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Pevensey Castle: One of Britain's Oldest Fortresses

by Dawn Copeman

Pevensey CastleTowards the end of the Roman occupation of Britain, somewhere between AD290 and AD340, the Romans set up a fort named Anderida close to the sea at what is now known as Pevensey in East Sussex. Anderida was unlike most Roman forts in Britain in that it was built as an oval, following the shape of the peninsula it was built upon. Most Roman forts favoured a rectangular layout. When Anderida was occupied by the Romans the sea came right up to one of the walls, although the sea has since retreated and is now approximately four miles away. The majority of the outer walls and the gateways of this fort are intact today, making it one of the largest surviving examples of a Roman fort in Britain. When the Romans left Britain early in the 5th century AD, the fort fell into disrepair.

It became important again on the 28th September 1066 when William of Normandy and his army landed at Pevensey. They set up a temporary fort inside Anderida and used it to rest and plan before the battle of Hastings. Pevensey castle is in fact depicted in one of the early scenes in the Bayeux Tapestry. After defeating King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, King William gave the castle to his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mordain. He built a stone keep and bailey fortress in one corner of the Roman fort and repaired the walls where necessary. Over the centuries a moat and drawbridge were added and the gatehouse was built in the thirteenth century.

The castle was a good defensive stronghold and survived sieges in 1088 by William Rufus and in 1147 by King Stephen, but was badly damaged by King John in 1216. It was rebuilt and remained in use until the 15th century, when it was used as a prison. A grisly reminder of this time is the 'oubliette,' a deep pit in the ground, just inside the entrance to the castle. It finally decayed to ruin in the 18th century.

Since then it has remained mostly unoccupied except during times of war, when its defensive position made it useful again. It was used as a gun emplacement in 1588 during the threat of the Spanish Armada, and during the Second World War American and Canadian troops were stationed there to protect against shore landings. The towers were once again fortified to protect the troops from enemy bombardment, and these new fortifications were carefully blended with the Roman walls so that the enemy would not guess that there were troops stationed there.

In 1925 the Duke of Devonshire, the last owner of Pevensey Castle and incidentally the owner of most of nearby Eastbourne, gave the castle to the nation. Today Pevensey Castle is managed by English Heritage and is one of its most visited sites. Visitors can cross the drawbridge, climb the walls, view the towers and go into the dungeons whilst listening to a detailed commentary on the history of the site on an 'audio wand.' Entry to the Roman fort is free; entry to the castle costs: £3.50 per adult, £2.60 for seniors and £1 for children aged five and over. Children under five get in for free. There is parking available nearby, for which a charge is payable, currently £1 and refreshments can be purchased from the kiosk inside the castle or from the Castle Cottage tearoom and restaurant next to the car park.

Pevensey Castle

Related Articles:

The Ghosts of Pevensey Castle, by Elizabeth Wright

More Information:

English Heritage

Pevensey Castle

Dawn Copeman is a freelance writer and commercial writer who has had more than 100 articles published on travel, history, cookery, health and writing. She currently lives in Lincolnshire, where she is working on her first fiction book. She started her career as a freelance writer in 2004 and has been a contributing editor for several publications, including TimeTravel-Britain.com and Writing-World.com .
Article © 2005 Dawn Copeman
Photos © 2007 Patrick D. Allen


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