Pevensey Castle
Map Ref : TQ645048

Subject ListHistoryArchaeologyFolklore

Name Derivation Name Derivation
From Pefen (Personal Name) and eg (Island)
Orig. Pævenisel (788), Peuenisel (790), Pefenesea (947), Peuenesea (1046), Pefenesæ (1049), Pevenesæ (11th), Pevenesel (1086), Peuenesee (1198), Pevenesheth (1216), Pevense (1265), Pevese (1274), Pemse(y) (1370-1500), Pevemsey (1590), Pemsey (1639)
Note: Though now abandoned by the sea, Pevensey was once an island, with a natural harbour in which ships could be moored (Mawer & Stenton p.443). The name of Pevensey was also given to one of the six rapes that Sussex was divided into after the Norman invasion.

Note: This is the old Roman name for the fort, mentioned as one of the Saxon shore forts by the Notitia Dignitatum (Winbolt 1935 p.5). It later became known as Andredesceaster by the invading Saxons, as mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. The name is also used to refer to the great Wealden forest that would have met the sea in the area. The earliest reference is in 700, when the forest was referred to as Desertum Ondred (The waste of Ondred). It is not known who Ondred was (Mawer & Stenton p.1). While it had long been thought that Pevensey was the site of Anderida (Hussey 1853 p.90), it was only confirmed by a tile found there stamped Andria.

History History

Just to the East of Eastbourne in East Sussex, lies the small village of Pevensey, with its most distinguishing feature, it's castle. The fortifications as a whole are actually made up of a large oval Roman fort, of which only the walls remain, and a Norman castle, built within the fort. In this article, the word 'fort' will always refer to the Roman fort, whilst 'castle' will refer to the Norman castle. Whilst the village of Pevensey is interesting in itself, this article will focus on the fort and castle only.

The Roman Fort

At the time of the building of the Roman Fort, around 340CE, the site was an island surrounded by the sea and salt marsh, and connected to the mainland by a small land bridge on the western side. The oval shape of the island dictated the shape of the fort, which was quite a departure from the usual rectangular shaped forts. The fort is mentioned in two Roman documents, the "Notitia Dignitatum" (Register of Offices, a survey of administrative structure), where it is listed as Anderidos, and the "Ravenna Cosmography", which lists various important sites in Roman Britain and includes a reference to Anderelio (Lyne 1990 p.19). The purpose of the fort was to defend the coast against Saxon raids, though it eventually fell to a Saxon advance on land from the west in 491, when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that every Briton sheltering within the fort (named as Andredesceaster) was slaughtered (Guy 1984 p.104). The damage to the Roman walls, is probably due as much to the marshy ground as the work of men, though Simon de Montfort managed to bring down a length of the Roman wall in 1264-65. Even though falls in the early fourteenth century were repaired, this section of wall was particularly prone to slippage, and was useless for defencive purposes by the 15th century (Buy 1984 p.108).

The Norman Castle

According to the Bayeux Tapestry, amongst other sources, the Normans made their landing at Pevensey in 1066, before heading to Hastings to procure food (Lower 1849 p.53). The Normans found Pevensey fort undefended and further defended the site by repairing the Roman walls, digging the moat and building a timber fortification where the current castle now stands. The stone castle visible today was built in the 12th century with later additions in the 13th century. In the early history of the castle, the upkeep was sustained both by wealth generated by lands held by the wardens in Eastbourne and Firle, and by a form of tax call 'heckage', whereby certain people were resposible for paying for the upkeep of sections of the defences.

