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Artillery castle and associated earthworks at Camber

A Scheduled Monument in Rye, East Sussex

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Latitude: 50.9341 / 50°56'2"N

Longitude: 0.7329 / 0°43'58"E

OS Eastings: 592125.895466

OS Northings: 118515.793095

OS Grid: TQ921185

Mapcode National: GBR RZ7.65B

Mapcode Global: FRA D6FM.TLM

Entry Name: Artillery castle and associated earthworks at Camber

Scheduled Date: 12 February 1919

Last Amended: 13 June 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014632

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27067

County: East Sussex

Civil Parish: Rye

Built-Up Area: Rye

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Sussex

Church of England Parish: Rye

Church of England Diocese: Chichester


The monument includes an artillery castle which survives in ruined form, and a
series of associated, surrounding earthworks, situated on low-lying ground
c.2km north of the modern Sussex coast. The three-storeyed castle, the walls
of which stand to a height of up to c.18m, is Listed at Grade I. It is now
surrounded by reclaimed marshland, but was originally constructed to fortify
the northern end of a long shingle spit which protected the open water of the
Camber, the seaward entry to the port of Rye c.2km to the north.
The castle buildings have been shown by part excavation between 1963-83 to
result from at least three main phases of construction taking place between
1512-43, during which time the defences underwent radical redesign and
redevelopment. They are built of local stone, probably from quarries at nearby
Fairlight, Playden and Hastings, and from Mersham near Ashford in Kent.
Additional building materials include Caen stone reused from the newly
dissolved religious houses at Winchelsea c.1.5km to the south west, local
timber and yellow bricks fired on site. The first phase dates to 1512-14 when
documentary evidence suggests that the landowner, Edward Guldeford, began to
build a circular one-storeyed artillery tower, topped with an open platform
designed to house heavy guns, measuring 19.5m in diameter and c.9m high. This
survives as the lower part of the central citadel of the completed castle.
The second phase of construction took place between 1539-40 in the face of the
political crisis and consequent fear of invasion occasioned by Henry VIII's
divorce of Catherine of Aragon in 1533. This resulted in an elaborate
concentric structure of four stirrup-shaped towers linked to each other by an
eight-sided curtain wall and to a gallery around the remodelled and heightened
central citadel by radiating vaults. Access to the castle was by way of a
rectangular gatehouse to the north west.
Work on the final phase began in 1542 and included the replacement of the
earlier, stirrup-shaped outer towers with four semicircular bastions, the
thickening of the octagonal curtain wall with an outer skin of masonry and
some remodelling of the gatehouse.
The castle buildings are surrounded by a group of associated earthworks
including, to the north west, a causeway which leads up to the gatehouse. This
survives as an earthen bank which extends out into the surrounding marshland
for at least 20m. The bank is c.7m wide and up to c.1.5m high. Also to the
north west of the castle buildings is a rectangular enclosure which survives
in earthwork form. This was found during investigations in 1974 to have been
originally a walled structure built with the same type of yellow bricks used
in the construction of the castle buildings. To the north east of the
enclosure are the remains of an associated small building also constructed of
yellow brick. Further earthworks are visible on aerial photographs. Some of
these are thought to be connected with defences and army training activities
dating to World War II.
By 1548 the castle was rendered largely obsolete by the silting of the Camber
channel, a process exacerbated by the inning of the surrounding marshes to
create agricultural land. It was, however, maintained in working order
throughout the 16th century. The process of abandonment began in 1637 when
the garrison was disbanded and all ordnance removed, and by 1643 the lead had
been stripped from the roof.
The monument was purchased by the Department of National Heritage in 1977,
when it was placed in the care of the Secretary of State. Since then it has
been the subject of a comprehensive programme of restoration and repair.
Excluded from the scheduling are all gates, waymark posts, concrete marker
posts, signs, wooden steps, and all modern fixtures and fittings, although the
ground beneath all these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Artillery castles were constructed as strong stone defensive structures
specifically to house heavy guns. Most date from the period of Henry VIII's
maritime defence programme between 1539 and 1545, though the earliest and
latest examples date from 1481 and 1561 respectively. They were usually sited
to protect a harbour entrance, anchorage or similar feature.
These monuments represent some of the earliest structures built exclusively
for the new use of artillery in warfare and can be attributed to a relatively
short time span in English history. Their architecture is specific in terms of
date and function and represents an important aspect of the development of
defensive structures generally.
Although documentary sources suggest that 36 examples originally existed, all
on the east, south and south east coasts of England, only 21 survive. All
examples are considered to be of national importance.

The artillery castle at Camber survives well, retaining much of its original
fabric in unaltered form. The history of the monument is documented by
contemporary records, and a modern, comprehensive programme of excavation and
building recording has provided further evidence for its development over the
years. The castle's importance is enhanced by the unusual survival of
contemporary, associated structures in the area surrounding the main building.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Colvin, H M, The History of the King's Works 1485-1660 , (1982), 415-447
EH filenote, HPG site file, Clark, AJ, Camber Castle: Magnetic Scan, (1972)
frame 160. Meridian AirMaps Ltd, RCHME, MAL/77032, (1977)

Source: Historic England

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