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Pevensey Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Pefenesea; Pevensye; Pebesellum; Peneuesellum; Eunesheye; Anderida; Anderitum; Haestingaceaster

In the civil parish of Pevensey.
In the historic county of Sussex.
Modern Authority of East Sussex.
1974 county of East Sussex.
Medieval County of Sussex (Rape of Pevensey).

OS Map Grid Reference: TQ64450480
Latitude 50.81915° Longitude 0.33424°

Pevensey Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The remains of Anderita Saxon Shore fort, later, Norman defences, an enclosure castle, a 16th century gun emplacement and World War II defences. The Roman fort has been dated to the first half of the fourth century AD. Covering almost 4ha, the fort survives in the form of substantial ruins and buried remains. It is enclosed by a massive defensive wall which was strengthened by irregularly-spaced, externally projecting semicircular bastions. Anderita is thought to have been abandoned by the latter half of the 4th century AD, though the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records a massacre of Britons here by the invading Saxons in AD 491. William the Conquerer landed at Pevensey in 1066, and the Norman army are believed to have made use of the Roman fort as one of their first armed camps. After Pevensey was granted to King William's half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain, the medieval defences went through 300 years of development, culminating in the construction of a stone built enclosure castle within the largely intact walls of the earlier Roman fort. In 1372 the castle was given to John of Gaunt, and during his period of office was used to imprison James I, King of Scotland. 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 fell into disrepair. However, the threat of the Spanish Armada led to two demi-culverins, or heavy guns, being housed there in 1587. At the outbreak of World War II, after standing as a ruin for a couple of centuries, the castle was refortified in May 1940 as an observation and command post. (PastScape)

