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Historic England Research Records

Camber Castle

Hob Uid: 419206
Location :
East Sussex
Rother
Icklesham
Grid Ref : TQ9218418459
Summary : The Tudor artillery castle, Camber Castle (also previously referred to as Winchelsea Castle) was constructed between 1513 and 1543 as part of Henry VIII's chain of coastal defences to protect England from invasion. It was positioned on a spit which protected the Camber estuary and seaward entrance to the port of Rye. There were three phases of construction: the first in 1512-14; the second from 1539-40 and the third begun in 1542. However, by 1548 the castle became largely obsolete as the Camber channel silted up. The castle was maintained during the 16th century but the garrison was disbanded and the ordnance removed in 1637. During the Second World War the castle was possibly used as a training camp and a pillbox was established there. The castle was bought in 1977 by the state and has been comprehensively restored and is now run by English Heritage.
More information : (TQ 9218 1845) Remains of Camber Castle. (1)

One of a series of five polygonal block-houses built for the defence of the south-east coast.
The central tower (see plan) appears to have been built about 1511-14 and the outer bastions c 1538-44. By 1626 the castle was rendered useless by the retirement of the sea and the shifting of the mouth of the Rother, and it was 'dismantled' in 1642.

Traces of a moat surround the remains. (2)

About 800ft NW of the castle is a rectangular enclosure crossed by two 'streets' at right angles.
A possible encampment related to the castle. Shows on aerial-photo.

Area outside walls containing low earth banks. Possible outer earthworks of Civil War period. (3)

Surrounding enclosure faintly visible on aerial photographs. (4)

Camber Castle (name board) is as described in the plan by VCH but further internal details are being recovered by the Department of the Environment, who are restoring it. There is no trace of a moat.
Approx 120.0 metres NW of the castle is a low bank about 0.3m high and 3.5m wide forming an 'L - shape with a sharp corner. This overlays a slight causeway leading to the castle. The 'enclosure' mentioned by E Holden lies against the bank at TQ 9205 1857, the two apparently contemporary. These two features do not have the appearance of an antiquity and probably represent an old field boundary. In this area there is also evidence of land sculpture that relates to the former golf links.
Resurveyed at 1:2500. (5)

Camber Castle, Grade I. A scheduled Ancient Monument. This was one of the series of castles built by Henry VIII as coast defences in 1538. Its plan is quatrefoil-shaped, with lunettes at the corners and the entrance on the North side forming another lunette or the stalk of the flower. It is a squat building of ashlar lined with brick. In the centre of the square is a higher round tower or keep of earlier date built of ashlar and lined with brick for the top or second storey which has probably been added.

The first phase of construction was built by Edward Guldeford, and consisted of a circular one-storeyed artillery tower, topped with an open platform designed to house heavy guns. This survives as the lower part of the central citadel of the completed castle.
The second phase of construction was in response to the political crisis and consequent fear of invasion and resulted in the construction of 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. The castle was entered by a rectangular gatehouse to the north west. The final phase included the replacement of the earlier, stirrup-shaped outer towers with four semicircular bastions, the thickening of the octagonal curtain wall and some remodelling of the gatehouse.
The castle buildings 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, local timber and yellow bricks fired on site.
The castle buildings are surrounded by a group of associated earthworks, some of which may be connected with defences and army training activities during the Second World War.
For a full description please refer to the sources. (6-7)

This source contains a brief history of the castle. (8)

This source includes a very detailed history of the castle including its various phases of construction and development. (9)

A survey was carried out on the castle. For details of this and a history of the castle please refer to the source. (10)

The 1540 Henrician castle with later alterations was based on a circular keep surrounded by a concentric system of bastions which were in turn backed by four D-shaped towers linked by an octagonal curtain wall. A large rectangular gatehouse was added. The castle had a relatively low profile and was surrounded by an earthwork glacis and the perimeter was protected by flankers which were concealed in the bastions. Camber castle has been accredited as being an early attempt by von Haschenperg to create a castle based on Italianate designs. However, the alterations carried out to the castle in 1543/4 with the construction of four very large semi-circular bastions and the curtain wall which increased the height of the defences can be seen as a return to an older style of castle design. (11)

Ruins of a largely unaltered artillery fort built by Henry VIII to guard the port of Rye. There are guided walks around the castle and the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. (12)

Camber castle described above (1-12) is visible on aerial photographs from 1946 to 2009, and viewed as part of the South East Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey NMP. The castle is as described by previous authorities and has not been mapped but the surrounding earthworks have been mapped. The earthworks comprise a circular enclosure on the south and east sides (referred to in Source 10, page 10), which is likely to have been a sea defence, as the sea was once very close to the castle on the south and east sides. This outer earthwork extends round to the north side of the castle at TQ 92163 18581, where the bank splits and forms a rectilinear enclosure which measures 34metres by 55metres. Another bank orientated NE-SW extends from the rectilinear enclosure from the northwest corner from TQ 92110 18614 to TQ 92146 18554, and perhaps forms the L-shaped low bank mentioned in Source 5. On the southwest side of the Castle, another low bank is visible from TQ 92122 18387 to TQ 92085 18446. It is unclear if these banks are contemporaneous. Two ditches are also visible but these may be natural in origin, the first extends from TQ 92073 18449 to TQ 92134 18460 and the second extends from TQ 92103 18464 to TQ 92127 18513. The Castle entrance is accessed via a causeway which is visible as a bank from the gatehouse bastion at TQ 92155 18489 to TQ 92131 18515.

