sited near Saltwood Gardens.
12 Hythe Promenade Was sited at the south end of Stade Street.
13* Hythe On West parade, sold by the War Department in 1907, and converted into a dwelling in 1928 by A.J.Glock who named it Place Forte. It was requisitioned as an observation post during World War II. The designer of the Dungeness Lighthouse, Ronald Ward owned it from 1960 and completely converted it. It is now simply named as the Martello Tower and painted white.
14* Hythe, Firing ranges Located on the beach in the Hythe army firing ranges, but easily viewable from West parade. The letter ‘A’ was painted on the side of the tower at one time, signifying the range that the tower is located within.
15* Hythe, Firing ranges Located in the Hythe army firing ranges. The letter ‘D’ was painted on the side of the tower at one point, signifying the range that the tower is located within.
16 Hythe, Firing ranges Some ruins visible, but destroyed before the Second World War.
17 Hythe, Firing ranges Some ruins visible, but destroyed before the Second World War.
18 Hythe, Firing ranges Some ruins visible, but destroyed before the Second World War.
19* Hythe, Firing ranges Hythe martello tower19 (Ian Giles)Located in the Hythe army firing ranges. The letter ‘N’ was painted on the side of the tower, signifying the range that the tower is located within. Now largely ruined but visible from West Parade.
20 Disappeared early in the 20th Century.
21 Disappeared early in the 20th Century.
22 Dymchurch Built to protect the Willop Sluice in Hythe Road along with No.23, but destroyed in 1956 for road improvements.
23* Dymchurch Built to protect the Willop Sluice in Hythe Road, paired with No.22 but No.22 was destroyed to make way for road widening. This tower has been restored and is used as a residence.
24* Dymchurch Built to guard the Marshland Sluice, this tower has been fully restored and is open to the public.
25* Dymchurch Twinned with Tower 24 to guard the Marshland Sluice (visible in the foreground of the attached image), the outside had been restored but the stucco is deteriorating. It is located within a public car park.
26 St.Mary’s Church Guarded the Globsden Gut sluice gates opposite St.Mary’s Church, but was demolished in 1871.
27 St.Mary’s Church Guarded the Globsden Gut sluice gates with Tower 26. Was a semaphore station. Demolished in 1841. Last of the Kent towers.
28* Rye Harbour The first Sussex tower and still standing on the river Rother in Rye Harbour at the entrance to a holiday caravan park. Named Enchantress Tower.
29 Rye Harbour Abandoned early on, stood near the harbour mouth.
30* Rye Two miles inland, but built to protect the sluices of the Royal Military Canal, and the rivers Brede and Tillingham. Moated tower, part of the drawbridge fixture remains. Two sash windows were added as it was used as a residence at one point. Now neglected and overgrown. UPDATE: 21st September 2008 – no longer overgrown, and with all the creeping foliage removed the good condition of the tower has been revealed. Updated photo to follow soon.
31 Pett Level Was situated at Dog’s Hill, built directly onto the shingle beach and thus subject to erosion and swept away.
32 Pett Level Built directly onto the shingle beach and thus subject to erosion and swept away.
33 Pett Level Built directly onto the shingle beach and thus subject to erosion and swept away.
34 Pett Level Built directly onto the shingle beach and thus subject to erosion and swept away.
35 Pett Level Blown up by the Royal Engineers in 1872.
36 Pett Level Built directly onto the shingle beach and thus subject to erosion and swept away.
37 Pett Level Blown up by the Royal Engineers in 1864.
38 Pett Level Blown up by the Royal Engineers in 1872. Situated at Cliff End near Hastings.
39 St. Leonards Low level tower, located near to West Marina. Partially collapsed in 1876, and the remains blown up by the Royal Engineers.
40 St. Leonards Low level tower, demolished in the 1870’s.
41 Bulverhythe Low level tower built at The Salts, Bulverhythe. Had suffered sea erosion by 1842 and while arrangements were being made to sell the materials upon demolition, was destroyed by a gale and swept into the sea.
42 Bulverhythe Low level tower built at The Salts, Bulverhythe. Demolished in 1840 and the materials sold. Some of the stone was later used in building a Chancel to St.Mark’s Church in Cooden.
43 Bulverhythe Bay Bulverhythe Cliff, on the cliff top overlooking Bulverhythe Bay. Collapsed into the sea by the 20th Century.
44 Bulverhythe Bay Gally Hill, on the cliff top overlooking Bulverhythe Bay. Collapsed into the sea by the 20th Century.
45 Sackville Hotel Destroyed by 1839. Possibly the first tower depicted in drawing by Turner for his work ‘Liber Studiorum’ in 1817.
46 Colonade Demolished in 1870. Traces found in 1910 when the Colonade was built.
47 Polegrove Not known when this tower disappeared, presumably late 19th Century.
48 Pages Avenue Built to the south of Pages Avenue, demolished in 1858.
49 Veness Gap Disappeared presumably late 19th Century.
50 Cooden Beach Hotel Destroyed in 1860 as a test target for a demonstration event to show the superiority of the Royal Artillery’s new muzzle-loading guns over the old breach-loading guns.
51 Cooden On the beach and washed away by the 20th Century
52 Cooden On the beach and washed away by the 20th Century
53 Cooden On the beach and washed away by the 20th Century
54 Cooden On the beach and washed away by the 20th Century
55* Norman’s Bay Close to the sea but still standing. Was one of the four semaphore towers. Once a dwelling but now empty.
56 Pevensey Destroyed by sea erosion
57 Pevensey Destroyed by sea erosion
58 Pevensey Destroyed by sea erosion
59 Pevensey Demolished in 1903
60* Pevensey Bay Stands in Pevensey Bay village close to the shore. Converted to a dwelling.
61* Martello Estate Stands in the Martello Estate
62* Used as a residence and in good condition.
63 Destroyed by the Germans during World War II.
64* Ages come, ages go - tower 64Near to the sea and close to Crumbles Marina, still standing but unused. Thanks to John Insipid for this amazing ‘star trail’ image over Tower 64.
65 In ruins by the start of the Second World War..
66* Langney Point Occupied by the Coastguard service.
67 Low level tower
68 St.Anthony’s Hill Used as a target for the new rifled Armstrong guns in 1860. Housing estate later built on the site, the circular moat is still reflected in the road called the Circus.
69 Low level tower
70 Low level tower
71 Used as a target for the new rifled Armstrong guns in 1860.
72 Eastbourne Low level tower
73* Eastbourne The Wish TowerThe Wish Tower, got it’s name from the nearby marshland known as the ‘Wash’ or ‘Wish’. Used by the coastguards after the Napoleonic threat receded and then abandoned. Saved from the threat of demolition, and became a museum. In 1959 it was declared an ancient monument, and completely restored. Now open to the public again, please visit Wish Tower website. The original tower number plaque is still visible above the doorway, in roman numerals LXXIII (73)
74* Seaford Built in 1810 and still standing. Sold by the War Office in 1880, it was a museum until 1911, and then converted into a cafe/amusement arcade. Many alterations were made, but now open to the public as a museum.

