Towards the end of the Roman occupation of Britain, the south and east coasts of England were under increasing attack by Barbarian tribes, including the Jutes and Saxons. The Roman fort of Anderitum (or Anderida) at Pevensey was built around AD 290AD and was one of eleven forts the Romans built to protect against invasion. These were built on sheltered harbours lying close to the open sea between Essex and the Isle of Wight, they were collectively known as the Saxon Shore Forts.
The fort originally stood on a “promontory”:https://pevenseycourthousemuseum.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/peve-baypart1.jpg promontory surrounded on three sides by marsh and water. It overlooked the shore with anchorage for ships. and was surrounded by a massive outer wall and ditch. The tall outer wall offered a vantage point overlooking the marshes and sea. The main landward entrance of the fort was protected by a gatehouse.
Buildings inside the fort were timber-framed wattle and daub structures which have left little trace. Unlike many other forts, there was no civilian settlement outside the walls, possibly because it was built at the end of a peninsula with little room for additional buildings.
After the withdrawal of Roman Troops, the area was settled by bands of Saxons from about AD 471. Pevensey gradually became a prosperous town as an established fishing port as well as a producer of salt. It was an important settlement on a strategic location with a natural anchorage at one of the narrowest points of the English Channel.
William of Normandy and his fleet of ships landed at Pevensey Bay on 28th September 1066, highlighting the vulnerability of the coastline to invasion. His army sheltered for the night in temporary quarters quickly erected within the old Roman fort, before leaving for Hastings the following day. Following William’s victory at Hastings, the area had great strategic importance as an essential link between England and Normandy. Pevensey being gifted to his trusted half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain, who began constructing a permanent castle inside the Roman fort.
The walls of the Roman fort were repaired and strengthened and a ditch was dug across the neck of the promontory for additional protection. The inside of the Roman fort became the outer bailey with an inner bailey with a defensive wall and keep in the south east corner. The early buildings were constructed from wood and were only replaced by stone by the end of the C12th. A town gradually grew up outside the castle on the land to the east. By 1086 there was a small mint, market and a mill.
The castle remained an important defensive site and was held by leading noblemen as well as Queens of England It remained strategically important throughout the Middle Ages. It experienced four major sieges, including one of the longest in English history by Simon de Montford the younger in 1264-5 but has never taken. During the C15th the castle was used as a state prison and James I of Scotland was held prisoner there.
By the late C16th, the castle was no longer is use and was described as a total ruin, with much of the stone removed as building stone. A gun emplacement was built at the time of threat of the Spanish Armada. By the C17th, the sea had retreated and it was no longer a viable port. It played no part in coastal defences in response to the threat of invasion by Napoleon in the early C19th.
During much of the C19th it was used as a space for fairs and bazaars and as a tourist attraction. The general condition of the fabric continued to deteriorate and it was placed in the ownership of the State in 1925, who began a conservation programme.
After the fall of France in 1940, Pevensey once again became a potential landing place for an invasion of Britain by Hitler. Pevernsey Castle played a key role in local anti invasion measures. The 4th Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry were garrisoned here. The north tower became their headquarters with commanding officer, signal exchange and two carrier pigeons.
The towers of the inner bailey were converted into troop accommodation by lining the walls with bricks and laying wooden floors. New perimeter defences were constructed. Machine-gun posts were built into the walls, disguised to look like part of the original structure, and an anti-tank blockhouse was built in the entrance of the Roman west gate. The main and postern gates of the inner bailey were blocked by concrete and brick walls, and anti-tank cubes were installed along the areas where the Roman curtain wall had collapsed. The new defensive measures were designed to prevent a surprise attack by a German invasion force overwhelming the castle. The castle was made “100% tank-proof” and an enemy would not be able to approach within 2,000 yards. Anti-aircraft guns and ,light machine guns were used against enemy aircraft, and Pevensey and Eastbourne suffered heavy bombing raids.
After the war, the blockhouse and obstructions were removed, but it was agreed to leave the machine gun posts in place as a monument to their role in the castle’s continuing place in history.
The castle is now in the care of English Heritage. There is free admission into the Roman fort but there is a charge to enter the castle. There is a free audio tour which is worth listening to.
There is pay and display car park near the eastern gate of the castle. There are also toilets here as there are none in the castle. The nearest post code is BN24 5LE and the grid reference is TQ 646048.
There is disabled access to the outer and inner bailey along gravel paths or grass. There is level access to the exhibition on the ground floor of the north tower inside the castle.