English Heritage Resumes Work to Save Historic Sites

  • Charity’s first conservation projects since lockdown, uncovers hidden historical features at Pevensey Castle in Sussex
  • Roman Bastion, garderobe door and siege ball revealed
  • Major repair works to WW2 pillboxes, camouflaged during the war, to blend in with the ruins 



English Heritage has started its first conservation projects since lockdown, including major works at Pevensey Castle in Sussex, a Saxon shore fort intrinsically linked to the Battle of Hastings.

The project, to remove the extensive vegetation growth that covered parts of the castle has revealed key historical features, previously hidden from both visitors and historians alike.

Evolving from Roman fort to Norman castle, and even put back into action during the Second World War, Pevensey Castle is most famous as the landing place for William the Conqueror’s army in 1066. But important elements of this historically important site have been hidden away for decades, including an entire Roman bastion – standing at over 9 metres tall.

Thanks to historical documentation English Heritage’s expert historians knew much of what was hiding under the greenery covering the sites, but for many it is still the first time seeing these architectural gems first hand. The uncovering of the Roman bastion means visitors and historians can see both a scar from a long lost section of Roman wall as well as a blocked doorway onto the wall-walk, the only such doorway on the castle to survive. The work has also brought to light a garderobe (or lavatory) door circa 1250, which was completely covered in ivy.

There have also been some more unusual discoveries, not previously known to the charity’s curators.

Pevensey in its time has been subject to four sieges – including the longest documented medieval siege of a castle in England in 1264-1265. A weapon of choice for these invasions was siege balls, launched into the castle keep with powerful war engines.  The removal of the vegetation has uncovered a siege ball embedded into one Roman wall with mortar, in what appears to be an unorthodox attempt to repair the masonry.

Later concrete structures too, have been given the same care and attention as the earliest Roman stonework with a focus on repairing damage to WW2 Pill Boxes caused by the vegetation. These look out points, built in the 1940s, were camouflaged during the war to blend in with the ruins, disguised with rubble from bombed buildings.

Roy Porter, English Heritage Senior Properties Curator for the South East said: "It’s extremely good news that English Heritage has been able to resume conservation projects at our sites.  Although it’s not the most glamorous work, tackling overgrown vegetation in absolutely vital in allowing us to protect the historic sites in our care. It is a time-consuming and laborious process requiring specialist skills to work on structures nearly two thousand years old, and we’re extremely grateful to our members and visitors whose support funds these essential works.  Crucially, each conservation project we do, we learn more about the amazing places entrusted to us, enhancing our understanding of their stories and enabling us to bring that to life for our visitors."

70 miles along the coast at Reculver Towers and Roman Fort, whose imposing twin towers dominate the skyline of Herne Bay, similar works are also underway meaning the historic fort’s Roman wall face can now be enjoyed by visitors for the first time since the 1990s. This ancient wall is part of one of the earliest Roman forts built against Saxon raids on the 'Saxon Shore'.

The last time vegetation was removed from both sites was in the early nineties and while these historic properties have been regularly maintained, the rapidity of the vegetation growth was making their future maintenance unsustainable. The large scale vegetation removal has meant not only much of the historical elements of the sites have been unveiled but experts have been able to repair eroding and decaying masonry which if left, would have put the future of both forts into question. This project is part of a wider 'sustainable conservation' plan within English Heritage to ensure the historic places in their care can be maintained long term and enjoyed by future generations for many years to come.

English Heritage is also undertaking conservation projects at Furness Abbey in Cumbria and at Bishop’s Waltham Palace in Hampshire.

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