Notes about this list: The main reference source was published in 1972, over the coming months we will be further researching to ensure an accurate 2008 status for each tower. If you have further or more up-to-date information about any of the towers please post a comment and we will update.

References
Martello Towers, Sheila Sutcliffe (David & Charles 1972)
Martello Towers – A Brief History, Geoff Hutchinson (1994)
The Cinque Ports and Romney Marsh, Margaret Brentnall (John Gifford, 1972)

All images copyright coastpx.uk, except for image for tower 19 which is copyright Ian Giles Photography and used by kind permission.

38 thoughts on “The Martello Towers of the Kent and Sussex Coast

  1. steve

    My 4th Great Grandfather was a Coastguard stationed at No. 31 and No.48 between !830(s)-1860(s). His first son my Great Grand Uncle also a Coastguard who was stationed No. 31 after he left the Royal Navy 1853. Both were called Alexander Tremble (National Archives-ADM175, they are free documents)

  2. Gladys Ranger

    Tower 68 the one at St Anthonys Seaville Drive Eastbourne was my husbands family. The large house which is now a nursery was built on the base of the tower which was used as a basement workshop by the family.. THe house is surrounded by a wall which would have been the moat — it circles the house and garden.

  3. Leo Moth

    Wish Tower (No 73) now open again for conducted tours. See ‘Wish Tower friends’ for more info.

  4. Richard Walton

    I used to live in Brightlingsea, Essex, and from my bedroom window I could see Martello Tower A at Point Clear, so had a fascination with these since being a child. I have visited all of the remaining Essex/Suffolk Martello Towers and am now ticking off all of the remaining Kent/Sussex ones. Ironically I used to work in the radar industry, and the range of defensive surveillance radars I worked on were named ‘Martello Radars’ in acknowledgement to the important role that these towers have played in history (despite having never fired a shot in anger).

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  6. Paul Wimsett

    Am I the only one who call them Marshmellow Towers? Some of them seem to be placed in strange positions-maybe because forests have become built up around them.

  7. Mark

    Mike on 16th June 2010 posted the correct locations for the Martello’s in Pevensey Bay. He is correct as to the numbering too. So the map here still leaves out tower 61 which is located in Millward Road, running between Timberlaine Road and Grenville Road. This tower was used by the Canadian Army in WWII and still has its additional two floors dating from 1940, it is now a private and well maintained residence.

    For the record the myth about an adjacent Tower being destroyed by German fire in WWII is just that, a myth! A combination of 19th century post Napoleonic Bitish navy target practise and costal errosion is what ended its life!

  8. John Owens

    AJ Glock, who converted Martello Tower 13, was my grandfather. I note that he did this in 1928, 8 years before his sudden death. I never knew him as I was born in 1946. My mother, Arthur Glock’s only remaining child, tells me that the conversion was such an unusual event that it was reported in the national papers.

  9. don mc guinness

    HI, I WAS WONDERING IF ANYONE HAS FOUND WORKING DRAWINGS OF MARTELLO TOWERS built around 1804.

