Pevensey Castle

Pevensey RomanWall
Photo © MortimerCat, 28 august 2006

Pevensey Castle East Sussex
Photo © Piotr Zarobkiewicz, 8 august 2009

Pevensey Castle is a medieval castle and former Roman fort at Pevensey in the English county of East Sussex. The site is owned by English Heritage and is open to visitors.

Roman fort

Saxon fort and Norman camp

Evidence for some form of permanent occupancy next appears in 1042, when the Anglo-Saxon Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson (later King Harold II) established a strong point there, improving fortifications by digging ditches within the walls of the Roman fort. The English army remained at the fort during the summer of 1066 before abandoning it to invade further south. When the Duke William the Conqueror of Normandy invaded Sussex, landing at Pevensey Bay in September 1066, there were no defences at Pevensey or anywhere else on the south coast. Upon landing, the invading Normans created a dry ditch around the west gate. This is because they did not have time before the battle to modernise the castle. The ditch would make it harder to get in to the castle if William was attacked whilst inside. In 1066 at the ensuing Battle of Hastings on Senlac Hill, Duke William defeated the combined English armies led by King Harold II.

Medieval castle

Pevensey Castle, Sussex
Photo © Yewenyi, 3 Oct. 2005

Robert, Count of Mortain (half-brother to William the Conqueror) was granted Pevensey shortly after the Norman Conquest. Mortain used the existing fort as the basis for building a castle around 1100, carrying out only minor repairs to the walls to form an outer bailey, and building a new wooden palisaded irregular rectangular-shaped inner bailey against the Roman wall. Shortly afterwards, a rectangular stone keep was erected, incorporating part of the east curtain wall and a Roman bastion. The original main entrance to the south-west and the east gateway were both repaired.

The castle was besieged by William Rufus in the Rebellion of 1088 and during a period of civil war by the forces loyal to King Stephen (1135-1141). A stone circuit wall was erected around the inner bailey by Peter of Savoy around 1250, with three D-shaped towers and an imposing entrance gate. A third siege occurred in 1264, when Henry III's supporters took refuge at the castle following the Battle of Lewes and were besieged by Simon de Montfort.

Post medieval times

Pevensey Castle - World War II modifications
Photo © MortimerCat, 28 August 2006

During later times the ancient castle nearly did not survive. Queen Elizabeth I ordered the castle to be demolished but this was ignored. In fact the castle boasts Elizabethan 'gun emplacements', earthworks and an Elizabethan cannon mounted on a replica carriage. During the period of interegnum under Oliver Cromwell efforts were again made to destroy it but luckily only a few stones were removed.

World war II

During World War II the castle was used by the home guard and as a military camp for anti-aircraft troops. It also housed American and Canadian troops who were officiallly responsible for this section of coast in case of an invasion. As late as 1942 small additions were made to the castle in case of German invasion across the Channel. This was far from fanciful as post war exposure of German plans in Operation Sealion showed that this would have been the route of the invasion from the beaches to seize London.

A number of pillbox defences were built into the fabric of the castle. As shown in the picture on the left these were cunningly disguised by using local stone on the front and even today are hard to distinguish without the benefit of a guidebook. Unlike the picture, many are built low into the walls so have no distinguishing feature except the gun slits. A conscious decision was made to leave these pillboxes in place after the war as they portray the unique direct role Pevensey has played in the defence of Britain from Roman times to the 20th century


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