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Fowey Blockhouse

A Scheduled Monument in Fowey, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.3319 / 50°19'54"N

Longitude: -4.6404 / 4°38'25"W

OS Eastings: 212178.540602

OS Northings: 51331.603948

OS Grid: SX121513

Mapcode National: GBR N6.XFVT

Mapcode Global: FRA 1855.20Q

Entry Name: Fowey Blockhouse

Scheduled Date: 13 March 1959

Last Amended: 14 March 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019057

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31864

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Fowey

Built-Up Area: Fowey

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Fowey

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a chain tower known as Fowey Blockhouse at Fowey on the
south coast of mid-Cornwall.
The chain tower survives as a ruined three storied rectangular building, built
into the side of the cliff which forms the bank of the River Fowey, and is
located opposite another chain tower known as Polruan Blockhouse (SM 31863).
The structure is roofless and is orientated north west-south east. It is
constructed of the local slate stone, with three walls surviving, the south
east wall having collapsed at some time in the past. The tower is approached
via a flight of modern concrete steps down along the south west wall to an
entrance at ground floor level.
The entrance has a flattened arch on the exterior and a rounded arch on the
interior. To the north west of the entrance is a tall rectangular fireplace at
ground floor level and a recess in the wall, known as a putlog hole, to one
side; a further fireplace with a chimney is at first floor level. There is a
rectangular recess at first floor level to the north west of the fireplace.
The north west wall is built directly on to bedrock, which has been cut back
to form the ground floor level of this wall. The lower courses of this wall
form a slight ledge, possibly to support a wooden floor at first floor level.
There is a round arched doorway at first floor level in the north corner of
this wall with another blocked round arched doorway above, this upper doorway
having traces of a moulded arched entrance, possibly of Pentewan stone. These
doorways may have given access between the first and second floors probably
via a spiral staircase. To the south of these doorways there are two corbels
jutting out of the wall, probably to support the roof, and a third at a lower
level with a putlog hole below, possibly to support the second floor. The
north east wall has a putlog hole at first floor level and a round arched
window at second floor level with a moulded surround, again possibly of
Pentewan stone; this window is also blocked. At ground level the floor is of
natural bedrock with some concrete patches, with a flight of steps, the upper
ones of concrete, the lower ones cut into the rock, down to a small sandy cove
or beach which lies to the north of the tower. There are three low modern
pillars of stone and cement, about 0.3m high, probably to support a wooden
bench close to the base of the north west wall. There is another such pillar
to one side of the entrance, which has an iron fitting attached, possibly for
iron railings for the flight of steps down the side of the cliff. There are no
obvious gun ports or stairway to link the ground floor to the first floor;
presumably these features were lost when the south east wall collapsed. The
tower is a Listed Building Grade II*.
Both this chain tower and the one on the opposite side of the river were
probably built in response to a raid on the town of Fowey by the French in
1457. Leland, travelling in the 16th century, states that the towers were
built during the reign of Edward IV (1461-1483). The two chain towers were
designed to have a chain laid across the river between them which could be
raised to prevent enemy shipping reaching the town of Fowey. It is possible
that this tower contained the winding mechanism to raise and lower the chain,
as it appears to have been larger than Polruan Blockhouse. Leland also records
that after hostilities with the French had ceased, the men of Fowey continued
to raid French shipping and as a punishment had their ships confiscated by the
men of Dartmouth and the chain between the two towers removed. In 1776 two
links of a large chain were dredged up from the Fowey estuary, which were
believed to be part of the chain across the river. Advances in artillery made
the tower obsolete and it was superseded by St Catherine's Castle in the
1520s. Although the tower was not in use for long, it underwent some
alterations, as the blocked window and doorway indicate.
The tower is illustrated on a map of around 1540. Marked `decayed', it is
shown as a three storied building with crenellations and a drawbridge giving
access at second floor level. Gun ports are shown in the lower walls to the
south east and south west, facing out to sea and towards Polruan, the areas
most likely to come under attack, and there are three gun ports shown below
the crenellations on the south west face. The tower is also shown on an
engraving of 1734 on a low promontory jutting out into the river and a later
engraving of 1786 which locates it more accurately, neither of which show the
drawbridge. The tower is in an exposed location, and at some time after 1786
the south east wall collapsed.
The metal hand rail and the modern concrete steps alongside the south west and
north west walls, the concrete patches on the floor and concrete upper steps
down to the cove to the north of the blockhouse are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath these all features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A chain tower is a small structure built beside a river or harbour to house
the mechanism for raising and lowering a defensive chain to prevent the
passage of ships in times of danger. They were built on the east, south and
south west coasts of England on the important maritime approaches, such as
those of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Dartmouth. The approach and towns in the
Thames estuary were also chained. There were only 14 examples recorded
nationally, and of these only five are known to have extant remains.
The chain was normally laid across the river bed from bank to bank and raised
when necessary. One or both ends of the chain would have a tower or building
to house the lifting mechanism, and the other end would have a simpler means
of attaching the end of the chain. Chain towers were usually strong, stone
structures, capable of being defended, sometimes with dry moats or ditches to
the landward side, and with accommodation for short term use by operators of
the chain and a defensive garrison. There was a great variety in design. The
earliest completed example is at Fowey, Cornwall, built after a raid on the
town in 1457; a later example is at Gillingham, Kent, in 1667; most were
constructed in the late 16th century.

The Fowey chain tower, known as Fowey Blockhouse, is one of only five known to
exist in England. It and the chain tower on the opposite bank of the River
Fowey at Polruan are the earliest chain towers to have been constructed.
Although it was not in use as a chain tower for long, becoming obsolete in the
1520s when St Catherine's Castle at Fowey was built, it did undergo some
alterations, as indicated by the blocked doorway and window. Despite the loss
of its south east wall, the tower survives well as a good example of its

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Chandler, J, John Lelands Itinerary: Travels in Tudor England, (1993)
Keast, J, The Story of Fowey, (1897)
Keast, J, The Story of Fowey, (1987)
Keast, J, The Story of Fowey, (1987)
Saunders, A D, Fortress Britain, (1989)
Saunders, A D, Fortress Britain, (1989)
Consulted Jan 1999, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 26849,
Consulted Jan 1999, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 26851,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 05/15; St Austell and Fowey
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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