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Dymchurch Martello Towers and Redoubt

Introductiom
Martello Towers

Dymchurch Martello Towers
Dymchurch Redoubt

Introduction

Martello towers, sometimes known simply as Martellos, are small defensive forts that were built across the British Empire during the 19th century, from the time of the Napoleonic Wars onwards.

It was summer 1803 when a Captain William Ford proposed a scheme of small towers as a defence against Napoleon. This was not the first kind of tower used as a fortification. Towers were already being built around the Mediterranean to combat piracy and protect naval positions. Ford got his idea from a French structure tower on the isle of Corsica, the birth place of Napoleon. The tower was situated at Mortella Point in the Bay of Fiorenzo. It was armed with one six pounder and two eighteen pounders. The plan was approved in 1804 and William Pitt, who was prime minister at the time, laid down plans for the towers. Towers were built from Folkestone to Seaford in East Sussex. Between 1805 and 1812 seventy four towers were built in all, six of these in Dymchurch.


Between 1804 and 1812 the British authorities built a chain of towers, based on the original Corsican Mortella towers, to defend the south and east coast of England to guard against possible invasion from France, then under the rule of the Emperor Napoleon.

Included in the scheme were three much larger circular forts or redoubts that were constructed at Harwich, Dymchurch and Eastbourne; they acted as supply depots for the smaller towers as well as being powerful fortifications in their own right. 

Martello Tower No 24
Martello Tower

 

Martello Towers

The interior of a classic British Martello tower consisted of three storeys (sometimes with an additional basement). The ground floor served as the magazine and storerooms, where ammunition, stores and provisions were kept. The garrison of 24 men and one officer lived in a casemate on the first floor, which was divided into several rooms and had fireplaces built into the walls for cooking and heating.

The officer and men lived in separate rooms of almost equal size. The roof or terreplein was surmounted with one or two cannon on a central pivot that enabled the guns to rotate up to 360 degrees. A well or cistern within the fort supplied the garrison with water. An internal drainage system linked to the roof enabled rainwater to refill the cistern.

The effectiveness of Britain's Martello towers was never actually tested in combat against a Napoleonic invasion fleet. They were, however, effective in hindering smuggling. After the threat had passed, the Martello towers in England met a variety of fates. The Coastguard took over many to aid in the fight against smuggling.

Forty-seven Martello towers have survived in England, a few of which have been restored and transformed into museums. Some are privately owned or are private residences, the remainder are derelict.
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Dymchurch Martello Towers

Given that the coast of Dymchurch was only some 22 miles from the coast of France across the English Channel, it was one of the areas that was most at risk from invasion by Napoleon's forces. Along its 3 miles of coastline, there was built four Martello Towers and one Redoubt. Three of the towers have since been demolished but three of the towers and the redoubt remain.

Martello Towers Nos 20, 21 and 22 were located between Dymchurch and Hythe but have all been demolished.

Martello Tower No 22 was located about 2 miles to the north of Dymchurch village but was demolished in 1956 when the A259 was widened.

Martello Tower No 23 is located on the A259 Hythe Road, just north of Dymchurch. It is now a grade II listed building and has been converted for use as a private residence. (you tube link)

Martello Tower No 24 is located between Dymchurch High Street and the beach. It has been fully restored and is open to the public by prior appointment. Please Telephone Icon 01304 211067 (Dover Castle) to arrange a visit. If you wish to arrange an educational visit eg for school children, please Telephone Icon 01483 252013 (English Heritage) for details.
pdf icon England Heritage Guide to Martello Tower No 24

Martello Tower No 25 is located in the Dymchurch Martello car park just as you enter Dymchurch on the A259 from New Romney. It is unused and closed up.

[Martello Tower No 26, now demolished, was in St Mary's Bay on a site was on what is now the sea wall next to the car park opposite Dunstall Lane, roughly in front of where the toilet block now stands. see  St Mary's Bay History]

Dymchurch Redoubt

The Dymchurch Redoubt is located on the south (seaward) side of the A259 main road roughly half-way between Dymchurch and Hythe.

The redoubt was built between 1804 and 1812  to support a chain of 21 Martello Towers that stretched between Hythe in Kent and Rye in Sussex, and to act as a supply depot for them.

Dymchurch Redoubt is circular in form and built of brick with granite and sandstone dressings, measuring up to 68 metres in diameter and stands 12 metres above the floor of its 9 metre-wide dry moat. Beyond the moat, an earth bank or glacis helped to protect the masonry from artillery fire. Built on two stories, the upper floor had open emplacements for ten 24 pounder guns mounted on wooden traversing platforms. The lower floor featured twenty four vaulted barrack and storage casemates, which opened onto a circular parade ground. They were designed to accommodate 350 officers and men. Entry was originally via a wooden footbridge supported by stilts, which could be collapsed in an emergency.

 It is not open to the public, but walking along the sea wall allows a close approach on the south, Dymchurch, side. Further access may be restricted when there is firing on Hythe Ranges. When so, prominent red flags are flown, supplemented by red lights during night time firing practice. Due to the risk of ricochet during firing, a Range Safety Boat is present to prevent seaward incursion into the danger area by the public.

The redoubt specifically protected the sluices that were the key to the drainage of Romney Marsh. By the time it was finished, the invasion threat was over. During World War I, it was used for troop accommodation.  In World War II, the south coast was again at risk of invasion, and two 6 inch breech-loading guns were mounted in casemates built over the original gun emplacements. A prominent battery observation post was built and pill boxes were sited on the parapet in order to repel an infantry attack.  

 

Diagram of a Martello Tower
Diagram of a Martello Tower (ack 2.)
 

Martello Map Dymchurch
Locations of Martellos and Redoubt
 

Martello Tower No 23
Martello Tower No 23
 

Martello Tower No 24
Martello Tower No 24
 

Martello Tower No 25
Martello Tower No 25
 

Dymchurch Redoubt
 Dymchurch Redoubt

 
 
 

It was fully operational by 1942 as an Emergency Coastal Battery. After the war, the observation post was used as a Coastguard lookout and radar was installed to monitor shipping in the English Channel.

The army constructed a mock-up of a street of buildings in the interior, for training in urban warfare. The redoubt is now disused except as a store and remains the property of the Ministry of Defence. It is a Scheduled Monument and is listed by English Heritage as a Building At Risk, although a conservation plan has been agreed.
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