The monument at Pevensey is open to the public and is well known as an educational resource. The development of its component structures provides evidence for some of the most significant episodes in English history over a period of around 2300 years. Anderita was the last Saxon Shore fort to be built in England and forms one of the best surviving examples, with substantial standing remains. Partial excavation has demonstrated that contemporary archaeological remains and environmental evidence will also survive in buried form within the fort. The reuse and repair of the earlier, Roman fort during the medieval and Tudor periods and during World War II illustrates the continuing strategic importance of the site; it is likely that the Norman defences were amongst the first to be constructed in England. The later, medieval enclosure castle, one of 126 recorded nationally, also survives well in standing and buried form and illustrates, in its utilisation of the walls of the earlier Roman fort and the gradual construction of its component parts, the importance of improvisation in medieval architecture. The eventful history of the monument during the medieval period is well documented by contemporary sources, as is its reuse as a defensive site on a smaller scale during the 16th century, and the gun emplacement dating to this period survives well. The concealed World War II pillboxes and machine gun posts also survive well, although the entrances to some have been blocked. These are of a particularly unusual, inventive form, carefully tailored to suit their historic setting.
The monument includes Anderita Saxon Shore fort, traces of later, Norman defences, an enclosure castle, a 16th century gun emplacement and World War II defences situated on a low spur of sand and clay which now lies around 2km north west of the present East Sussex coastline at Pevensey. During the Roman and medieval periods the spur formed a peninsula projecting into a tidal lagoon and marshland, but coastal deposition and land reclamation have gradually built up the ground around it so that it is now completely land-locked. The roughly oval, north east-south west aligned Roman fort is the earliest of the structures which make up the monument and has been dated to the first half of the fourth century AD. Covering almost 4ha, the fort survives in the form of substantial ruins and buried remains. It is enclosed by a massive defensive wall with a flint and sandstone rubble core faced by coursed greensand and ironstone blocks, interspersed with red tile bonding courses. The whole is up to 3.7m thick and survives to a height of up to 8.1m. The wall was originally topped by a wall walk and parapet. Part excavation in 1906-8 showed that the wall was constructed on footings of rammed chalk and flints underpinned by oak piles and held together by a framework of wooden beams. Investigation of the internal face indicated that this was stepped upwards from a wide base so as to provide extra strength and support. Despite these precautions, a landslip on the south eastern side of the fort has resulted in the destruction of a c.180m length of the perimeter walls and, although fragments of the fallen masonry do survive, most have been removed over the years. Smaller sections of wall have also collapsed along the north western and eastern stretches. The defensive strength provided by the perimeter wall was enhanced by irregularly-spaced, externally projecting semicircular bastions with diameters of around 5m. There were originally at least 15 of these, of which 10 survive today. The fort was entered from its south western, landward approach by way of the main gateway. In front of this a protective ditch 5.5m wide was dug, and, although this became infilled over the years, a 40m stretch located towards its south eastern end has been recut and exposed. The ditch would have been spanned originally by a wooden bridge, although this no longer survives. The main gateway takes the form of a rectangular gatehouse set back between two solid semicircular bastions 8m apart. The 2.7m wide, originally arched entrance is flanked by two oblong guardrooms and the whole gateway structure projects beyond the inner face of the perimeter wall into the fort and is thought to have been originally two or even three storeys high. On the eastern side of the fort is a more simply designed subsidiary gateway, originally a 3m wide archway entrance, giving access to part of the adjacent Roman harbour, now overlain by Pevensey village. The extant archway is a modern reconstruction of the Norman rebuilding of the original entrance. Traces of a wooden causeway which led from it into the fort have been found during partial excavation. Midway along the north western stretch of perimeter wall is a now ruined postern c.2m wide, approached by a curved passage set within the wall. Part excavation between 1906-1908 indicated that the internal buildings which housed the garrison of up to 1,000 men, along with their livestock and supplies, were constructed of timber infilled with wattle and daub. A c.1m sq timber-lined Roman well was found in the south western sector of the fort, at the bottom of which were the remains of the wooden bucket with rope still attached. The well was found to have been filled with rubbish in Roman times and the presence of the bones of cattle, sheep, red deer, wild boar, wild birds, domestic dogs and cats, along with sea shells, gives some indication of the diet and lifestyle of the fort's original inhabitants. Anderita is thought to have been abandoned by its garrison by the latter half of the 4th century AD, and although little is known of its subsequent history until the 11th century, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records a massacre of Britons by the invading Saxons at the fort in AD 491. The Bayeux Tapestry states that William the Conquerer landed at Pevensey in 1066, and the Norman army are believed to have made use of the Roman fort as one of their first armed camps. The defences at Pevensey and the surrounding land were granted to King William's half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain. The medieval defences then went through at least 300 years of development, culminating in the construction of a stone built enclosure castle within the largely intact walls of the earlier Roman fort. It is thought that the first Norman defences took the form of a wooden palisade surrounded by a bank and ditch, and a c.40m length of partially infilled ditch up to 9m wide which survives across the north eastern sector of the earlier fort may indicate their original extent. Limited excavations in 1993-94 showed that the ground surface in the south eastern sector of the fort, in the vicinity of the later stone-built keep, was artificially raised some time before 1200, suggesting that a motte may also have been constructed. The original Roman gateways were rebuilt and a new ditch dug in front of the south western gate. Most of the Norman defences and interior wooden buildings will now survive in buried form beneath the later medieval castle, although herringbone-pattern repairs to the Roman masonry, by then serving as the outer bailey of the medieval defences, also date from this time. Around 1100 the defences were strengthened and the accommodation improved by the addition of a masonry keep in the south eastern sector of the earlier fort. The subject of a complex history of alteration, collapse and repair, the keep utilises part of the earlier, Roman perimeter wall and bastions. It takes the form of a rectangular block measuring c.16.8m by c.9m internally, reinforced by apsidal projections on all sides. Now surviving in ruined form up to first floor level, the keep originally took the form of a tall tower with an entrance on the first floor. A rectangular building measuring 7.6m by 6m was later constructed in the south eastern angle between the keep and the Roman wall. At around 1200 work began on the construction of a smaller, stone-built inner bailey in the south eastern sector of the earlier fort. An L-shaped ditch around 20m wide was dug to define the new enclosure, and this retains water in its northern arm. The material excavated from the ditch and from the destruction of the earlier bank was spread over much of the outer bailey to a depth of up to 1.5m. The ditch was recut during extensive renovations carried out during the early 20th century. The first structure to be built in this phase was the gatehouse to the south west which has an arched entrance between twin, semicircular external towers, now ruined. The basement chambers beneath each tower have ashlar-faced walls and barrel-vaulted ceilings, the southern chamber being entered by way of a newel staircase, the northern by a trapdoor. Both were used to house prisoners. Many subsequent alterations included the replacement, during the 15th century, of the wooden bridge over the outer ditch by a stone causeway. The originally embattled curtain wall enclosing the inner bailey was built within the ditch and inner berm around 1250. This survives almost to its full original height and is faced with coursed Greensand ashlar. Three semicircular external towers provided flanking cover from the narrow embrasures which pierce their walls. Each has a narrow staircase to a basement, a branch staircase off it into the ditch and a room and garderobe, or latrine, at ground floor level. Upper rooms were entered by way of the wall walk and were heated by fireplaces. The basement of the northernmost tower has two rib-vaulted bays, the keeled ribs resting on stiff-leaf corbels. The interior castle buildings continued to be built mainly of wood and these will survive in buried form, although the stone foundations of a chapel were exposed during partial excavation of the northern sector of the inner bailey. Around 20m south east of the chapel is a large stone-lined well at least 15.5m deep, and near this is a pile of medieval stone missile-balls, a selection of those recovered from the ditch. These were thrown from trebuchets during the four sieges of the castle. William, Count of Mortain forfeited Pevensey after an unsuccessful rebellion against Henry I in 1101 and the castle, which remained in the royal gift until the later Middle Ages, passed into the hands of the de Aquila family. The most famous siege took place in 1264-65 when the supporters of Henry III, fleeing from their defeat by the Barons at Lewes, took refuge in the castle. In 1372 the castle was given to John of Gaunt, and during his period of office was used to imprison James I, King of Scotland, who had been seized in 1406, and Joan, Queen of Navarre, accused of witchcraft by her stepson, Henry V. By 1300, the sea had gradually begun to recede from around the castle and its military importance declined as a result. Contemporary records show that the castle walls were constantly in need of expensive repair and by the end of the 14th century were not being properly maintained, although the roof leads were kept intact until the middle of the 15th century. By 1500 the castle had ceased to be inhabited and fell rapidly into decay. The threat of the Spanish Armada led to some renewed interest in the defensive value of the site, and a survey of 1587 records that the castle housed two demi-culverins, or heavy guns. These were sited on the contemporary, south east orientated, M-shaped earthen gun emplacement situated in the outer bailey around 90m north east of the main Roman gateway. This takes the form of a raised level platform c.20m long bounded on the seaward side by a slight bank c.0.4m high and around 3m wide. One of the cast iron guns, manufactured in the East Sussex Weald, is now housed within the inner bailey on a modern replica carriage. From the 17th century the castle passed through the hands of various private owners. Valued as a picturesque ruin during the 18th and 19th centuries, it features in many contemporary engravings and illustrations. In 1925 the Duke of Devonshire presented the monument to the state, and extensive repairs began with a view to opening the monument to the public. These were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, when the castle resumed its original military purpose of protecting the south coast. The castle was refortified in May 1940 as an observation and command post. It was continuously occupied by regular troops, including Canadian forces and the United States Army Air Corps, who used it as a radio direction centre, and by the Home Guard until 1944. The World War II defences include two pillboxes and three machine gun posts of concrete faced with rubble and flints, carefully concealed and camouflaged within the earlier Roman and medieval fabric. An internal tower was built just to the south of the Roman east gateway and a blockhouse housing anti-tank weapons was built in front of the main Roman gateway. The blockhouse no longer survives. Modifications carried out to the medieval mural towers included lining the interiors with brick and inserting wooden floors. In 1945 the monument was returned to peaceful use and is now in the guardianship of the Secretary of State and open to the public. (Scheduling Report)

