Camber Castle, built in 1544 by Henry VIII to protect England’s southern coast.

March 15, 2024

Camber Castle, built in 1544 by Henry VIII to protect England’s southern coast. Nearby you can find a number of World War Two pillboxes, built for the same ends some 400 years later.

Take a trip down the A259 from Rye and you’ll stumble across the fascinating ruins of Camber Castle. The enchanting site lies in a remote, but beautiful part of Sussex near the Kent border, with incredible views over Rye Harbour and the English Channel.

Although it mainly acts as the setting for an enjoyable family attraction today, it was once tasked with protecting England from a French invasion. Constructed by Henry VIII between 1512 and 1514, it overlooked the Camber Anchorage and the entrance to Rye Harbour.

During Tudor times the harbour played an important role in the nation’s economy, meaning it would become a likely target for any French naval attack. The first fortification on the site was a small, round artillery tower, but renewed tensions with France encouraged the king to rethink his coastal defence plans.

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Moravian (modern-day Czechia) engineer Stefan von Haschenperg took charge of the rebuild in 1539, but after this was deemed unsatisfactory, further work was carried out until 1543. The result was a large, concentric artillery fort, with a central keep, surrounded by four circular bastions and a circular entrance bastion, built from stone and brick.

The finished castle was initially equipped with 28 brass and iron artillery guns and a garrison of 28 men, commanded by a captain. Some historians suspect it may have seen service in 1545 when a French fleet attacked the coast, but overall Camber Castle did not see many operations during this period.

Tucked away 16th century Sussex castle surrounded by countryside

Camber Castle, pictured from Rye (Image: Martin Burton/SussexLive)

Over the next hundred years Rye Harbour began to silt up – meaning the castle was now positioned well inland – and its design became outdated compared to more modern European castles.

This meant it was eventually closed in 1637 by Charles I. After the civil war broke out five years later, most of the castle was dismantled by Roundhead forces to avoid it being used by Royalists.

In subsequent centuries it became a popular picnic spot due to its peaceful setting near the coastline. There were plans to convert it into a Martello Tower amid worries of a Napoleonic invasion, but these never came to fruition.

Tucked away 16th century Sussex castle surrounded by countryside

Camber Castle is one of the only unmodified Device Forts left (Image: Mervyn Rands)

The site was put to use as an early warning radar site during the Second World War, and in 1967 it was taken into the guardianship of the state. It is now operated by English Heritage, with the rare example of an unmodified Device Fort protected as a Grade I listed building.

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