Dymchurch Martello Tower No. 24 is an example of a specialised type of coastal fortifications erected during the Napoleonic Wars to repel a feared enemy invasion.
In 1804, French troops were known to be mustering at Boulogne with the object of crossing the Channel. Plans were made to place towers along likely invasion areas in Suffolk, Essex, Kent and East Sussex.
The design of the bomb-proof towers was inspired by a fort in the Bay of Mortella in Corsica which had beaten off two British warships in 1794.
By 1812 there were 74 such towers sited on the South Coast and a further 29 in Suffolk and Essex. Some of them were placed in pairs to protect the gates of marsh sluices. Tower 24 at Dymchurch and its counterpart no 25 (now largely derelict) was an example of the latter type.
The gun platform was on the top. Dymchurch tower reveals all the features of the original design. The basement was for storing ammunition, fuel and provisions and these supplies were separated from each other by wooden partitions. In addition the gunpowder barrels were placed in a specially ventilated recess.
The design of the towers was simple with the seaward walls thicker than those to landward. A single entrance was placed at first floor level approached by a removable ladder. The only windows were small and high, facing inland.
The risk of fire was avoided by protecting the necessary lantern with a glass plate. Ventilation ducts were provided to keep the stores dry. The first floor contained quarters for both officers and men, although it is apparent that the full complement of 24 would have been very cramped.
The gun platform housed a muzzle-loading 24-pounder which could be turned through 360 degrees with the aid of ropes. It was worked by a team of 10 to 14 men using step-boards along each side. Such a gun could fire a solid or explosive round shot for over a mile.
The ingenuity of the design of Martello Towers was never put to the test since Nelson's defeat of the French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805 and Napoleon's decision to invade Russia removed the possibility of a French invasion.