Author Archives: Paul Fearn

Martello Towers of the East Coast

The East Coast towers were built around the same time as the South Coast towers starting in 1809. The South Coast towers were built to prevent Napolean’s armies reaching London from the south, and similarly the East Coast towers were intended to prevent the French from reaching London from the East and North. The East Coast lacks the large chalk cliffs of the South Coast and so the flat lands would have made a good alternative landing place for Napolean’s planned invasion despite the longer sea journey, especially if the low countries could have been used for the launch of the invasion.

The East Coast towers were built larger and more heavily armed than the South Coast towers, as a defence against the larger ships that the French might have used if they had chosen the East Coast as the invasion point. In addition to the towers, there were the pre-existing gun batteries, and there were plans to block the entrances to the rivers Blackwater, Colne and Orwell with barges. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

History of the Goodwin Sands

Description of Goodwin Sands

The Goodwin Sands are a notorious stretch of sands just off the coast of Kent in the English Channel. Submerged at high tides, with areas being exposed and drying sufficiently for a man to walk on at low tides, they present a particular challenge to shipping especially given their unfortunate location… at the narrowest part of the busiest shipping channel in the world.
This article is copyright UK Shore 2008 (coastpx.uk)

Image: The Goodwin Sands, reproduced under Project Gutenberg License

The Goodwin Sands are around four miles offshore, beginning near Kingsdown, Kent and ending around Pegwell Bay, just south of Ramsgate, a total length of around nine miles. The channel between the coast and the sands is known as the Downs, and although the sands present a grave danger to shipping, their position has also provided protection and thus the Downs and Goodwin Sands, and the protective Harbour at Ramsgate made this area historically important. In fact it may be true to say that over the past 1000 years, this stretch of the English Channel can be considered historically the most important stretch of water in the world.

History

The geological history of the Goodwin Sands is disputed; some believing it was previously an island which became swamped by sediment and rising sea levels, others that is simply an accumulation of sediment swept into place by the English Channel funnelling back and forth through the narrow straits of Dover. It is true that the nearby Thanet area was in fact an island back in Roman times (hence the full title; Isle of Thanet) and this may lead people to believe the Goodwin Sands are of a similar nature. However the few attempts at surveying the Sands by drilling have not shown any evidence of soil or organic matter which would suggest an island existed. It is more likely that the Sands are simply an accumulation of sediment on a predominantly solid chalk base.

Since the first recorded shipwreck in the Goodwin Sands area dating back to 1298, the maritime history is one of enormous loss of life and shipping. Ships, the crew and passengers that become stranded on the sands were often facing a terrible fate. Typically a ship would break its back as the tide changed, survivors may have been able to clamber onto the sands as the tide receded, and light fires and attempt to attract the attention of the Boatsmen of Deal and Kingsdown, or the lifeboats in later eras. If no help was forthcoming then within hours the tide would return, the sands would turn into lethal quicksand, and ships and survivors would be engulfed. Many ships were simply swallowed whole within a few days.
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