trans mare Peneuesellum appulit, ubi statim firmissimo uallo castrum condidit, probisque militibus commisit. he crossed the sea and landed at Pevensey, where at once he built a strongly entrenched fortification which he entrusted to his valiant warriors. (William of Jumièges - translation by Van Houts)

Archaeological evidence from Pevensey shows there to have been almost continual occupation from the mid-late Saxon period within the Roman walls, while topographical evidence suggests that Hastings was an unlikely place for an Alfredian burh. It is therefore suggested that Pevensey was the site of a the burh of Haestingaceaster, that Hastings was a mid or late C11 foundation, and that Haestingaport could refer to either location. (PastScape–ref. Combes and Lyne, 1995). In consider this point readers should be aware that the coastline at both Pevensey and Hastings has changed very considerable since the C11 and much of C11 Hastings has been lost to coastal erosion.
The Roman Saxon Shore fort of Anderita is of oval plan and is dated to the first half of C4. The fort covers an area of almost 4 ha. The walls stand up to a height of nearly 8m and are 3.7m thick; they were protected by 15 irregularly-spaced projecting semi-circular bastions of which 10 still survive. Some texts, in reference to the Saxon Shore fort, may also mention finds made in 1907 of stamped and inscribed Roman bricks. These were found, in the 1970's, to frauds made by Charles Dawson, the Piltdown Man fraudster.
William the Conquerer landed here and an internal palisade and ditch in the NE part of the fort is probably associated with this event, a motte may also have been built before 1200; the Roman gateways were also rebuilt at this time. C.1100 a rectangular stone keep was built in the SE part of the fort, it is now ruined. C.1200 a smaller stone-built inner bailey was constructed creating an enclosure castle, the curtain was was built c.1250. By 1500 the castle fell into disrepair, the receding coastline had reduced its importance. The ruins of the keep were, until 1908, buried under a mound of earth and rubble which lead to early writers including G.T. Clark to mistake it for a motte. It is possible that a small motte was built where the keep stood to be removed prior to the building of the keep but readers need to be aware of the difference between Clark's motte of rubble over the remains of the keep and any actual possible early motte.
Pevensey was, intermittently, garrisoned by 20-30 men during the C14 when there were fears of French raiding parties. In 1399 during the take over of rule by Henry Bolingbroke from Richard II the castle was besieged The constable John Pelham was loyal to Henry. He was away when local levies besieged the castle and his wife lead the defence. In John Goodall's recent guidebook a C14 manuscript illustration of a siege with scaling ladders and a trebuchet is shown next to the description of this event although a local levy would not have access to a trebuchet and Joan letter to her husband that she can 'no vitals get without much difficulty' suggests a relative low key event in that goods were actually obtainable, even if with difficulty. Both contemporary medieval writers and more recent authors have had a marked tendency to conflate siege warfare.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:19:31

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