  10. admin

    “No 39 was located where today is the promenade at the junction of Sea Road and Grosvenor Gardens, St Leonards”
    “Martello Towers 39 (opposite the Bopeep pub)”
    http://www.hastingschronicle.net/cgsChronicle.html

    Still might not help, but the Hastings Chronicle article does have a lot of detailed info which might help rule in or rule out the tower and it’s a good read anyhow 😎

  11. Lance Vinter

    Thank-you Admin, although very interesting and does help slightly it still doesn’t tell me the name of the fort or whether or not it is a Martello Tower or a fort or both………lol Anyway thanks again for your help, will probably have to search in a different direction unless someone else has any info. Many thanks again………….

  12. Lance Vinter

    Hi, i am looking for information on the coastguards that were stationed in St. Leonards in Kent in 1841. I have a possible relation living and working as a farm servant there. The Place indicated is called “Fort (and what looks like) Floys” but it is unclear. It seemed to be adjoining Swan Lane, the head of the household was an Horatio Wilkinson (Royal Navy), there was a clerk and his family living there with two servants. The next three properties have Coastguards living there with their families. If it is any help i could send you a copy of the census page. I am trying to find out if this fort is Martello Tower 39 or am i barking up the wrong tree. I can be contacted via e-mail, Many Thanks………………

  13. Mike

    Your website is great. Thanks for making this worthwhile effort. Are your towers in the Pevensey Bay area numbered correctly? There is a tower between Grenville Road and Timberlaine Road that is not marked on your map. Should that be Tower 61? Should the tower near Leyland Road be Tower 60? Also, do you know why/how Tower 63 was “destroyed by the Germans in WWII?”

  14. jan royal

    great website, thank you- I have found an ancestor (my husbands 4th Great Grandfather) William Dewar, whose address is Circular Redoubt at West Hythe 1841 Census – he is an Army Pensioner – does this building still exist ? other addresses on the pages are 20 Tower and 21 Tower, Brockmans Barn and Moncrieff Barracks- regards,
    Jan

  15. GHSP

    Bloggers may be interested to know that the towers form a central motif in the book “Preferred Lies” by Graham Pryor (ISBN 1847533701).

  16. Jill

    Have you got any photos of the inside of these towers I would really like to see the ones that have changed to homes?

    Jill xx

  17. Ian Giles

    Hello,

    I have found your site to be very interesting.

    Although I am a professional photographer I often take images of subjects that interest me such as these towers and frequently make them available at no charge for information websites provided that there is a clear photo credit supplied.

    All the towers from Folkestone to Rye are to be found on http://www.iangilesphotos.co.uk/sample2009.htm and the enlarged versions can be accessed by clicking on the thumbnails.

    I am expecting to finish the remaining towers before the end of this month.

    I would be interested in your reply,

    Best wishes,

    Ian Giles

  18. admin

    @Nic – yes, there is conflicting info on that tower. The “Report of Committee on Coast Defences 1870” states that it was “demolished in 1841 in consequence of the advance of the sea.”, but other sources suggest that the Coast Guard was in occupation in the 1840’s. I don’t suppose you could email me a scan of the coast guard records? Would love to see them and update the main article!

  19. Nic

    My ggg-grandfather’s coast guard records show he was stationed at tower #27 starting Oct 1863. Your description indicates it was demolished in 1841?

  20. Steve

    Just found your blog while searching for info on Martello towers. There was one for sale near me here in Seaford a while back and I did consider buying it – but didn’t really have the necessary cash. Great info in this post – well researched and presented so many thanks.

  21. Ian B.

    “Great Blog.” These towers are magnificent and steeped in history.
    Our holiday home at The Orchards holiday village, is very close to Martello Tower (A), Point Clear in Essex. Built in 1805 the tower can be found on the St Osyth side of the mouth of the river Blackwater opposite the Cinque Port of Brightlingsea. The tower is now used as a museum. The exhibits include a P51 Mustang from 479th Fighter Group based at Wattisham recovered from the sea, other recovered crashed wartime aircraft, USAAF displays, RAF displays, Home front displays, First World War displays and much more. All on three levels topped off by a superb view from the roof of the Blackwater estuary with views of Bradwell and Mersea Island. For the first time this year there is a recovered George III cannon on display, which is the only one in East Anglia and is extremely rare.

  22. Myrtle

    These towers are really cool.. It’s amazing the amount of craftsmanship that went into them.. Thanks for the post..

  23. English Coast

    Drove past Tower 30 at Rye today and was surprised to see that the ‘overgrown’ tower that I reported in my original post has been totally stripped of the creepers that had covered it, and revealed a tower in apparently excellent condition. Updated photo to follow next time I’m in the area!

  24. wings1944

    I’m trying to help an aging WWII vet with research. He believes he was stationed at a gun battery near Hythe in 1944. Does anyone know the name and number of the battery that was probably on the current Sene Valley Golf Course?

  25. Eyebee

    I always found these towers fascinating as a child, and my parents, who didn’t really take an interest in local history couldn’t tell me much about them.

    I have noticed that more than one has been converted into living accommodation, and I bet they fetch a tidy sum on the real estate market if they’re ever up for sale too!

    Eyebees last blog post..Disaster Survival Kit

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