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Historic England awards £118,000 to save historic 19th century Martello Tower in Clacton-on-Sea

16 Jul Historic England awards £118,000 to save historic 19th century Martello Tower in Clacton-on-Sea

Historic England has awarded a grant of £118,000 towards the repair of Grade II listed and scheduled monument Martello Tower E in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex.

Martello Towers, small coastal artillery forts, were constructed to defend England against the threat of invasion after the renewal of war with France in 1803. A chain of 103 towers was built in East Sussex and Kent (1805-1808) and Essex and Suffolk (1809-1812). Situated towards the western end of the Clacton shore, this tower was identified by the letter ‘E’ in a series of east coast towers classified by a system of letters.

According to a contemporary report, Martello Tower E was built to command ‘the landing place at Clacton Wash and the great road leading from it into the country’. When completed in 1812 it stood some distance back from the shoreline, positioned behind a forward battery built in 1805.

Tony Calladine, Regional Director at Historic England in the East of England said: “We’re delighted to support the urgently needed repair of Martello Tower E with this grant. The tower is a valued local landmark and a striking visual reminder of Britain’s defence against the threat of invasion during the 19th century. We’re pleased to play our part in repairing this important site and protecting it for future generations to enjoy.”

Lynda McWilliams, Tendring District Council Cabinet Member for Partnerships, said:
“The Martello Towers showcase the history of the area, to see improvement and sustainable development sensitive to their heritage, would be beneficial to us all. My thanks go to Historic England for their ongoing support to us as we try to make best use of and safeguard our historic buildings; they have been a vital partner in the project so far.”

The tower stands at a height of 10 metres, with up to 4 metre thick walls facing the sea and is sloped inwards to resist cannon fire. The open top floor, supported by a vast central pillar, carried three guns set on swivelling carriages. The middle floor formed living quarters for about 25 men and contained the only external door in the tower, some 3-4 metres above ground level. The semi-basement ground floor contained the powder magazine, alcoves for shot, cartridge and general stores and a water cistern.

The forward battery position, guard house and magazine that accompanied Martello Tower E have long since disappeared but the tower survives well. Despite some 20th century alterations the structure remains substantially intact and is known to retain original details dating from the period of construction. The openings, four windows, door and the ladder chute below it have all been sealed in recent years to prevent vandalism.

As with all Martello Towers located in Essex, Tower E was armed and provisioned but was never manned. The end of the Napoleonic Wars came before the defensive system of Martello Towers could be tested and they were later rendered obsolete by technological developments in heavy artillery.

After 1816 married pensioners from sapper and artillery units were appointed as tower caretakers. In 1904 the War Office sold Martello Tower E to the West Clacton Estate. By 1935 it lay within Butlins Holiday Camp and the roof was used to mount a cistern supplying water to the chalets. The holiday camp closed in the early 1980s and has since been replaced by housing developments at Martello Bay.

Martello Tower E is in poor condition with a leaking roof and an unstable and damp interior. The £118,000 grant from Historic England will enable urgent repair work to make the building safe by removing the damaged exterior render and installing temporary support to the internal floor. The Gun Platform floor will be repaired and drainage installed. The current phase of work also includes the removal of debris from inside the building, which will be carried out under careful archaeological monitoring.

Historic England is the major funder for this repair project, contributing up to 80% of total costs.

Of the original 29 towers on the east coast, only 17 now survive. Eleven Martello Towers were constructed along the 20 km stretch of Essex coastline known as the Clacton Beach, running from Stone Point on the north bank of the Colne Estuary northwards towards Walton on the Naze. In addition to Tower E, five others remain standing and are also scheduled monuments.