Seaford’s Martello Tower was not only the last to be built but also most westerly of the south coast towers. But that was not always the plan.
In 1798 Thomas Reynolds, a Major in the 30th Foot Regiment, made a report to the War Office on the defences of the South Coast. The 30th Foot were raised in Cambridgeshire and had seen action in North America before returning to England in 1791. Reynolds suggested a defensive line of nearly 100 towers along the south-east coast and mentioned the success of the round brick tower at Mortella Point, Corsica which had stood up to Royal Naval guns during an assault a few months earlier. His report concluded that “… there are no works that appear to me so likely to prevent an enemy landing as a simple tower of brickwork defended by a handful of resolute men”
Reynolds obviously visited the Sussex coast and suggested where the towers should be sited. These included a tower on the west side of the Cuckmere River ‘to command the bridge and causeway’ at Exceat. He also proposed no less than six defensive towers in Seaford Bay. These were
- On the rise of the cliffs to the east of Seaford (This was presumably at Splash Point)
- Behind the fort in front of Seaford (At the Seaford Battery close to the site of the present Martello Tower)
- On the bank a little to the east of Blatchington (This was where the house Telsemure was later built at the end of Dane Road.)
- Behind the fort in front of Blatchington (Between Claremont Road and Edinburgh Road)
- On the heights to the west of Bishopstone to command the road from Seaford to Newhaven (Rookery Hill, Bishopstone)
- Near Newhaven to cover the drawbridge and causeway leading to Seaford.(Probably somewhere near where McDonalds is today)
It is interesting to note that Reynolds also suggested two Martello Towers at Brighton, one of them being at the New Steyne a little to the east of the present pier. There were to be three towers between Brighton and Hove and then seven, half a mile apart, between Hove and Shoreham Harbour. Shoreham itself was to be protected by two towers, one to cover the harbour and another to cover the important bridge over the River Adur. There were then to be seven towers between Worthing and Littlehampton, these were to be ‘as close to the beach as possible’.
The Cuckmere is one of the few rivers on the South Coast that comes out to sea where there is no town. It obviously needed protecting and as a result, military barracks were built either side of the river between Exceat Bridge and Cuckmere Haven in 1804.
Reynolds grand scheme was not carried out but in September 1804 Brigadier-General William Twiss (the Commanding Engineer for the South of England) was tasked by the Prime Minister William Pitt (the Elder) to survey the south coast to establish sites for the ‘Martello Towers’. The first towers were built between Pett and Rye in 1805. The Prime Minister certainly knew about Seaford as he had been made a Freeman of the town five years earlier and his father was the local MP, but the most westerly tower was originally to have been at Eastbourne – Tower 73 – the Wish Tower.
On 7th June 1806 Twiss visited Seaford but rather than six towers, decided that only three would be necessary. These would be close to the military batteries at Seaford and Blatchington with presumably a third close to Tide Mills. The land was leased from Seaford Corporation.
Seaford’s lone Martello Tower was built between the battles of Trafalgar (1805) and Waterloo (1815) but by this time Napoleon was looking eastwards toward Russia. The threat of a British invasion had diminished and the barracks at Cuckmere were demolished in 1814.
Tower 74 (Seaford Museum) had been the last of the towers to be completed and is the most westerly of the mainland towers. (Others were built on the Channel Islands and in Ireland). There is no string of defensive Martello Towers stretching westwards between Seaford and the River Arun at Littlehampton however the Sussex seaside would have certainly looked different if they had been built!