The castle has had many owners, many of whom decided to rebel against the King. William the Conquerer gave the castle and control of the Rape of Pevensey to his half-brother, Robert the Count of Mortain, who built the first wooden castle. After a long seige against Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, William Rufus (William II), one of the sons of William the Conquerer took the castle in 1088 by starving the residents after the Bishop decided to support Robert Duke of Normandy when he tried to lay claim to the English throne. In 1101, the castle was passed to Willam, another Count of Mortain, who true to form, sided with Normandy against Henry I, who then gave the Castle to Richer de Aquila, who passed it in heredity to his son, Gilbert de Aquila, who rebelled against King Stephen in 1147. Stephen starved the occupants to claim the castle back and gave the castle to Eustace, his eldest son, then upon his death, to his second son, William the Earl of Warenne. The castle was returned to the crown when Henry II came to the throne in 1154, and he promptly gave it back to Gilbert de Aquila. In the last years of King John's reign, Gilbert sided against the King, who took the castle, after which it was held by various Earls, including Arundel in 1216, Hereford in 1233, Pembroke in 1234 and Richmond. The castle was refortified in 1250 by Henry III and held by John de Warren in 1253 at the Kings pleasure. It was at this time that a license was sought to move the church from within the castle and rebuild it within the Roman enclosure. In 1264-5, following the battle of Lewes, the castle was held by royalists against the Barons, during which time, many of the catapult balls found may have been used. During this seige, Simon de Montfort destroyed the missing section of wall on the north side of the Roman fort. Further sections fell down of their own accord in the early 14th century. Other castle wardens came and went, at the pleasure of various queens, who held the castle at the time, Henry Romyn in 1339, Nicholas de Louvaigne in 1364 and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, in 1372, whose son and heir, Henry, held the castle against King Richard II in 1399, so the sheriff of Sussex, accompanied by other people attempted to take the castle back. This is probably the most famous seige the castle underwent as the constable at the time, Sir John Pelham, was away fighting and it was left to his wife, Lady Joan Pelham, to defend the castle until his return. A letter which she sent to him has been published often.

"My dere Lord, I recommande me to your hie Lordescippe wyth hert and body and all my pore mygth, and wyth all this I think zow, as my dere Lorde, derest and best yloved of all earthlyche Lordes; I say for me and thanke yhow my dere Lord, with all thys that I say before, off your comfortable lettre, that ze send me from Pouncfraite that com to me on Mary Magdaleyn Day; ffor by my trowth I was never so gladd as when I herd by your lettre that ye warr stronge ynough wyth the grace off God, for to kepe yow fro the maylce of your ennemys. And dere Lorde iff it lyh to your hyee Lordschippe that als ye myght, that smyght her off your gracious spede whych God Allmyghty contynue and encresse. And my dere Lorde, if it lyh zow for to know off my ffare, I am here by layd in manner off a sege, wyth the counte of Sussex, Sudray, and a greet parsyll off Kentte; so that I ne may nogth out, nor none vitayles gette me, bot with myche hard. Wharfore my dere, if it lyh zow, by the awyse off zowr wyse counsell, for to sett remadye off the salvation off yhower castell, and wt. stand the malyce off ther schures foresayde. And also that ye be fullyche enformede off there grett malyce wyker's in these schyres whyche yt haffes so dispytffuly wrogth to zow, and to zowl castell to yhowr men, and to zuor tenannts ffore this cuntree, have yai wastede for a grett whyle. Farewell my dere Lorde, the Holye Trinyte zow kepe fro zour ennemys, and son send me gud tythyngs off yhow. Ywryten at Pevensay,

'By yhowr awnn pore J Pelham'"

(Sutton 1897 p.88)

Henry, Duke of Lancaster defeated Richard II and became Henry IV. From the reign of Henry VII, the castle declined in importance as the sea was receeding and the harbour silting up, leaving the ruined castle to be robbed for stone, though there were still constables and lords of the castle for some time to come. (Guy 1984 p.105-107,Cooper & Lower 1866 p.142,Salzmann 1906 p.1)

The Castle As A Prison

Pevensey Castle was also used as a prison for various people of importance, as was allowed due to the fact that the castle was part of a duchy (Pugh 1959 p.79). In 1405, Edward, Duke of York attempted to rescue the Earl of March from Windsor, but was arrested was locked in Pevensey. He left his jailer, Thomas Pleistede, the sum of 20 for his good treatment whilst he was a prisoner (Fairbank 1896 p.277). From 1419 to 1422 the castle became the prison of Joan of Navarre, who was accused of plotting against her stepson, Henry V (Salzmann 1906 p.24). Also confined were a duchy official in 1404, King James I of Scotland in 1415, Sir John Mortimer in 1422 and perhaps Edmund Mortimer, the 5th Earl of March in 1406 (Pugh 1959 p.79).

