Martello Towers

Martello Towers are castle shaped forts that were built on the south and east coasts of England in the first part of the 19th century.

Martello Towers were built across the British Empire from the time of the French Revolutionary Wars. Their purpose in Britain was to withstand a siege and fire on enemy ships, when the threat of a French invasion was feared. In total, 103 were built around Britain and Ireland.

Where does the name come from?

The name originated from a tower at Mortella Point in Corsica, which the British attacked in 1794 when blockading the island during the Napoleonic Wars.

How were they designed?

They were built 40 feet high and their round structure and thick walls made them resistant to cannon fire. They provided a platform for a single heavy artillery piece, mounted on to the roof, with a 360° vantage point. They had two floors – the lower floor housing supplies and a powder store, and the first floor the men's quarters and officer's quarters.

How many men were stationed there?

Typically a Martello Tower had a garrison of one officer and 15–24 men.

How effective were they?

The effectiveness of Britain's Martello Towers was never actually tested in combat against a Napoleonic invasion fleet because Napoleon never managed to invade Britain. They were, however, effective in preventing smuggling along the British coast.

Are they still standing?

Today, many of the original Martello Towers have been demolished, with the stone reused for other building works. Some, however, are still standing and have been restored as museums, galleries and private residences.

Find out more about the French Revolution