Roman Pharos, Dover

Dover Castle and Pharos
Publisher: Valentine.

Google Street View.

Dover Castle.

…within the walls of the medieval castle stands a much older building, dating from a time when Britain was an outpost of the Roman Empire. Around 2,000 years ago, in the early 2nd century AD, the Romans built a pharos, or lighthouse, here. This would have guided the ships of a Roman fleet into the harbour below. Not only is the Dover pharos the most complete standing Roman building in England, it’s also one of only three lighthouses to survive from the whole of the former Roman empire.
Google Arts & Culture

Seventy years after the Roman invasion in AD 43, construction of a fort began at the mouth of the river Dour. This was Dubris, a fort for the classis Britannica, a Roman fleet that patrolled the eastern Channel. Though building stopped suddenly, it began again around AD 130 and the fort was completed. The Romans built an octagonal tower-like lighthouse on Castle Hill around the same time [as the fort], with another on the opposite hill, the Western Heights. These lighthouses supported fire beacons to act as navigation lights for ships approaching the narrow river mouth, enabling them to find a quayside outside the fort. The fort at Dubris was demolished around AD 215 and a new one constructed around AD 270, which may have continued in use, along with the lighthouses, into the 5th century. The pharos was later reused for the church of St Mary in Castro as a chapel and bell tower, and can still be seen.
English Heritage

Roman pharos on the western heights of Dover (GB), inside view, 1893 (from Wikimedia Commons).

The Roman pharos or lighthouse at Dover was probably built in the first century A.D. A similar lighthouse was built on the Western Heights and at night guided Roman ships into the port of Dubris. The tower was octagonal outside and rectangular inside rising to a height of perhaps 80 feet (24m). It had eight storeys each set back 1 foot (0.3m) from the one below, which gave the whole structure the appearance of an extended telescope. Only the first four Roman storeys remain, the present topmost storey being a fifteenth century reconstruction. The present splayed shape of the pharos is a result of the severe weathering it suffers in exposed position and mediaeval refacing.
Roman Britain

AD 46. Built under the Emperor Claudius. This guided the Roman fleet round to the port of Richborough. In mediaeval times it was used as a belfry to the Church of St Mary Sub-Castro. 4 storeys, 3 being Roman and the top storey and remains of battlements mediaeval. An octagonal tower with originally vertical stepped walls rising in tiers set back each within the last, now almost smoothed. Rubble with a facing of green sandstone and tufa and levelled at an interval of 7 courses with a double course of brick set in hard pink mortar. Round-headed windows with a small recessed spy-hole inside them.
Historic England

Pevensey Castle, Pevensey, East Sussex

Pevensey Castle, Eastbourne
Postmarked 1907
“The ‘National’ Series”

We know little about the early history of Anderida, the Roman fort at Pevensey. Tree-ring dating of wooden piles sunk into the wall foundations suggests that it was built in about AD 290. At that time the coastal defences of Roman Britain seem to have been systematically strengthened, and a number of other forts around the south and east coasts, such as Portchester, Burgh, Richborough and Lympne, were built or reconstructed.

After the withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain in the early 5th century, Anderida’s walls continued to shelter a community. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 471 the fort was besieged and its population slaughtered by Saxon raiders. The fort was abandoned for around a century before it was inhabited again. Little is known about it in Anglo-Saxon period, though traces found by archaeologists such as fragments of glass suggest it was a high-status place. It may even have acted as a royal centre.

Pevensey’s history changed dramatically when, before dawn on 28 September 1066 – three days after King Harold’s victory at Stamford Bridge – William, Duke of Normandy, sailed his invading fleet of about 700 ships into the Bay of Pevensey. After landing, he immediately built a temporary fortification, almost certainly within the walls of the Roman fort, to shelter his troops. He cut a ditch across the peninsula to isolate the ruins from the mainland and repaired the walls to create a castle.
English Heritage