The castle was also used for more common prisoners. Later in The 13th century, an unofficial court was heard at the gates of the castle and the dungeons were used to hold the resulting guilty parties (Hudson 1899 p.187,Pugh 1959 p.74).

There are two dungeons under the castle, one reached by a spiral staircase and the other by a trapdoor. Whilst the last usage of these chambers was as dungeons, it is thought that their original purpose was for storage (Guy 1084 p.110).

The Second World War

Long after its original construction, the castle was used defensively during the second world war. Several pill boxes were built into the castle in such a way, that they looked like they were part of the ruins, and can still be seen today. Despite the state of the castle at this time, it was used to garrison British Canadian and American troops (Guy 1984 p.111).

Archaeology Archaeology
The Roman Fort

The walls of the Roman fort are constructed mainly of a fix of flint and mortar, faced with green sandstone and horizontal bonding courses of tile at intervals up the wall. They are on average 27 feet high and 12 feet thick and follow the edge of the natural island, enclosing around ten acres. There were 12 U shaped and 1 square tower on this curtain wall, concentrated mostly on the eastern and western ends.

In Margary's investigations of the Roman Roads around Pevensey (1929 p.29, 1949 p.186), he suggests the course of a single road running west. This road begins at the west gate and proceeds south-west past the south end of the churchyard towards a low-lying area of land which he suggests was a harbour in Roman times. It then heads north-west, crossing the current Pevensey-Eastbourne road (B2191) and generally follows the course of Peelings Lane into Stone-Cross, from whence it heads west through Polegate.

Roman Road From Pevensey (Margary 1949 p.187)
Roman Road From Pevensey (Margary 1949 p.187)

Excavations At The Fort

The history of excavation at Pevensey is a long one, as with all sites of such an obvious antiquarian interest. In 1710, whilst excavating a trench to supply the village of Pevensey with water from the moat, it was discovered the Roman walls were supported on the top of wooden piles topped by planks, all of which were perfectly preserved (Lower 1853 p.267).

Plan of Pevensey Castle And Fort
Plan of Pevensey Castle And Fort (Lower 1853 p.274)

The first full scale excavations were carried out by Mark Anthony Lower and Charles Roach Smith (Lower 1853,Smith 1858) where they started digging near the western gate. They found roof tiles from the top of the gateway, an amulet, a coin of constantine and the bases of two white pillars. They also discovered that the floor level had been artificially raised using clay so the height of the wall inside was a lot lower than outside. Excavations at the eastern gateway revealed it was an original feature dispite its modern appearance.

A series of trenches were dug within the north-west and north-east sections of the fort, just within the walls, to try and find the remains of Roman buildings. Though some domestic refuse was found, pottery, coins, tile, no buildings were found, so the authors concluded that any building within the fort must have been of "a slight and temporary character".

North Postern Gate (Smith 1858 p.19)
North Postern Gate
(Smith 1858 p.19)
Finally, the area around the missing sections of the fortress wall to the south and the damaged areas to the north were investigated. The reasons for the collapse of the north section of the wall were unclear, though the south sections were more obviously due to land slips, which happened during or after the construction of the Norman Castle. Small postern gates were found on both the north and south sides.

The walls of the fort were excavated further in 1906 (Salzmann 1908a p.102). It was discovered that the wall foundations were set in a wide trench, into the bottom of which, large stakes were hammered. These were topped by a layer of red clay and flints three feet deep, over which logs were sometimes placed. A thin layer of concrete finished the foundations, upon which stands the wall, mostly consisting of a rubble core, faced with greensand blocks.

Salzmann (1908a p.106) then excavated several areas around three of the four gates. Excavating under the east gate, he found the original Roman gate to be ten feet wide and eleven feet high. His excavation of the north postern gate found it to be curved. Exiting the fort, you would turn right and the left before finally exiting the fort, with with construction being allowed by the great width of the wall. The construction of this gate is similar to that of others in Europe, suggesting that it was Roman, not Romano-British skills that built this fort.

