East Coast Martello towers

One of the greatest menaces to the historic environment in the East of England is coastal erosion. This is putting some of the most evocative structures on the wind-swept Essex and Suffolk coasts in great peril, particularly the sandcastle-like Martello Towers built between 1808 and 1812. 

Martello tower, Bawdsey, Suffolk

Tower W, Bawdsey, Suffolk (photo by Steve Cole, © English Heritage) 

They are monuments to a time when Britain was threatened by invasion by Napoleonic France. This danger soon passed and some of the towers were sold off for their building materials, while others were retained as Coastguard lookout posts, later some were incorporated into 20th century defence schemes.

In total 29 east coast towers were built between St Osyth, Essex and Aldeburgh, Suffolk; these are more robust than the south coast examples.

The towers were part of a wider defensive landscape, with coastal batteries some of which dated back to the 1790s. At the centre of the system is a 10-gun circular redoubt at Harwich.  A similar redoubt was proposed for Aldeburgh but it was deemed too costly to construct and a unique 4-gun quatrefoil tower was built. Eighteen of the towers survive, and of these, three are on the Heritage at Risk Register.

For more information, contact Wayne Cocroft in English Heritage's Cambridge office. wayne.cocroft@english-heritage.org.uk


Wayne Cocroft
Senior Investigator
Heritage Protection Department
t: 01223 582770