The Building Conservation Directory 2021

132 T H E B U I L D I N G C O N S E R VAT I O N D I R E C T O R Y 2 0 2 1 C AT H E D R A L C O MM U N I C AT I O N S MARTELLO TOWERS Keeping out the weather TOM BOSENCE T HE MARTELLO towers built on the coast in Sussex and Kent were a response to a feared Napoleonic invasion. Later larger versions were built up the east coast of England and then across the British Empire during the 19th century. These small forts were designed to protect vulnerable beaches and strategic positions using their 24 pounder cannons and the gunfire of the stationed soldiers. Their design was inspired by the Torra di Mortella in Corsica, which absorbed an impressive artillery bombardment from two British warships in 1794. Martello towers present significant conservation challenges owing to their general construction type and their location, which is generally tight to the shoreline. Their external walls are sloped making them more susceptible to saturation from rain than vertical ones would be. Furthermore, their massive copings have no covering, overhang or drip detail, all of which contribute to water ingress. As a result, Martello towers are often cited as having inherent defects in both construction and design which preclude the possibility of them ever being (or ever having been) dry. Certainly, there is some evidence to support this school of thought, and just about the only dry Martello towers are those which have had roofs built on top of them. This article explores the conservation challenges presented by Martello towers and takes a detailed look at the conservation of Tower 24 at Dymchurch undertaken by English Heritage and completed in 2019. TOWER 24 In all, 74 towers were constructed along the south coast of England between 1805 and 1812. Numbered from east to west, the tower at Dymchurch in Kent is Tower 24. It is cared for by English Heritage on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and its conservation should be seen within the context of English Heritage’s asset management plan Sustainable Conservation which was set up to fully survey and record all defects to a structure and to understand their causes. The required works are then prioritised using targeted assessments of significance and vulnerability. The aim is View from the top of Martello Tower 24 located in Dymchurch, Kent (Photo: Tom Bosence) The limewashed exterior of Martello Tower 24 when photographed sometime in the early 20th century (Archive image: Historic England) to bring each building to ‘ a steady state we can effectively and confidently maintain’. This makes a clear distinction between that which may be desirable (perhaps to ideal presentation condition) and that which is required to safeguard the building. However, the plan accepts that in the future there may be instances whereby it isn’t possible to maintain certain properties in a steady state. An example of this is rising sea levels which are already threatening some of the national estate, such as Hurst Castle where major civil engineering works are currently underway. Erosion is an obvious threat to coastal structures and waves have already undermined