Sited on the south coast of England, the remains of Anderita Saxon Shore fort, has long been an important military site.  Recent archaeological work has suggested a building date for the first fort in the 290s.  This would suggest that it was founded by Carausius (d.293) as part of his separatist empire of Britain from 286-296.  Such a date could well suggest that other Saxon Shore Forts are also earlier.  Alternatively it may be why Pevensey fort is laid out in such an idiosyncratic manner, rather than the standard rectangular form seen at Portchester or Cardiff.  The Notitia Dignitatum of 375-425 mentions the following Saxon Shore forts, Brancaster (Branodunum), Burgh Castle (Gariannonum), Bradwell on Sea (Othona), Reculver (Regulbium), Richbrough (Rutupiae), Dover (Dubris), Lympne (Portus Lemanis), Pevensey (Anderitum) and Portchester (Portus Adurni).  Other sites not mentioned but apparently part of the defensive limes were Walton Castle, Caister on Sea, Carisbrooke castle, Bitterne (Clausentum in Southampton), Skegness, Lancaster and in Wales, Caerwent, Cardiff and Caer Gybi.

The Roman fort was later converted into a Norman enclosure castle, a sixteenth century gun emplacement and finally was fortified again in World War II.  Previously the fort had been dated to the first half of the fourth century when it was suggested as the last Saxon Shore fort to be built in Britain.  Again this shows the dangerous of being too certain of the dating of any of these impressive structures.  Similalry the employment of herringbone masonry at the site overlies Roman work and may therefore be from the pre Norman Conquest era.

It is enclosed by a massive defensive wall which was strengthened by irregularly-spaced, externally projecting semicircular bastions of which ten survive of the original 15 or so.  The defensive wall has a flint and sandstone rubble core faced by coursed greensand and ironstone blocks, interspersed with red tile bonding courses.  The whole is up to 12' thick and survives to a height of up to 26'. The wall was originally topped by a wallwalk and parapet.

Anderita is always said to have been abandoned by the latter half of the fourth century.  This is rather contradicted by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recording a massacre of Britons here by the invading Saxons in AD 491 when King Aelle is said to have butchered the defenders.  The fort may have remained a Saxon stronghold, for in the seventh century Ravenna Cosmography it appears as Anderelio Nuba which would appear to be a corruption for Anderitum Nova.  The fact it was New (Nova) may indicate a certain amount of rebuilding - maybe this was the herringbone work found in the Roman walls.

In October 1066 William the Conqueror built a castle within the old Roman enclosure and gave it to his half-brother, Count Robert of Mortain.  Count Robert also went on to collect Berkhamsted and Launceston castles from the Crown.  
It is well-known that William landed at Pevensey in 1066, but it is less well-known that the Norman army are believed to have made use of the Roman fort as one of their first armed camps when they reforteneeified it with a ditch.  This is possibly the site of the ditch around the current castle within the fort.  The early stone castle consisted of a rectangular tower-keep roughly 55' by 30' internally.  To this a larger rectangular building was later added to the SE as well as bastions to the tower-keep.  The rectangular masonry enclosure was added later, supposedly soon after 1190 when the gatehouse was said to have been begun.  Three D shaped towers completed the enceinte.  Near the well are a pile of medieval stone catapult balls, a selection of those recovered from excavation of the ditch.  Possibly these are survivors of the four sieges of the castle.  Pevensey was besieged in 1088 by King William Rufus, after Count Robert rebelled against his nephew.  It is possible that Robert never regained his castle after this.  In 1104 Robert's son rebelled on not receiving what he thought was a fair share of the family inheritance.  He later fell into Henry I's hands at the battle of Tinchenbrai in 1106.  These acts spilt up the tenurial history of the three castles of Pevensey, Launceston and Berkhamsted.

Pevensey was initially held by the Crown.  The rectangular keep was standing by September 1129 when it was recorded that 16s had been paid to the watchmen of Pevensey keep (Turris de Penuesel).  Sometime after this it passed to the Clare family with the result that Earl Gilbert Clare of Hertford (d.1152) was besieged in the castle during 1146/7 before being
forced to vacate the fortress and retire to the family fortresses in Wales, namely Goodrich, Pembroke and Chepstow.  Pevensey castle then returned to royal hands apart from a short while from 1153 to 1157 when it was held by Count William of Blois (d.1159), the son of King Stephen.  Much rebuilding was undertaken by King Richard I (1189-99) which may have included the building of the great twin towered gatehouse.

The towers and inner curtain are traditionally dated to the 1220s to 1240s, in which case they should be examined with the Trilateral in mind.  
In the early summer of 1264 the castle suffered another siege when the defeated Royalists from the battle of Lewes were forced to either surrender or abjure the country. 
The final siege was a lack lustre affair in 1399.

By 1300, the sea had gradually begun to recede from around the castle and its military importance declined as a result.  By 1500 the castle was in ruins.  However, the threat of the Spanish Armada led to two demi-culverins, or heavy guns, being housed within the Roman fort in 1587.  At the outbreak of World War II, the castle was refortified in May 1940 with machine gun emplacements to protect an observation and command post.

For more detailed descriptions of the castle see Sussex Arch Soc and Collections:

Why not join me at Pevensey and other British castles this October?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2010 Paul Martin Remfry