My boyfriends parent's live in East Sussex, and I love going down to see them as this area of the country has SO many places that appeal to a history geek like me. One of the outings we went on the last time I visited was a trip to Pevensey castle.
Pevensey Castle should be more accurately called Pevensey Castle ruins - there isn't a great deal of the actual castle left. There are the outer Roman walls (Built back when Pevensey was called Anderida) which encircle the site (and which you can see for free as a public footpath runs through the site) and then the more recent Normal castle built under the orders of William the Conqueror.
The outer parts of the Norman Keep, though ruined, are still impressive. You do have to pay to access the Norman Keep, with the current fees listed below:
EH Member Free
Child (5-15 years) 3.00
Family (2 adults, 3 children) £13.00
However, we were able to enter for free using a trade pass, as Phills mother works for another local attraction.
Pevensey Bay is often cited as the site where William the Conqueror landed in 1066, although many people argue that the actual landing site is a couple of miles east, at Normans Bay (now marked by campsites, weather beaten beachfront houses and an Environmental agency site). He then gave the Pevensey area into the guardianship of his half brother, Robert, Count of Mortain, who built the Norman keep inside the existing Roman outer walls in around 1100 CE. The castle has been besieged three ties in it's history, Thomas á Becket is said to have grown up here, and the castle played host to King James the First of Scotland when he was Henry V's prisoner. Haven fallen into disrepair it's demolition was ordered by Elizabeth the First, whose orders, luckily for visitors today, were ignored. In more recent history, the castle was used as a military base during WWII, providing shelter for American and Canadian forces, and acting as a base of operations for anti-aircraft troops.
Most of the outer Norman walls remain standing, and this area is accessed by crossing over a drawbridge which bridges a rather weed filled moat. The moat was probably, in it's time, a great additional line of defence as it looks to have been dug pretty deep, but now sadly the waters remaining are shallow and weedy, and full of litter. The portcullis however has been well maintained.
Upon crossing the bridge, you'll see, to the right, a small portacabin which acts as a gift shop, and the front office where you pay your entry fees. It seems rather ugly and out of place here, and the range of souvenirs is nothing special - the same range of overpriced tat you'll find in souvenir shops up and down the country. Turning a little further to your right, you'll see steps descending into a dungeoun/oubliette area . Unfortunately, due to heavy rain, this area was closed on our visit, as it had flooded. I was reliably informed by the sole member of staff on duty that it is usually pretty wet anyway, as the moat leaks in, and that in fact in Norman times it would have been much worse, as the sea would have come up right near the castle, whereas now its a fair way away. In fact, prisoners were chained up here, left waiting for the tide to come in and fill up the dungeon, and many of them drowned!
In front of you, you'll see a nice square area of verdant green grass, immaculately maintained, with small displays scattered across it - a pile of cannonballs and a cannon, and various signs on the walls indicating what each area of the castle might have been used for. Most poignant for me was the outlined foundations of a chapel, complete with a font, and a grave that had been there so long that there were no discernable markings remaining to tell us who was buried there and how they died. It's amazing though to think that that grave could have potentially been on that site for many hundreds of years, and there is something slightly sad about the fact that, on my visit, school children were running all over it. The poor fellow was hardly resting in peace!
A recently constructed wooden staircase has been built, which enables people to climb up and see the view from what would have originally been the battlements. The view is a nice one, though vastly different from what the Normans would have seen - Pevensey and Westham villages (which have pretty much merged into one over time) are picture postcard perfect, with Tudor cottages lining the streets, a small church just in view, and a couple of old fashioned pubs. There are arrow slits here, which enable you to imagine being an archer posted here at a time of seige.
There are several rooms you can enter off the main square, most of which are simply empty rooms with stone walls. One room did have a small , rather dull exhibition - simply laminated plastic board detailing the history of the castle, which, whilst they were interesting to me, did nothing to capture the interest of my ten year old daughter.
The castle has few facilities - it does not have it's own carpark, but there is a pay and display right outside the walls. It doesn't have any picnic benches or seating areas within it's walls, and it has no toilets (though there are some public restroom right outside). There is no cafe, but again, there is a pub right outside. The central green of the castle is wheelchair accessible, but the dungeons and battlements are not, and in muddy weather you may have trouble even getting into the castle.
Overall, whilst this is an attractive castle to visit for someone that likes ruins, adores history, or perhaps has a keen interest in photography, there is little here of interest to children, and a bored daughter means I can't read the information I'd like to know. There isn't much information to be gleaned from a visit, with the whole museum exhibition part being contained in one small room, and there is nothing in the way of interaction - no dress up box, no childrens fact finding quiz, no tour guide of any kind.