Finally, Salzmann excavated several long trenches within the northern edge of the fort, near the area of the fallen walls. This revealed that occupation during the Romano-British period had consisted of wattle and daub huts rather than masonry buildings, so it appears that the architects of the fort were less concerned about the living quarters of those garissoned within. Several hearths were found, constructed of tile. Coins found in this domestic area, which was concentrated just within the wall, just to the west of the collapsed sections of wall, dated the occupation from the mid third century to the late 4th century. The pottery found broadly agreed with this, but it was on some of the many tiles that more important information was found.

CL.BR stamped tile (Salzmann 1908a p.112)
CL.BR stamped tile (Salzmann 1908a p.112)
There were two tiles stamped with the letters CL-BR, the moniker of Classis Britania, the local Roman military presence, but these would not have been made at the time of the forts construction, so was probably salvaged from another nearby building, such as the Eastbourne Roman villa (Lyne 1990 p.26). The most important file however was a tile with the letters ON AVG NDR. The tile was unfortunately incomplete, but a complete example from elsewhere read HON AVG ANDRIA, the last word of which can clearly be linked to the name Anderida, recorded as one of the Saxon Shore forts. There was a small amount of human skull found, hardly the scene of a great battle, but the animal bones showed that the occupants of the fort were ate or kept ox, sheep, goat, horse, boar, dog and cat, as well as several types of bird and shellfish.

Salzmann returned to Pevensey a year later (1908b p.125,1909 p.83). He started off at the north wall where there was evidence of a small drain built through the wall of the fort, before digging a long trench forty feet south from the wall. He came across a square well, 3 feet wide and lined with timbers which he excavated, revealing various types of grass and hay near the top, with some animal skulls and leather dhoes underneath. The skulls were of oxen and goat, with a single cat skull. Whilst Salzmann considered these to be simple rubbish, they could point to the ritual use of the shaft, which is not uncommon in Sussex during the Iron-Age and Romano-British period, which commonly involves animal skulls placed into a well or pit as it is going out of use. Even if the shaft was used for ritual at some point, that was probably not its original function, as a bark rope and bucket were found at the bottom of the well, which also contained an iron knife and a small trident measuring 3½ by 2½(Salzmann 1908b p.133,1909 p.93). Such minature objects are often found in ritual settings.

Roman Well within the Fort (Salzmann 1908b p.128)
Roman Well within the Fort (Salzmann 1908b p.128)

Other areas excavated by Salzmann that year revealed no other features except areas of mortar, which were probably linked with the construction of the fort itself. Roman pottery was abundant, and the coinage was similar to that found in the previous season, with dates from the late third century to the late fourth century.

Four seasons of unpublished excavations were carried out between 1936 and 1939 by Frank Cottrill (1936), Burgess (1937) and B.W. Pearce (1938-39). The remains of what notes survived were self published by Malcolm Lyne (1990) in a report that can be found in the Sussex Archaeological Society Library.

In 1936 Cottrill excavated the area inside the gate, finding two successive Roman roads topped by a fourth century occupation layer and a medieval cobbled road. Flanking the road were buildings and some Saxo-Norman rubbish pits. Cottrill also re-opened the area inside the western gate first explored by Roach-Smith (1858) whose excavations were rather superficial. Outside the west gate to the west and south, further trenches revealed Roman and Medieval defensive ditches with a V shaped profile, but these have yet to be discovered around any other part of the fort. There were two Norman ditches, one curved to enclose the area around the gate and the second wider and further out. The Roman ditch seemed to carry on each way around the fort to the north but tapered out towards the south where the sea made a continuation of the ditch unnecessary. There was no break in the Roman ditch for the road so it is thought there was some sort of timber bridge. Near these ditches a fourteenth century pottery production site was found (Lyne 1990 p.43).

In 1938-39, excavated further outside of the west gate and lowered the area, finding further defensive ditches. He also excavated a trench across the large gully opposite the corner of the moat, which turned out to be medieval in date. Between the west gate and this gully, a long ditch was found to run in a northerly direction towards one of the drains in the wall, passing a Roman building on the way. A large trench was opened just east of the collapsed section of the north wall and revealed Roman occupation and Saxon rubbish pits. The southern end of the moat was excavated along the the adjecant defences. A dam was found in the moat. The sections of Roman walling on the southern side of the fort were found to have been replaced by a clay and earth rampart and ditch during the Norman conquest, which was revetted with stone on the inside. Towards the western end of the collapsed southern wall, trenches revealed a replacement Saxo-Norman wall which curved inwards somewhat from the line of the Roman wall.

