Martello Tower

Actually, the name “Martello” is not unique. It is a technical term for a certain type of fort which was prevalent during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century.

However, how the term came in use has an amusing anecdote and it goes like this: During the 15th century, the Genoese had constructed a round fortress at Mortella Point in Corsica and the fort proved itself to be very successful. They continued to install similar defensive towers around the island and they were paid and manned by the local populace against attacks by North African pirates and foreign invaders. On 7 February 1794, two British warships attacked the tower at Mortella Point but the fortress was impregnable despite being under continuous bombardment by two ships. The fort finally fell to land-based British force due to its technical fault – Alas, the gun could fire seaward only. The toughness and the effectiveness of the fort impressed Vice-Admiral Lord Hood and he reported to the Admiralty. In his dispatch, However, he misspelled “Mortella” as “Martello” (which means “hammer” in Italian) and none of his adjutants dared to correct his mistake for the fear of offending the senior officer. As a result, the name stuck…

Between 1804 and 1812, Britain was under a real threat of the invasion by the Emperor Napoleon and a chain of Martello towers were erected to defend the south and east coast of England, Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey. During the height of the conflict, 103 forts were constructed and during the WWII, some of the towers were reused as observation platforms and firing platforms. In the recent years, 17 towers remaining in a reasonable condition in the East Coast area and some of them are turned into museums and private residences.

The Martello tower we stayed belong to the Landmark Trust, a charity organisation dedicated to conserving historic British buildings. The charity was founded in the 60s and it has been acquiring, restoring and maintaining more than 200 buildings in Britain, Italy, France and Belgium.

A YouTube clip of the Martello Tower can be viewed here.

It was nearly 5 o’clockish when we walked into the property. All the wooden shutters were closed and the darkness made a stark contrast to the brightness of British summer evening…

Before arriving to the main living quarter, there were two staircases which led to the rooftop of the fortress…

A floor plan of the tower…

Sorry for not having any picture of the actual kitchen. I can assure you that it was well equipped and well maintained…

One thing we regretted was not bringing any condiments. Apart from salt & pepper mills, a small carton of milk and a few teabags, there was nothing for cooking.

In the centre of  the “four-leaf clover” shaped structure, there was a dining space with a large square table and benches…

A space above the dining area was covered with white canvas which reminded me of sails from ship of the line. The place designed as a fortress meant there weren’t any large window and being in there felt like living in a cave. Without the modern ceiling light cleverly integrated into the property, the space may have looked and felt more like a tomb rather than a house.

Walking diagonally across the dining area and we found a cozy sitting room with an iron stove and comfy armchairs…

Provided the lodgers brought their logs, the stove was fully operational. We mused how romantic it would be to light it in the cold season while relaxing with a glass of port in our hands.

There was a bookshelf in a modest size but it was packed with a good selection of the history of the place, local information and old-fashioned ghost stories…

Another fun in the sitting room was flicking through a visitor’s log book which was left on the chest to browse. The entries were made throughout a year, even in the depth of winter, which proved how popular the place was.

A view from the window of the sitting room…

The sound of wave lapping against the rocks was serene and soothing.

The property had two bedrooms with extremely comfortable beds with crisp white linen…

The decor was somewhat spartan but the original purpose of the place being a military installation, it was fitting and appropriate. Despite the appearance, central-heating was available 24/7 and a plentyful amount of freshly laundered towels were supplied for us. I was secretly relieved to learn that the trust did not compromise any modern comforts for a not so hardy city-dweller like me…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

7 thoughts on “Martello Tower

  1. If it is the one at Aldeburgh I remember it very well as my father used to fish off the beach nearby. I can remember running round it with my sister a few times when we got totally bored waiting for dad to catch anything! I think it’s great that the Landmark Trust save, but also give a new life to some of this country’s strange and haunting buildings. Nice post, great pics have always wanted to see inside!

    • Hi Agnes, my iPhone crashed repeatedly while I was writing the post and I ended up having to upload it without completing the entry properly! I am still adding photos and words. So please keep on checking for the update. Yes, this tower is the one in Aldeburgh. The property was restored very well without ruining the feeling of the period. I am very impressed with the way the Landmark Trust runs the place. We have booked another holiday in Devon during November and I can hardly wait to see how the Trust restored another property in Dartmoor!! X

      • Yes, from your interesting photographs it looks like an exemplary conversion properly keeping the soul of the building as you’d expect from the Landmark Trust. Hope you have a good break on Dartmoor – used to live in Exeter and visit the moors for the odd healthy weekend walk, lots of sheep everywhere!!

      • Do you remember the programme featuring their projects on Channel 4? It was fascinating to watch how they tackled with crumbling mess and transform them to amazing period examples. One of my flat mates was a conservator specialised in wall restoration and the clip reminded me of him talking about the techniques.
        Dartmoor holiday will be Bella’s very first British countryside & sheep and I hope the weather will be dry. I won’t dare wishing for a blue sky. As long as it stays dry, I will be very grateful!

      • Was that part of the Grand Designs on Channel4?
        Re Dartmoor – it rains a lot in Devon. My sister still lives there and walks her labradoodle twice a day and it is often raining when she phones me during her dog-walking. Packing waterproofs will probably be the sensible thing to do and I hope little Bella has a doggy raincoat!

      • No, it’s Restoring Britain’s Landmark. I think it was aired last year. They are still available to view through 4 on Demand.
        Oh, about the weather in Dartmoor, thank you for your advice! I will definitely get some rain gear for Bella (& extra old towels);)

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