The forts of the English coast

I love George Clarke’s Restoration Man television show, and was fascinated by a recent episode that showed here in New Zealand following two separate projects to restore a Martello tower. I’d heard of them, but had no idea of their history, and once I looked it up, I knew I’d found the exact object to fill a plot hole in The Realm of Silence.

Martello towers are small round forts built along the southern and eastern of England, with a few in Ireland and Scotland. They were based on towers built in Corsica to repel the Barbary Pirates. The British navy was very impressed when they were unable to overcome one at a place called Mortello Point, though it fell to a land assault.

The war with France

So in the late 18th and early 19th century, when invasion from France was a real threat, the government embarked on a plan to build the towers, each around 40 feet tall. They were garrisoned by 15 to 24 soldiers and an officer, with food and water, sleeping quarters, and a gun on a swivel to repel sea or land invaders.

They could be accessed only through a door some 16 feet above the ground, accessed by a ladder, and were designed to withstand heavy attack.

140 were built, but the invasion plans receded with the destruction of the French fleet at Trafalgar and had faded by 1812 [edited after JSMF2’s comment, below], and they never had to be put to their intended use.



12 thoughts on “The forts of the English coast

  1. OMG! I love these tiny bits of British history that the authors I follow share ever so often. I’m a history fanatic in case you didn’t figure that out. Thank you so much.

  2. Amazing
    So today they are just standing in the same place, serving no purpose, I think restoring them all would be wonderful. Great shelter for ppl anyway.

  3. My story is set in 1812, and I’ve invented my own (false) invasion scare. Which my key protagonists dismiss as nonsense because Napoleon is rather busy at the time.

      • I will take you up on that! It is a small subplot really, but I want to be sure it is right. The villain’s motivation and his timely demise are all tied up in it. I will be finished (I hope, all going well) the first draft by mid December and hope to have a beta version fit for others to read by 7 January when I go back to work after my Christmas break. I’ll check in before then about whether you want the full story (80,000 words approx) or just the Martello towers and invasion pieces (maybe 5,000 words).

  4. Not entirely true that the invasion scares faded with Trafalgar. Invasion was a live issue until 1811, when there was another huge scare. The Martellos didn’t even start being built till 1805. For the record, my boy (whose department was responsible for building them) thought them a massive waste of time, money and manpower.

Love hearing from you