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With a history stretching back over a staggering 16 centuries, the iconic defences of Pevensey Castle graphically demonstrate the story of Britain’s south coast defences arguably more than any other fortress in the area.

Beginning its story back in the 4th century as one of the last and strongest of the Roman forts, two-thirds of the original structure at Pevensey still stands to this day. The site on the Sussex coast was also famously the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army in 1066.

Nowadays, the turbulent military history has been replaced with a great family day out, with much to explore, as well as a host of events throughout the year. Visitors can enjoy the open grounds as well as the space to roam the ruins and explore the remaining structures. Exhibitions exploring the castle’s story from the time of the Romans to the Second World War are open for people to look in more detail at the extensive history of the site.

The small village of Pevensey’s history was forever changed just before dawn on 28 September 1066. Just three days after King Harold’s victory at Stamford Bridge, William, then Duke of Normandy, landed with a fleet of about 700 ships at the Bay of Pevensey, with a view to forcibly taking over the British mainland. Straight after landing, building began for a temporary fortification almost certainly based around the walls of the former Roman fort as a military base for his troops. A ditch was cut to isolate the ruins from the surrounding land and the walls were repaired to start the rebuilding of the castle.

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When William returned to Normany in 1067 to tour triumphantly as a conquering hero, he chose to sail from Pevensey, the site of his original landing. Before leaving, William seems to have made a show of his new power by distributing lands to his loyal followers in front of a host of defeated Anglo-Saxon lords.

Pevensey provided a natural place to anchor within easy reach of the Normandy coast, and obviously, any castle that was built there was going to maintain obvious strategic importance. Control of the local area not only ensured lines of communication with the Continent but also prevented its use for another military operation, a possibility after the recently thwarted attack by the Norwegian King Harald.

After extensive use during the medieval period, by the 16th century, Pevensey was recorded as being abandoned. Queen Elizabeth, I ordered the castle’s remains to be destroyed but her order was not enforced and the remains stayed standing. This action proved useful due to the threat of a Spanish invasion, which meant that by 1587, the castle was reoccupied to serve as a gun position against the armada though the castle itself was not rebuilt.

Pevensey Castle remained abandoned and crumbling from the end of the 16th century to the first quarter of the 20th. It was again very nearly demolished during the period of the English Commonwealth following the civil war. Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary Commissioners sold it for just £40 to a builder, John Warr of Westminster, who planned to quarry Pevensey for the stone, an easier approach than digging them out of the ground. Again, very little work seemed to have taken place, however, and the Crown reacquired the castle following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

After many years of neglect, Pevensey Castle again acquired fresh military significance in 1940 when the exposed shoreline and flat land again became a possible target for another invasion, this time at the hands of the Germans. The site was once again occupied by military forces for the first time in over 400 years, with British and Canadian troops being garrisoned there from May 1940. The towers of the inner bailey were converted into troop accommodation by lining the walls with bricks and laying new wooden flooring. New perimeter defences were constructed; machine-gun posts were built into the walls, disguised to look like part of the original structure, and an anti-tank blockhouse was built at the entrance of the Roman west gate.

It was intended that these new defensive measures at the castle would make it “100% tank-proof” and that an enemy would not be able to get within 2,000 yards of it. The US Army Air Corps was also stationed at Pevensey, using it as a radio direction centre from early 1944. See more of this site

Following the end of the Second World War, in 1945 the castle was returned to civilian control. The recently built blockhouse and obstructions were demolished but the machine-gun posts were left in place to illustrate the most recent chapter in the castle’s history.