Martello Tower No. 24
Martello Tower No.24
Dymchurch Martello Tower No. 24 is an example of a specialised type of coastal fortifications erected during the Napoleonic Wars to repel a feared invasion by France.
In 1804 French troops were known to be mustering at Boulogne, just 29 miles away, with the object of crossing the English Channel. Plans were made to place towers along likely invasion areas in Suffolk, Essex, Kent and East Sussex.
The tower was made of about half a million bricks, and although the tower looks round, it is in fact slightly elliptical, which helped to deflect incoming cannon fire.
The walls were thicker on the side facing the sea because that was where most enemy fire was expected to come from. The roundness and thickness of the walls were designed to deflect cannonballs, which tests proved they could not penetrate.
A round brick pillar rose through the center of the tower to support the roof, on which a cannon on a rotating gun carriage could fire in all directions.
The gun platform was on the top. Dymchurch tower reveals all the features of the original design. The basement was for storing ammunition, fuel and provisions and these supplies were separated from each other by wooden partitions. In addition, the gunpowder barrels were placed in a specially ventilated recess.
Artists impression of a Martello Tower (larger picture)
The design of the bomb-proof towers was inspired by a fort in the Bay of Mortella in Corsica which had beaten off two British warships in 1794. The strength of such towers had been dramatically demonstrated when a fleet under Lord Hood had been sent to capture Corsica. Crucial to the British attack was the capture of a stone watch-tower on Mortella Point.
This tower was armed with one 6-pounder and two 18-pounder guns by the French and it successfully repulsed an attack by HMS Fortitude (74 guns) and HMS Juno (32 guns), both of which withdrew with serious damage and some sixty casualties.
By 1812 there were 74 such towers sited on the South Coast and a further 29 in Suffolk and Essex.
Some of them were placed in pairs to protect the gates of marsh sluices. Tower 24 at Dymchurch and its counterpart no 25 (now largely derelict) was an example of the latter type.
The design of the towers was simple with the seaward walls thicker than those to landward. A single entrance was placed at first-floor level approached by a removable ladder. The only windows were small and high, facing inland.
The gunpowder was stored on the ground floor in a specially designed area with ventilation ducts, to keep the gunpowder dry, and double skinned walls. The risk of fire and/or explosion was minimised by protecting the necessary lantern with a glass plate.
The interior of a Martello Tower 1812
(Oil on canvas by Captain William Ford, Royal Engineers)
The first floor contained quarters for both officers and en although it is apparent that the full complement of 24 would have been very cramped. Inside the entrance is a vestibule with a trap-door to the basement; above the trap, a metal ring in the vault was used for a rope for hauling stores up from below. Immediately in front of the entrance is the central brick column supporting the vault; around the column is a rack that once held flintlock muskets, the main weapon of the British army from the 1730s to the 1830s.
The muskets here would probably have been the cheaper `India Pattern' type, made in large numbers by the East India Company for its own armies, but purchased by the Board of Ordnance to supplement its own production and purchases of the famous 'Brown Bess' muskets.
Find out more about 'Brown Bess' muskets
The main armament of Martello Tower No.24 was a 24 pounder smooth-bore muzzle-loading gun mounted on a carriage capable of traversing 360 degrees. The cannon is characterized by a longer barrel, larger propelling charges, smaller shells, higher velocities, and flatter trajectories. The 24 pounder cannon on the gun platform of the Tower was a typical cannon of the time, used both by the Army and on the Royal Naval ships.
The cannon weighed some 2½ tons, which could be turned through 360 degrees with the aid of ropes. It was worked by a team of 10 to 14 men using step-boards along each side. Such a gun could fire a solid or explosive round shot for over a mile.
'Brown Bess' Muskets in their rack on the first floor
The ingenuity of the design of Martello Towers was never put to the test since Nelson's defeat of the French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805 and Napoleon's decision to invade Russia removed the possibility of a French invasion.
Martello Tower No.24 is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade II Listed Building.
For more detailed information, please see:
With the end of the war with Napoleon in 1815, many of the Martello Towers were abandoned by the military but a renewed threat from France in 1830 and again in 1859 led to some of the towers being rearmed and then abandoned again.
24 Pounder Cannon on the roof
With many of the other towers, Martello Tower No.24 was first used as a signal station. Then, from about 1819/20, it was taken over by the newly formed Royal Naval Coast Blockade Service in the 'war' against smuggling on Romney Marsh. As a Blockade Station, it was the headquarters to naval personnel comprising 1 Mate, 2 Petty Officers and 9 men. Some of them may have had their wives living with them.
In 1831 the Coast Blockade was absorbed into The Coastguard Service, which came into operation in 1822 and the Coastguard continued to use the tower, together with their families, until sometime between 1881 and 1891.
The census for 1891, 1901 and 1911 show no one living in Tower No.24. The Tower in 1881 is listed as a coastguard station with 4 men and their families living there, so between 1881 and 1891 it would appear the people were transferred to the coastguard cottages in Dymchurch.
Gunpowder Store on Ground Floor
During the Second World War, it was used to spot incoming aircraft and the V1 & V2 flying bombs. It was manned for a time by a Forward Observation party from 64 Field Regiment, RA based in the Dymchurch and New Romney area,
It was left unused until 1959 when the tower was acquired from the War Office by the Ministry of Works. when it was no longer required by the Coastguard. It was restored to its original state and opened to visitors as a museum in 1969. Today it is in the care of English Heritage and opens to visitors at weekends during the summer months.
Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet, described Martello Towers in the first chapter of his novel "Peveril of the Peak":
...built ... in such a fashion as if he had intended it, as an Irishman said of the Martello Towers, for the sole purpose of puzzling posterity
The exterior is available to view any reasonable time during daylight hours.
Plan of a typical Martello Tower Find out more
Entry to the tower is free but as a charity, the Friends of Martello24 are dependent on donations and these are always appreciated.
NB Access to the tower is by a metal staircase to the first floor, and once inside, access to the roof/gun platform and to the ground floor is by very steep stairs. Thus the tower is not particularly suitable for people with mobility problems (see pictures ). There are no facilities inside the tower.
Outside of the public opening hours, bespoke visits by appointment are available for recognised groups comprising of more than 10 people eg History Societies, WI, Schools, Scouts & Girl Guides etc. Find out more
If your group would like to arrange a visit, please email Peter Friends of Martello24.
Section through a Martello Tower
Cinque Ports Volunteers
Soldiers of the period who would have manned the towers
Celebrating the end of WW1
First Floor Entrance with Ladder Chute
(as it would have been when built)
Part of the Ground Floor
Stairs to the Roof
First Floor Soldiers Room