I'm very glad I got in for free on a trade pass. Had I paid the entrance fee, I do feel I would have been sorely disappointed. It's a shame there just isn't much more going on inside, because, from the outside it is everything a castle SHOULD be.
Would I recommend a visit? Well, you can get within the original Anderida Roman walls for free, and certainly it's a nice green area to visit, lovely for photos, and you can get some gorgeous outer shots of the castle. So yes, I'd pop by and have a look at the outside again, though it won't take up much of your day.
As for paying to get inside? Honestly, I'd save the money on entry fees, and spend it on a nice pub lunch in the Smugglers over the road instead. This place could be great, if more was made of it, but it seems almost forgotten about, and that's rather sad.
Many people know the story of the Battle of Hastings that changed the history of England, but not many people know where William the Conqueror landed when he invaded, and the fact that a castle was built there subsequent to his arrival. This castle is now known as Pevensey Castle.
Back in the 3rd century a Roman fort, named Anderida, was built on Pevensey peninsula which was surrounded by the sea and salt marshes. In 1066 William the Conqueror landed his army at Pevensey. Before marching on to Hastings they set up a defensive camp within the walls of the old Roman fort. During the centuries after the Conquest a full-scale Norman castle gradually developed as well as was partly destroyed. In the 13th century the towered bailey wall was constructed and in the 15th century the castle was rebuilt and remained as a state prison. During the Second World War Pevensey castle was used to restore guns and provide billets for British troops. Today it's a popular tourist site to discover 2000 years of history from the Romans to World War II and beyond.
Highlights of Pevensey Castle:
1. The Roman Fort
The Roman Fort in Pevensey Castle is one of the largest surviving Roman forts in Britain. Most of its walls and towers are still standing at their original height. Following the shape of Pevensey peninsula it was built in irregular plan.
2. The Keep
The stone keep was built at the beginning of 12th century either by William de Mortain or his successor. It was the heart of Pevensey Castle and the home for the lord and his family. When Pevensey Castle was attacked the Keep was the place of last resort for people living inside.
3. The Pevensey Dungeon
Around the Keep there are ruins of battlements and towers that were once used as prisons and magazine. At the bottom there is a dark and damp medieval dungeon that was used to lock poor people.
4. The Pevensey Gun
The Pevensey Gun is a Tudor demi-culverin that cast at late 16th century and has a royal cipher of Elizabeth I on top of the barrel. In 1966 the barrel was mounted on an accurate replica of a 16th trail carriage.
Opening times and price:
Pevensey Castle is located on the south coast of England, in East Sussex and owned by English Heritage. Currently entrance to the Roman fort is free; the admissions to enter the medieval castle are £4.50 for adults, £2.30 for children and £3.80 for concessions. If you're a member of English Heritage you can get the free entrance with a free audio guide.
Pevensey Castle is open daily from 10am to 6pm between April and September. For the rest of the year the opening times are different. For more details please visit English Heritage official website.
There is a charge payable parking for visitors in 300m distance from entrance. A small on-site shop is set in the reception where you can buy locally sourced products and English Heritage souvenirs.
Near to Pevensey Castle you can also visit Bayham Old Abbey and 1066 Battle Abbey. They both are also owned by English Heritage.
For more English Heritage tourist sites please visit my blog:
Having grown up right opposite Pevensey Castle, I feel I should write a review on it.
Pevensey Castle can be found in the historic village of Pevensey, East Sussex. The castle is actually two castles. The outer walls were built by the Romans in the 4th Century, whilst the inner walls were built under the order of William the Conqueror.
Sadly, much of the original stone work has worn away over the years, with just a crumbling shell left. To access the Roman castle, entry is free as a public footpath runs right through the grounds. You can see where the gate house to the west used to be and archaeologists have unearthed Roman baths towards the north walls. The eastern gate is probably the most impressive part of the original castle to remain standing, with a grand arched opening leading you from the road through to the grounds, or indeed out into the village of Pevensey. There isn't really that much information dotted around the grounds telling you about the history of the site, which is a shame, as I am sure when it was built, it would have been a grand site to see. These Roman walls have a much more modern threat these days. Lorries still pass through the villages of Pevensey and Westham and with the main road right next to the walls; the lorries sometimes scrape the walls, damaging them as they go. There has been a lot of protest against this in recent years.