The rectangular enclosure referred to in Source 3 was also visible and is located 157metres north-west of the castle at TQ 92006 18592, and is described by Source 3. The enclosure measures 49metres by 52metres. According to evidence from excavations of part of the enclosure in 1974 (Source 10), it is thought that this enclosure is contemporaneous with the castle but it is not clear the enclosure's function.

The WW2 training activities mentioned in Source 6-7 cannot be verified either from the aerial photographs or from other documentary sources. No typical training features were visible, and it seems likely that most training would have been carried out at nearby Lydd on the Denge Marshes. Most of the 'other' earthworks mentioned appear to either be natural or relate to the use of the area as a golf links. To the north of the Castle, however was the likely site for the WW2 Starfish Decoy and Naval Decoy site (Monument Number 1470220) which is evidenced by the control building and Stanton shelter (TQ 91838 18803), and the numerous enemy bomb craters which litter the area. (13-16)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : Ordnance Survey 6" 1962
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Source Number : 2
Source : The Victoria history of the county of Sussex: volume nine: the Rape of Hastings
Source details :
Page(s) : 184-5
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Source Number : 11
Source : The Castles of Henry VIII
Source details :
Page(s) : 21-22
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Source Number : 12
Source : English Heritage Visitor Handbook 2009/10
Source details :
Page(s) : 51
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Source Number : 13
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR RAF/CPE/UK/1842 3011-3012 18-NOV-1946
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Source Number : 14
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : AF/96C/601 6967 03-OCT-1996
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Source Number : 16
Source : RCHME/EH/HE Aerial Photographers comment
Source details : Amanda Dickson/16-MAY-2011/English Heritage: Gloucestershire County Council: SE Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey NMP
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Source Number : 3
Source : Annotated Record Map
Source details : Correspondents Annotated 6" Sheet (E W Holden 1970)
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Source Number : 4
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : 36/TUD/UK 148 5249-50
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Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 04/10/1972
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Source Number : 6
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : Rother, 13-MAY-1987
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Vol(s) : 1917
Source Number : 7
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 13-Jun-96
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Source Number : 8
Source : The English Heritage visitors' handbook 1998-99
Source details :
Page(s) : 33
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Source Number : 9
Source : The history of the King's Works, volume 4 : 1485-1660 (Part 2)
Source details :
Page(s) : 415-447
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Source Number : 10
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Biddle M et al 2001. Henry VIIIs Artillery Fort at Camber Castle, Rye, East Sussex. Oxford Archaeological Unit for English Heritage, Oxford.
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Tudor
Display Date : Built 1512-14
Monument End Date : 1514
Monument Start Date : 1512
Monument Type : Artillery Castle, Artillery Fort
Evidence : Ruined Building
Monument Period Name : Tudor
Display Date : Built 1539-40
Monument End Date : 1540
Monument Start Date : 1539
Monument Type : Artillery Castle, Curtain Wall, Gatehouse, Artillery Fort
Evidence : Ruined Building
Monument Period Name : Tudor
Display Date : Built 1542-3
Monument End Date : 1543
Monument Start Date : 1542
Monument Type : Artillery Castle, Curtain Wall, Gatehouse, Bastion, Artillery Fort
Evidence : Ruined Building
Monument Period Name : Stuart
Display Date : Ordnance removed 1637
Monument End Date : 1637
Monument Start Date : 1637
Monument Type : Artillery Castle
Evidence : Ruined Building
Monument Period Name : Second World War
Display Date : World War II
Monument End Date : 1945
Monument Start Date : 1939
Monument Type : Military Training Site, Pillbox
Evidence : Earthwork, Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Late 20th Century
Display Date : State owned since 1977
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date : 1977
Monument Type : Historical Site
Evidence : Extant Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : ES 3
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : SX 3
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 27067
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Listed Building List Entry Legacy Uid
External Cross Reference Number : 410764
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : AA98/04491
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 178
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (East Sussex)
External Cross Reference Number : MES2299
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TQ 91 NW 1
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1470220
Relationship type : Is referred to by
Associated Monuments : 1426954
Relationship type :

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, CAMBER CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1963-01-01
End Date : 1965-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON TQ 91 NW 1
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1972-10-04
End Date : 1972-10-04
Associated Activities : Primary, CAMBER CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1974-01-01
End Date : 1974-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAMBER CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1978-01-01
End Date : 1983-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SOUTH EAST RAPID COASTAL ZONE ASSESSMENT SURVEY NMP (COMPONENT 2) GLOUCESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2011-01-10
End Date : 2011-07-10