The Norman Castle

In 1993, Michael Fulford carried out excavations on the eastern side of the Norman keep, where there is a large amount of collapsed masonry, in advance of conservation work by English Heritage.

Norman Remains Excavated Outside The Castle

Outside of the castle, but within the confines of the fort, Salzmann (1908a p.114) found the trappings of war in the upper layers of his excavations. The heads of arrows, javelins and quarrels were found, which was from an early Norman date, whilst an iron cannonball was somewhat later. He had also found that the ground level within the fort had been artificially raised by several feet of clay, though there were areas in the north and west of the fort that hadn't received this treatment.

Medieval shaft at Pevensey (Dunning 1958 p.206)
Medieval shaft at Pevensey (Dunning 1958 p.206)
In his second season, Salzmann (1908b p.129) found the remains of a ladder, and following this down into the pit in which it was placed, found various wooden objects. There were two shovels, a cask, some wattling from a basket (possibly), two bowls and some stakes, along with a large quantity of sacking material. The associated imported pottery revealed this to be medieval in date, and Salzmann suggested that the pit was used to extract sand, which lies below the natural clay layer. Dunning (1958 p.207) considered the purpose of the pit to be storage for foodstuffs rather than the extraction of sand. The cask was suggested to contain wine, and the sacks grain, with the bowls used to scoop out the grain into other receptacles.

Excavations At The Castle

The well within the castle was excavated in the 19th century by the then Custodian. He found it to be lined with ashlar blocks and descended to a depth of fifty feet at which depth there is a square oak framework. The contents listed include wolf skulls and catapult balls (Lower 1853 p.281). The well is now covered by a grill and is full of rainwater. The interior of the Castle was further cleared by the office of works in the late 1920's, the purpose being to remove debris and restore the original ground level. A large quantity of pottery and catapult balls were found (Budgen 1929 p.218).

The Free Chapel

Within the Norman Castle there once stood a chapel described in a grant by Edward III as the "free chapel within the castle of Pevensey". This was excavated in 1849 because the ground in the area was burnt, which probably means the chapel burnt down at some point. The chapel consists of a nave and chancel, in total, roughly 43 feet long and 17 feet wide. The flooring had been robbed out, but the foundations remained. Below the floor, the skeletons of three adults and three children were found, above which was the shingle upon which the floor once stood, and in the centre of the Nave, a stone font. The top of a pillar piscina was also found at the eastern end of the nave. Amongst the rubble of destruction, which included many of the slate roof tiles, there were some iron arrowheads (Lower 1853 p.278).

The Chapel Font
The Chapel Font
(Lower 1853 p.279)
The Pillar Piscina
The Pillar Piscina
(Lower 1853 p.280)

Folklore Folklore
An Apronful Of Stones

According to the notable Sussex folklorist, Tony Wales (1992 p.73), a huge stone was brought to Pevensey by an old woman as her contribution to building the castle, but was dropped when her apron string broke. Mr. Wales doesn't specify exactly where the stone is, but it could be the large section of Roman wall that has fallen down the slope on the east side of the castle.

An Ancient Battle

One folk story involving the occupants of Pevensey Castle was supposed to have taken place in Norman times. The then lord of Pevensey Castle left with an army to attack the Earl de Warenne at Lewes Castle. The battle took place on the slopes of Mount Caburn. It looked like the Lord of Pevensey was winning, but the Earl's wife called upon St. Nicholas to intervene, and the battle was won by the Earl (Rackham 2001 p.60).

Hidden Tunnels

Drain Found Outside Pevensey Fort (Lower 1953 p.277)
(Lower 1953 p.277)
Local folklore links Pevensey Fort with a house in Westham, over 2 miles distant, called Priesthawes. A local man recalled having found a tunnel south-west of the western gateway. Mr. Lower (1853 p.276) in his excavations did indeed find a tunnel in the form of a drain 18 inches high and constructed from large stones. Running north-west to south-east, it would have missed both the fort and the village of Westham. This tunnel was investigated again by Manwaring-Baines (1967) who considered it to be a drain dating to Tudor times.

