Martello Tower No. 24
Martello Tower No.24 Today (2017)
Dymchurch Martello Tower No. 24 is an example of a specialised type of coastal fortifications erected during the Napoleonic Wars to repel a feared enemy invasion. In 1804 French troops were known to be mustering at Boulogne, some 29 miles away, with the object of crossing the 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 eliptical, 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 cannon balls, 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.
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. By 1812 there were 74 such towers sited on the South Coast and a further 29 in Suffolk and Essex.
Artists impression of a Martello Tower (larger picture)
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 first floor contained quarters for both officers and men 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 gun platform housed a muzzle-loading 24-pounder cannon, weighing 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
Part of the Ground Floor
Stairs to the Roof
Cannon on the Roof
English Heritage owns the tower and is therefore responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. They have undertaken a number of surveys in 2018 and 2019 to determine the source of the water ingress and this has resulted in plans to undertake repair work on the tower in September, October and November 2019.
Scaffolding will be erected and a programme of essential conservation repair works will be carried out to the tower including de-vegetation, dealing with defective pointing and deep tamping of open joints focusing on known areas of water ingress (i.e. the brick parapets and coping stones), removal of mould, stalactites, wood replacement and treatment and lime-washing to the interior which is currently in a poor condition and some defects remediation works such as repairs to the flagpole on the roof and repairs to windows and sills.
There will also be repair works to the existing drainage system identified from recent trials and investigations to be leaking which will include sensitive widening of the openings to the modern and historic gulley stones to enable access for future maintenance and survey and resealing to the existing damp proof membrane. It is hoped that the work will reduce the amount of water ingress the building has been experiencing resulting in deterioration of its historic fabric bringing it into a more sustainable condition for staff, volunteers and the public to use and enjoy.
Details of the Proposed Works
The work started on 2 September and is scheduled to take about 12 weeks, but the weather is a key factor in this. Lots of rain will mean the repairs take longer.
Update 25 October 2019
Despite a lot of wet weather days, the conservation repair works at Martello Tower No.24 remains on schedule and the contractor Gransden Construction Ltd is making good progress. English Heritage, the Friends of Martello24, and the rest of the project team are working closely with the contractor with regular meetings to quickly address any issues.
Work to date includes: much-needed timber repairs to first-floor sash windows repaired, internal decoration work well underway completed. In the Quartermaster’s storeroom, the entrance area, men’s quarters with have received 3 coats of limewash applied. Mould and stalch have also been removed. Officers’ Quarters room and stairwell to the roof have received 2 coats of limewash, third coat yet to be applied. Ground floor basement has received one coat of limewash, 2 further coats to follow. Woodwork is also ready to receive for the first coat of paint. Most of the repointing to the brickwork is almost complete.
Coping stones have been depointed & good progress being made to the repointing with more repair work still to do dressing to complete. Drain gulley works progressing well and the drains have been fully cleaned, lining works on one of the gulley’s to address the leak will due to commence this week. The flagpole has also been repaired and is back in its rightful place.