After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror gave Pevensey to his half-brother, the Count of Mortain, who ordered the construction of Pevensey Castle. (There is the Robert De Mortain pub over in Hastings named after him) William had previously used the castle as shelter, having landed on the beach of Pevensey Bay (some argue it was Norman's Bay just a mile or so away) before marching to victory over King Harold. Before the conflict, the then Duke of Normandy had his army construct a dry ditch inside the west gate wall to provide some protection, should they be attacked whilst saying there. The original walls were kept as an additional strong hold and bailey, with a wooden structure - the basis for the new castle - being constructed around 1100AD.
Most of the Norman walls are still standing. The remains of a moat have been left in place, with a "draw bridge" leading you across to a mighty portcullis. Inside the Norman walls you will find the outlined remains of a chapel, complete with the font. There is also a very large cannon and a pile of cannonballs. There are a few dungeons to explore and a modern wooden structure has been put in place to enable you to see the view from what would have been the battlements. Unfortunately, there isn't really much to see in the dungeons, as they are just open rooms. The most impressive dungeon is on the outside of the Norman walls. After going down a dark, stone staircase, you will probably be met with about a foot of water. During the Norman times, the sea level would have come right up to the castle and prisoners would have been chained up and left for the tide to come in and drown them. I have seen evidence of this old tide line, as after during the Great Storm of '87, a large tree was felled, roots and all. Under this tree, you could collect seashells and the sea these days is about 1-2 miles away. You will also notice by the entrance to the Norman castle, a grid in the floor. This is where people were thrown down - breaking numerous bones, and then had boiling oil thrown on them, or just be left to starve to death in their extreme pain.
You do have to pay to access the Norman building.
Before the Normans moved in, historians believe there was a Saxon fort on the site.
The site has seen plenty of conflicts throughout the ages, including the Rebellion of 1088 and an attack in 1264 when Henry III took up residence after the Battle of Lewes. Elizabeth I wanted Pevensey Castle to be torn down, as did Oliver Cromwell, but neither one was successful. The castle also played a part during the Second World War. Used by the Home Guard, you can still see the gun slats carved into the walls to defend the coast from invasion.
Like all historical sites, Pevensey Castle can also boast a ghost or two. The best known is the Lady in Grey, who is often seen down by the water. A row of Roman centurions still patrol the castle and have been seen from the waste up where they are still marching on the old road. A piper is said to patrol the battlements, whilst a drummer is said to be heard in the dungeons, drumming the prisoner to their execution. The most recent sighting I've heard of, is of an entire Roman battalion, seen marching and some on horseback towards the west gate. I myself, have never seen any ghosts in the castle, but it is a very creepy place to wander through at night and I have seen things in my home, which I cannot explain.
The site is owned by English Heritage and whilst the Roman walls are free to wander, you do have to pay to go inside the Roman walls. The cost at the moment is £4.80 for adults, £2.90 for children and £4.30 for concessions. Family tickets are available £12.50 and obviously if you're a member of English Heritage you can visit for free.
The castle opens between 10am-6pm all week, but these times change throughout the year.
You can take your dog to Pevensey Castle, but you will have to keep them on a lead in certain areas - mainly inside the Norman Walls. The site is generally suitable for wheelchairs, but some areas will be out of bounds as they aren't easily accessible. There are no toilets on site, but there are some just outside the castle, next door to a pub - if you want to use them!
The nearest train station is a good mile away on foot, but this is on a main line from London. Buses seldom pass through the village anymore, with the nearest being about half a mile away in the opposite direction and this is a major route between Hastings and Eastbourne. Otherwise, by car, is quite easy to find with good signage and a reasonable carpark just outside.
==Worth a Trip?==
I am a complete history fan, but I do think it is overpriced to go inside the Norman castle. There really isn't that much in there, just a few sign posts with some information about the history. The castles - both Roman and Norman - are now ruins. They're not at all like Hever Castle, which is still a grand and marvellous site to see. If you can find a time when a re-enactment or other themed day is taking place there, then I would go along then, as it would be much more fun. I would hate to see the castle lost, as it is a major part of the coastal defence story for centuries, but I do feel they could lower the cost a bit. There is nowhere to have a tea or coffee, unless you bring your own picnic or leave the castle for one of the local pubs or Castle Tea Rooms, which are currently shut, awaiting new owners I believe. Children would soon get bored here, but adults may well enjoy a look around. I would not say this is a place to have a day trip, but would suggest it become part of a day trip around the area.
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