King George III is widely remembered for two things – losing the American colonies and, sadly, going mad. However, his reign also included the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), which left behind a remarkable and cherished feature of our coastline – the Martello Towers.
29 MILES TO FRANCE… WITH A CORSICAN TWIST
Our beaches are just 29 miles from the coast of France, so the Romney Marsh area was at high risk of invasion by Napoleon’s forces. Nine Martello Towers were built in the short stretch between Hythe and St Mary’s Bay, three of which remain today.
These circular, fortified towers had been used as strongholds or lookout posts from prehistoric times, but the advent of gunpowder and artillery made them seem less useful. All that changed in 1794 when the British fleet under Admiral Lord Hood was dispensed to capture the island of Corsica, and a furious battle ensued. With just one six-pounder and two 18-pounder guns, the tower on Mortella Point successfully repulsed an attack by HMS Fortitude (74 guns) and HMS Juno (32 guns). Incidentally, this was the same battle campaign where Admiral Lord Nelson lost his eye.
INSIDE THE MARTELLO
Although the Towers look circular, they are actually elliptical in shape, with their inner and outer circles arranged so that the thickest parts of the wall face towards the sea.
Around 10m (33ft) tall, and tapered from the base, the walls vary in thickness from 4m (13ft) at the bottom to 1.8m (6 ft) at the top. To make them even more capable of withstanding bombardment, the bricks were bedded in hot lime mortar.
Entrance was at first floor level, with one officer and 24 men sharing their living quarters here. An internal ladder led down to a space for stores and ammunition. The only light came from two small windows on the landward side.
A stairway carved into the walls led up to the gun platform, supported by a central column which ran all the way through the structure. The gun itself was a 24-pounder, mounted on a carriage which could operate through 360 degrees, while the garrison was equipped with muskets.
Life inside must have been quite uncomfortable.
THE ONES THAT WENT
Despite their formidable defensive nature, six of our Martello Towers are now gone. One has been eroded by the sea; four collapsed; and one had to be blown up by Kent County Council in 1956 to improve the A259. Another one remains in a sad state in the Dymchurch Martello car park, while the eighth is now a private residence and has been the subject of interior design media coverage.
THE ONE YOU CAN VISIT!
Martello Tower No.24 is right in the heart of Dymchurch High Street, and is considered to be the best surviving example due to its closeness to its original condition and that you can see it as it was when occupied by the military in 1806.
The Tower contains almost all of the features of the original design including brickwork, front and parapet doors, window openings, fireplaces, ventilation shafts, the original 24 pounder muzzle-loading cannon on the gun platform, parapet shot lockers, hauling rings, replica gunpowder barrels, and replica ‘Brown Bess’ muskets.
The Tower had an illustrious history after the Napoleonic Wars, serving as home to the Royal Naval Coast Blockade battling smugglers from 1819, then the Coastguard from 1831. During WWII it was used to spot incoming aircraft and the V1 and V2 flying bombs, and then acquired from the War Office in 1959. Today it is in the care of English Heritage and volunteer run registered charity Friends of Martello 24.
And, because it’s right in the heart of the High Street, you can combine your step back in time with a trip to any of the local eateries, ice cream outlets, the funfair and of course the beach!
Dymchurch Martello Tower, High Street, Dymchurch, TN29 0NU
Beware! Access is via a metal staircase to the first floor, and once inside access to the roof/gunplatform and to the ground floor is via very steep stairs, unfortunately making it unsuitable for anyone with mobility needs, although assistance dogs are welcome.
Local public pay and display parking is close by, and the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway station a five minute walk away.
Opening times: 2.00-4.00pm at weekends and bank holidays from April to October. Bespoke visits for recognised groups of ten people or more can be arranged by contacting Friends of Martello 24.