Pevensey Castle



Sited on the south coast of England, the remains of Anderita Saxon Shore fort, has long been an important military site.  It was later converted into a Norman enclosure castle, a 16th century gun emplacement and finally was fortified again in World War II.  The Roman fort has been dated to the first half of the 4th century when it was probably the last Saxon Shore fort to be built in England.  The fort 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 feet thick and survives to a height of up to 26 feet. The wall was originally topped by a wallwalk and parapet.

Anderita is always said to have been abandoned by the latter half of the 4th 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 defendersThe fort then apparently remained abandoned until 1066 when William the Conqueror built a castle within the 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 refortified 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 feet by 30 feet 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.  Gilbert Clare 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 remained in royal hands.  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:



 

Copyright©2010 Paul Martin Remfry


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