It is not known for certain when the stone buildings of Pevensey Castle’s Inner Ward were built but a series of regular payments by Richard I in the 1190s suggest substantial building activity at this time. It is possible the Great Keep was one of these buildings or, if it already existed, it was certainly substantially modified at this time. However, the castle was probably slighted by the forces of King John in 1216 during the First Barons’ War, when south-east England fell under the control of Prince Louis of France. The damage was repaired after the war and in 1230 the castle was granted to Gilbert Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. In 1246 it was given to Peter of Savoy who commissioned substantial upgrades to the site. This included halving the size of the Inner Bailey and replacing the former timber palisade with a stone wall. . . . The castle played no part in the Wars of the Roses and was allowed to fall into decay and ruin although its role as a regional prison continued. Inmates included a number of high status magnates including King James I of Scotland, who had been captured in 1406, and Henry IV’s widowed queen, Joan of Navarre. By the sixteenth century the castle itself was ruinous although in 1587, faced with the threat of a Spanish invasion, emergency repairs were made by Elizabeth I and a gun emplacement built within the Outer Bailey.
Castles Forts Battles

Layout of Pevensey Castle, from “The castles of England, their story and structure“, James Dixon Mackenzie, 1896 p.82

The Normans, who at once saw the value and took possession of Pevensey, probably were for a time content with the Roman walls as they stood, and with the palisaded citadel of the mound. At least, there is no certain trace of any very early Norman masonry. Indeed, the only masonry of Norman date at all now to be seen is a fragment of wall with a window, the remains of a superstructure upon one of the northern towers, and some patchwork in flints, and a few courses of stone laid herring-bone fashion, by which the face of another of the Roman towers has been repaired. Had the Normans of the eleventh or twelfth centuries constructed any eastern walls, gatehouses, or mural towers within the court, some trace of them would probably remain. The chapel, indeed, judging from its dimensions, was Norman, and the base of the font decidedly so; and it is possible that the shapeless fragments of rubble masonry which encumber the top and slopes of the mound may be of the same, that is, of late Norman, date. In truth, the castle, as the Normans found it, was a very strong place. The walls only needed a battlement, and even if this were surmounted, the entrenched and palisaded mound would be perfectly defensible so long as provisions held out.

Flanking the gatehouse, at a distance of 33 yards north and 54 yards south, are two grand round towers, each capping an angle of the curtain. The north curtain has a base or plinth slightly battering. The wall is vertical. There is no cordon between them. The north-west tower is 30 feet diameter, and has a basement, ground, and upper floor. The basement, though below the inner ward level, is on the level of the ground outside. It is arcaded, having six arches in its rounded sides, and one in its flat end or gorge. These arches have a drip of the double-scroll pattern, and between each pair springs a moulded rib, and one from each of the two right angles, eight in all. They are broken away, but their profile is seen, and the plan of the vault may be inferred. The entrance to this chamber is by a straight staircase from the inner366 ward, and at the foot of the stairs is a lobby on the left or west side leading to a postern doorway placed at the junction of the tower with the curtain. In the gorge wall is a fireplace, the hood of which seems to have been of timber. It is difficult to understand what this chamber can have been intended for, with its ornate details and a fireplace, and yet half under ground.
Mediæval Military Architecture in England, Vol. II“, George Thomas Clark, 1884

Multangular Tower, York

Multangular Tower, Abbey Gardens, York
Publisher: Valentine

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The Multangular Tower is the best example of standing Roman remains in York. It is on the northern side of the gardens, between the Yorkshire Museum and St Leonard’s Hospital. You can see the tower and fine stretches of the fortress wall from both sides, inside and out. The tower stood at the west corner of the legionary fortress. It was one of the two corner-towers of the huge stone wall that looked down onto the river. The small stones in the lower half are Roman whereas the upper half was reconstructed in the medieval period. The original Roman parts of the tower probably date from the early third century. Archaeologists can tell that the stone walls replaced timber fortress structures: an immense undertaking. The Romans used several types of stone in their buildings including limestone, tough millstone grit and elland stone, now better known as York stone, which was used for floors and roofs as it splits naturally into flat slabs. But it was not so much the stone but the use of mortar to hold it together that was the real Roman revolution. This allowed for the creation of far larger buildings than ever seen before.

