Seaford Martello Tower

103 Martello Towers were built on the coast from Suffolk to Sussex to defend Britain against invasion from Napoleon Bonaparte. Tower 74 in Seaford was the final link in the chain.

The inspiration for Martello Towers came from a round fortress at Mortella Point in Corsica. Their shape and thick walls made them particularly resistant to cannon fire. They stand up to 12m high which made them an ideal platform for a single piece of heavy artillery that stood mounted on the flat roof, able to spin full-circle. They weren’t only built in Britain though. In fact, they were built all around the British Empire. A garrison of one officer and 25 men generally manned them. Many Martello Towers have perished and a few sit derelict, awaiting a modern use. However, many have become residences and others, like Tower 74 in Seaford, have been put to good community use.

Coastal land in Seaford was purchased in 1806 and Tower 74 was completed by 1810. The structure cost £18,000 and used half a million bricks. A further two were planned but were never constructed. Within the Tower, there was a storage area and gunpowder magazine at moat level. It was surrounded by a dry moat with a drawbridge that was destroyed by a falling cannon in 1880. That year, the War Office sold Tower 74 and by 1910 it had become tearooms with a roller-skating rink in the moat. By the late 1930s, part of the moat was filled in which explains the Tardis-like properties of the Seaford Museum of Local History, the building’s current occupier. A great variety of treasures now reside within the original Tower and under the roof of the covered moat area. These include everything from ships’ figureheads to Victorian kitchens to early computers.

The building of the greatest works of fortification ever undertaken in this country during peacetime was carried out by Lord Palmerston following the Royal Commission of 1860. Like the Martello Towers they were built to defend Britain against invasion from a Napoleon – this time Napoleon III, Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew. Like the Martello Towers, they were never put to the test. This is why the episode became known as “Palmerston’s Folly”.

Fort Nelson, which I wrote about last year was one of Palmerston’s Follies. Newhaven Fort, the largest work of defence ever constructed in Sussex, is another and I hope to visit it shortly.