Ghosts Ghosts
Pevensey Castle is haunted by a Grey Lady thought to be one of two notable characters. The first is Joan Pelham, the wife of Sir John Pelham, who so ably defended the castle whilst here husband was up in york. The second candidate is Queen Joanna of Bretagne, who was imprisoned in Pevensey Castle by Henry V, her stepson, on the charge of witchcraft, where she was kept for three years by the above mentioned John Pelham, only to be released by the dying words of the repentant king (Middleton 1988 p.37). In the 1970's, a group of youngsters saw the ghost of a female on the castle walls before it disappeared. A woman in medieval dress standing at the bottom of Castle Hill similarly vanished in 1984 when approached by a group of twelve visitors (Green 1997 p.58).

Other ghostly goings on include a Black Monk who is said to pass through the castle grounds (Stevens 1996 p.44) and the screams of dying soliers occasionally heard (Stevens-Bassett 1993 p.35).

Resources Resources
  Tourist Site
Another Tourist Site
The Heritage Trail
Pevensey Castle History

Bibliography Bibliography
  Budgen, W. : Reports of Local Secretaries - Eastbourne, SAC Vol. 70 1929
Cooper, W.D. & Lower, M.A. : Notes on Sussex Castles, SAC Vol. 18 1866
Dunning, G. : A Norman Pit at Pevensey Castle and its Contents, Ant. J. 38 1958
Fairbank, F.R. : Notes On Pevensey, SAC Vol. 40 1896
Green, A. : Haunted Sussex, S.B. Publications 1997
Guy, J. : Castles in Sussex, Phillimore 1984
Hudson, W. : The Hundred of Eastbourne and its Six "Boroughs", SAC Vol. 42 1899
Hussey, A. : An Inquiry after the Site of Anderida or Andredesceaster, SAC Vol. 6 1853
Manwaring-Baines, J. : Report on Underground Tunnel S.W. of Pevensey Castle, SAS Libr. Acc. 930.1/R/SIT 1967
Margary, I.D. : Roman Roads from Pevensey, SAC Vol. 80 1939
Margary, I.D. : Roman Ways in the Weald, Phoenix House 1949
Mawer, A & Stenton, F.M. : The Place-Names of Sussex (2 vols), Cambridge U.P. 1929 & 1930
Middleton, J. : Ghosts of Sussex, Countryside Books 1988
Lower, M.A. : Observances on the Landing of Willima the Conqueror, ... SAC Vol. 2 1849
Lower, M.A. : On Pevensey Castle and the Recent Excavations there, SAC Vol. 6 1853
Lower, M.A. : Chronicles of Pevensey, J. Richards 1873 (3rd Ed.)
Pugh, R.B. : Medieval Sussex Prisons, SAC Vol. 97 1959
Rackham, J. : Brighton Ghosts, Hove Hauntings, Latimer Publications 2001
Salzmann, L.F. : Documents Relating to Pevensey Castle, SAC Vol. 49 1906
Salzmann, L.F. : Excavations at Pevensey, 1906-1907, SAC Vol. 51 1908a
Salzmann, L.F. : Excavations on the site of the Roman Fortress at Pevensey, 1907-1908, Arch. J. 65 (2) 1908b
Salzmann, L.F. : Excavations at Pevensey, 1907-1908, SAC Vol. 52 1909
Salzmann, L.F. : Victoria County History of Sussex Volume III, Uni. of London 1935
Smith, C.R. : Excavations Made Upon the Site of the Roman Castrum at Pevensey, Privately Printed 1858
Stevens-Bassett, R. : Ghostly Tales & Hauntings of E. Sussex, CLX 1993
Stevens, Robert A. : Local Ghosts..., CLX 1996
Sutton, R. : A Short Account of Pevensey, Simpkin, Marshall, Kent & Co. 1897
Wales, T. : Sussex Ghosts & Legends, Countryside Books 1992
Winbolt, M.A. : Romano-British Sussex, in Salzmann 1935

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