Martello Towers

From Historical Hastings

Martello Towers were positioned along the south east coast line in positions that permitted at least two towers to fire on any invading vessel within range during the Napoleonic War. Named after similar constructions in Martella, Spain, the towers were built to defend low-points on the coastline between Folkstone (Number 1) and Seaford (Number 74) with a spacing of approximately a quarter of a mile between them. The towers themselves were on the whole two storey structures, with a gun position on top capable of being traversed through a full circle. Immediately beneath the gun were located casemates, whilst on the ground floor were barracks for housing the troops stationed there. Entry to the tower was generally via a first-floor door with a removable ladder, and the whole structure surrounded by a ditch, thus increasing the close-in defensibility of the structure.

View of Martello Towers from near Harley Shute 1835

There were a number of towers in the immediate vicinity of Hastings - these being towers 38 (Pett) to 43 (Bulverhythe) - although none survive to this day. Much of the coastline of Hastings was not considered suitable for a Napoleonic invasion due to the sandstone cliffs that were largely cut back in the 19th century, so there is a notable gap from Fairlight to Harley Shute, then a number follow in rapid succession - numbers 39 to 43 - possibly due to the low-lying land behind Bulverhythe Salts. Two local towers were known to have been utilised to test Armstrong Artillery.[1]

Attempt to demolish tower with Gun powder 1881

Additional Defences

In addition to the towers, there was a battery located roughly under the Marine Parade Boating Lake, with at least one other gun emplacement[2] known to have been situated on top of the White Rock.

Towers referenced in this wiki

Number 39 tower was known to be located at Bopeep and during the early 19th century was pressed into service as a jail for five smugglers who had been caught running tubs on the 28th of December 1828. Unfortunately, it proved unequal to the task and all five men escaped[3]. A further reference in Brett's Histories for 1862 shows that this tower was still existing of that date.

Number 40 tower was reportedly a quarter of a mile to the west of St. Leonards and was the scene of a dramatic demonstration of the destructive power of gun-cotton in December of 1873[1].

The materials resulting from the demolition of number 41 tower (described by Brett as consisting of oak flooring, stone coping and some 600,000 bricks) were auctioned off by William Honess, an auctioneer and cabinet maker of 43 Marina on the 1st of February, 1842. The materials for the towers was reportedly sold by Messrs. Farncomb and Breeds in 1806 for in excess of £20,000 - £2.25 million in 2023[4].

Tower number 42 was off-shore between Bridge Way and Amsterdam Way. This tower was occupied by the Coastal Blockade and Coastguard during the 1830's. In 1832 a battle between smugglers broke out and two Coastguard men died as a result of gun shot wounds.The tower, like the others in this stretch, was damaged due to coastal erosion and subsequently demolished. The material reclaimed from the demolition was sold for 217 pounds 9 shilling[5]s 6 pence (about £13,000 today). Some of it was used in the construction of the chancel at St. Mark's Church, Little Common - brought by sea to Cooden Sea Road and taken up by cart[6]

Brett in his manuscript histories references number 48 tower as being near Bexhill in connection with a smuggling attempt[3]; more about this tower and indeed numbers 44 through 55 are referenced on the Bexhill OpenStreetMap website; all of the latter towers are on the low-lying ground of Bexhill seafront towards Cooden.

Towers and other Napoleonic Defences

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References & Notes

  1. a b Hastings & St Leonards Observer 6 Dec 1873 pg. 7
  2. Historic Hastings, J. Manwaring Baines pg. 149 ISBN: 0948869003 ISBN: 9780948869006 Amazon
  3. a b Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 1 Chap. VI
  4. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 3 Chap. 27 Pg. 254
  5. An explanation of old currency and coinage may be found at the following website Pre-decimal currency, accessdate: 16 June 2022
  6. Bexhill OpenStreetMap Tower 42