The fortress wall was built 5m (c.15 ft) high. At the west corner stood what we now know as the Multangular Tower, which may have been well over 10m (c.30 ft) high. A matching tower stood at the fortress’s south corner, with six interval towers in between, projecting from the wall. These corner and interval towers were a military innovation, as they enabled soldiers to fire along the sides of the wall as invaders tried to scale them. In practice, the Roman occupiers probably never expected an attack on Eboracum. The fortress was mainly a base from which to control the region.

We know very little about the medieval rebuilding and reuse of the tower but the fortifications were significant during York’s role in the English Civil War and damage from a cannon ball can be seen in the wall to the North of the tower.
York Museums Trust

Portchester Castle, Portchester, Hampshire

Portchester Castle, Saxon tower and wall
Publisher: A.H.S, Southsea (possibly A.H.Sweasey)

Google Street View.


Saxon Shore forts were heavily defended later Roman military installations located exclusively in south east England. They were all constructed during the third century AD, probably between c.AD 225 and AD 285. They were built to provide protection against the sea-borne Saxon raiders who began to threaten the coast towards the end of the second century AD, and all Saxon Shore forts are situated on or very close to river estuaries or on the coast, between the Wash and the Isle of Wight. Saxon Shore forts are also found on the coasts of France and Belgium. The most distinctive feature of Saxon Shore forts are their defences which comprised massive stone walls, normally backed by an inner earth mound, and wholly or partially surrounded by one or two ditches.
Historic England

Portchester Castle was begun as a Roman fort, one of the series of coastal forts now known as the Forts of the Saxon Shore. These forts were built over the course of the 3rd century, to meet the threat presented by Saxon pirates who were then raiding the south coast of Roman Britain.

The walls of the Roman fort seem to have housed a community for most of the long period between the end of Roman rule and the Norman conquest of 1066. Evidence of four huts with sunken floors, a well, and signs of ploughing, datable to the 5th century, has been found. In the 7th to 9th centuries a number of timber houses and ancillary buildings were built, perhaps forming two residences. Around the end of the 9th century there seems to have been a break in occupation, with extensive dumping of rubbish over the sites of earlier buildings. In 904 the Bishop of Winchester gave the fort to the English king Edward the Elder (reigned 899–924). Following this, the fort became a burh – one of a series of fortified places which protected the kingdom from Viking attack.
English Heritage

English Heritage: Floor plan

Following the Norman Conquest, Portchester was granted to William Maudit and it was probably he who raised the castle. The Roman Walls were utilised to form the perimeter around the Outer Bailey whilst a moat and timber barrier were used to separate the north-west corner of the fort which then became the Inner Ward. When William died in 1100 the castle passed to his son, Robert Maudit, but he was killed in the White Ship disaster in 1120. Thereafter the castle passed through marriage to William Pont de l’Arche. William commenced rebuilding the Inner Ward defences of Portchester Castle in stone including raising the Great Tower during the 1120s and 1130s. William also built St Mary’s church to serve an Augustinian Priory he founded within the walls although by 1150 this community had relocated to Southwick.
Castles Forts Battles

Layout of castle. (From Wikimedia Commons.)

Portchester, Castle [keep from inside]
Dated & posmarked 1906
Publisher: J. Welch & Sons

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Chedworth Roman Villa, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Chedworth Roman Villa, North Wing looking East

Google Maps.

Chedworth Roman Villa is a Roman villa located near Chedworth, Gloucestershire, England. It is one of the largest Roman villas in Britain. The villa was built in phases from the early 2nd century to the 4th century, with the 4th century construction transforming the building into an elite dwelling arranged around three sides of a courtyard. The 4th century building included a heated and furnished west wing containing a dining-room (triclinium) with a fine mosaic floor, as well as two separate bathing suites – one for damp-heat and one for dry-heat. The villa was discovered in 1864, and it was excavated and put on display soon afterwards.

The villa at Chedworth was discovered in 1863, when a workman found fragments of paving and pottery on the site. Originating in the first half of the 2nd century AD, it was progressively enlarged over the next 250 years before being abandoned after the collapse of the Roman government in Britain in the 5th century. Excavations have revealed colourful mosaic floors, including one in the dining chamber which depicts the four seasons, and several mosaics in the bath complexes.
National Trust

Photo (blank back) of one of the bath houses. Undated.