Pevensey CastleTrackway and Camp and City lost,
Salt Marshes where now is corn,
Old Wars, old Peace, old arts that cease,
And so was England born.
Rudyard Kipling, Puck's Song
Now a nostalgic ruin, Pevensey Castle is a historic site intimately connected to some of the most dramatic events in England's history. Past battles and historic turmoil left in their wake these crumbling walls which now serve as a witness and reminder of the blood shed and lives lost on this ground.
The first fortification at Pevensey was Anderida, a Roman fort built to ward off attacks from invading Saxon and Jute tribes. At first glance, the oval structure of Pevensey Castle appears to be a curious choice. This was architectural necessity. At the time, the oval shaped land upon which Pevensey Castle stood was surrounded by the sea. At low-tide Pevensey provided a safe harbour and landing point but at high tide was an isolated island, open to attack. Well aware of this weakness, the Romans surrounded their island fortification with walls which have survived as the most complete walls to date from the Roman era in England.
The Roman legion left England in the early 5th century and by the end of the century England was in a state of turmoil. In 491AD, Anderida or Pevensey was attacked by Aelle and his Saxon army. A lengthy and heroic battle ensued but when the defences of the Britons yielded under the pressure both the garrison and civilians seeking shelter were slaughtered. Those that did survive fled to France and founded Brittany. In the meantime, Aelle announced the captured land to be the Kingdom of the South Saxons, a name that over time would come to be known as Sussex. Anderida was burnt and would remain in a derelict state for over 600 years. In a final attempt to erase Roman memories, Anderida was renamed Pefele or the Island of Pefe by the Saxons. It is from this Saxon name that Pevensey meaning island in Old English is derived.
Pevensey's fortifications were finally updated in 1042 when the future King Harold II set up camp here. To improve his stronghold, he dug ditches within the Roman walls. However in 1066 Pevensey was left vacant while Harold went in search of the invaders believed to be arriving from the north. William the Conqueror was thus fortunate to find that both the south coast and Pevensey were undefended on his arrival. Staying at Pevensey for a short while, William soon came off victorious at the Battle of Hastings beating King Harold II and his army.
Following the Norman Conquest, the first castle at Pevensey was built by William the Conqueror's half-brother, Robert Count of Mortain. The south east corner of the old Roman fort was divided off with quickly constructed timber and earthwork defences. Just outside these defences, a civil community continued to live within the boundaries of the Roman walls. However, two major sieges in 1088 and 1147 led to an outward shift by the civilian community and by the late 12th century the present village of Pevensey was created.
The defence works built by Robert served their purpose for over a century before they were partially destroyed in order to make room for the gatehouse which stands here today. Some 40 years later, the curtain walls were probably added by Peter of Savoy, Lord of Pevensey Castle. The heart of Pevensey Castle was the inner courtyard or ward, providing living quarters, storage space and protection for its inhabitants. Comfortable living quarters were arranged in the three wall towers and the upper part of the gatehouse while the prisons lay in its basements. At the centre of the inner ward, you'll see the foundations of the castle chapel. This was originally constructed out of timber and was moved to the outer courtyard in 1250.
Pevensey Castle was again besieged in 1264 by Simon de Montfort. However, Pevensey Castle's fortifications held strong and he proved unable to take the stronghold from King Henry III's supporters. Pevensey Castle was then rebuilt and continued to be inhabited till the 15th century. In the 16th century, fear of invasion by the Spanish Armada led to the installation of gun emplacements at Pevensey Castle. It was then abandoned but its strategic location led to both Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell giving orders to have it demolished. On your visit, also keep an eye out for the last additions to Pevensey Castle's fortifications in the 1940's. You should be able to spot camouflaged pill-boxes in the castle's walls.
Pevensey Castle is depicted in J.M.W Turner's picture of the same name. The historic site inspired the painter who said, "I used to go this castle as a young boy and play soldiers." In his picture, the hazy outline of the castle is fronted by an idyllic rural setting as cows graze, drink from the river and farmers go about their daily business. Pevensey Castle may bear witness to a troublesome past but its current tranquillity almost belies the existence of such an age.
Address: Pevensey Castle
Postcode: BN24 5LE
Town/city or near: Pevensey
County: East Sussex
Open daily from 1st April to 30 September between 10am and 6pm. Also open on Saturday and Sundays from 10am to 4pm from October through to the end of March