The Romans invaded three times, in 55BC, again the following year, and finally in 43AD.The first invasion was a half-hearted affair, and Julius Caesar returned with his small army to Gaul fairly quickly. In 54BC he landed near Deal, Kent, but after defeating the Celtic army, he agreed to leave England on condition that an annual payment was made to Rome. It was almost a hundred years before the third and last Roman invasion, a much bigger affair. Armies landed at three locations in Kent - Richborough, Lympne and Dover.
Fast-forward a thousand years and the south coast was once again the site of an invasion. William, Duke of Normandy and claimant to the crown of England, landed at Pevensey in Sussex in 1066 and decisively beat his rival, Harold, at the Battle of Hastings.
There were sporadic attempts at invasion during the following 700 years but it was not until the early 1800s that such an event became more than a faint possibility. There were fears that Napoleon Bonaparte might make the attempt, so between 1804 and 1812 the British authorities built a chain of 103 towers, known as Martello towers, to defend the south and east coast of England. The towers were set at regular intervals along the coast from Seaford, Sussex, to Aldeburgh, Suffolk. They were never called into use as Napoleon failed to gain control of the Channel, his fleet being trounced at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Fifteen towers have been demolished to enable the re-use of their masonry. The sea washed thirty away and the military destroyed four in experiments to test the effectiveness of the new rifled artillery. During the Second World War, some Martello towers returned to military service as observation platforms and firing platforms for anti-aircraft artillery. Forty-seven Martello towers have survived in England, a few of which have been restored and transformed into museums, such as the one at Seaford.
|The Seaford Martello tower.|
The next threatened invasion was 75 years ago, when Hitler aimed to cross the Channel. It was in that period after Churchill had declared, "we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets". As well as numerous obstacles placed on any beach deemed remotely possible as a landing site, other fortifications were hastily constructed. Known as pillboxes, there were numerous designs although most were built of reinforced concrete. it is estimated that some 28,000 pillboxes and other hardened field fortifications were constructed in the United Kingdom, of which about 6,500 still survive. Like the Martello towers, these pillboxes were never used for the purpose for which they were built. In this case, it was the air over the Channel that the enemy needed to control, control that was denied to the Luftwaffe by the pilots of the Battle of Britain.
After the war, farmers were offered the sum of £5 to demolish a pillbox constructed on their land but few were touched at the time. Since then, many have collapsed and, as far as I can discover, none have been given Listed Building status, which I think is a pity. It would be a shame to lose all of them.
|A World War II pillbox on the bank of the River Adur beside Shoreham airport.|