Sussex Life October 2015 Poetry + solution

Solution for the “Foothold” piece by Tony Ward in the Sussex Life October issue

September solution

August solution


Where is it? “Foothold”

A Roman fort of the Saxon Shore,

lapped by a tidal lagoon, long gone.

A harbour for a Channel fleet, no trace...

retreat, resettlement, massacre.

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A Norman foothold to conquer a nation,

the shelter before the storm,

the unfolding tapestry.

Two weeks to a place in history

on Senlac field.


And after...the castle rebuilt, the ruins restored,

a castle within a castle, permanence, power.


Five hundred years,

Four times besieged, four times rebels,

Twice surrendered but never captured,

and next, a noble prison, a new role.

James, Edward, Joan – a King, a Duke, a Queen

fallen from favour into dungeon gloom.


And still the guardian,

Tudor cannons await a Spanish fleet,

machine gun posts define another war,

another threat.


And what remains...

stone balls, a cannon, a stump of Keep

whose walls now shield no more than sheep.


Solution – Pevensey Castle, East Sussex

Explanation of embedded clues

Pevensey Castle is a medieval castle and former Roman ‘Saxon Shore’ fort in the care of English Heritage. The site is a Scheduled Monument, open to visitors.

The Roman fort’s name was Anderitum, as listed in The Notitia Dignitatum (‘List of High Offices’). This document includes the names of military stations in Britain at the end of the 4th Century AD. Anderitum was the garrison of an infantry unit of the Roman border forces (Numerus Abulcorum). The original name also sometimes appears in later publications as Anderita or Anderida. The name Pevensey Castle strictly refers to the later medieval castle built in one corner of the site of the Roman fort.

The Notitia lists Anderitum as one of nine ‘Forts of the Saxon Shore’ (Litus Saxonicum), stretching from Brancaster , near The Wash in East Anglia, to Portchester Castle, near Portsmouth. Portchester is the next fort to Pevensey and the last in the chain. The forts were built between about AD 260 and AD 300. At around AD 290, Anderitum was one of the last and largest to be built. Another two or three forts, together with intermediate watchtowers are sometimes also included in the group. However there is some academic discussion as to whether they were an integrated defensive system, on both sides of the Channel, against Saxon raiders, or whether they served some other purpose. The label ‘Saxon Shore’ certainly conjures up a memorable image though! It has even been taken as their name by an American band!

“Lapped by a tidal lagoon” refers to the fact that the fort was originally on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by a tidal lagoon and marshes, a very strong defensive position. There is also evidence that there was a harbour, which could have been a base for the Romans’ Channel Fleet (Classis Britannica). The lagoon has long since silted up and the marshes been drained. There is no trace of the harbour. Pevensey Castle is now landlocked, about a mile from the sea.

“Retreat, resettlement, massacre” refers to the years after the Roman Army retreated from Britain by AD 410. The local population moved onto the site and used it as a trading base. The curtain walls of the old fort provided some protection from Saxon Raiders until AD 491 (but possibly AD 471, due to a dating error) when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to a massacre in which the Saxons “Aella and Cyssa besieged Anderida (Andredesceaster) and killed all who were inside, so there was not one Briton left.” (from an illustrated modern translation). Aella became ‘King of Sussex’. He was obviously taking a leaf out of Marcus Aurelius Carausius’ book, his predecessor, the Roman naval commander of Anderitum, who had fallen out with the Roman Emperor Maximian and declared himself ruler of an independent Britain. Mind you, Carausius had gone one better, his kingdom also included part of Northern Gaul.

The next man of ambition to arrive, in AD 1066, was of course William the Conqueror. Landing at Pevensey Bay on 28 September 1066, his army quickly constructed a temporary fortification within the old Roman fort – “the shelter before the storm”. The “storm” took place on 14 October 1066, just over two weeks later. The “place in history on Senlac field” was of course the Battle of Hastings. The date has become perhaps the best remembered in our history. “The unfolding tapestry” refers not only to the sequence of events but to their depiction in ‘The Bayeux Tapestry’.

In the century after the Conquest, the Normans built a full-scale castle within one corner of the site of the ruined Roman fort and repaired the outer Roman curtain walls. The next five hundred years were not uneventful. The castle was besieged four times. It was well fortified though and although “twice surrendered” it was “never captured”. The sieges were:

1088 – rebel Barons defended Pevensey Castle against King William Rufus. They surrendered when their food ran out.

1147 – another rebellious owner, Gilbert de Clare, was besieged by another king, King Stephen, with the same result.

In the later medieval (Plantagenet Kings) period the castle was further rebuilt and strengthened. However this proved no deterrent to attack.

1264-65 – In the Second Baron’s War, after the Battle of Lewes, defeated members of King Henry III’s Royalist army fled to Pevensey and held out against Simon de Montfort’s men for a year. This time they were able to get food supplies through the siege lines. De Montfort gave up in July 1265. One month later he was killed at the Battle of Evesham.

1399 – While the Constable of the castle, Sir John Pelham, was away fighting, with Henry Bolingbroke, his wife, Lady Joan, held the castle against King Richard II’s supporters. The siege failed. Upon Richard II’s forced abdication, Bolingbroke was crowned King Henry IV.

During the siege, Lady Joan, had written a heart-rending letter to her husband, a translated extract from which reads:

“I am here bylaid in manner of a siege, with the counties of Sussex, Surrey and a great part of Kent, so that I may not out, nor no vitals get me without much difficulty. Wherefore my dear may it please you, by the advice of your wise council, to give remedy to the salvation of your castle ... Farewell my dear Lord, the Holy Trinity keep you from your enemies, and soon send me good tidings of you. Written at Pevensey in the Castle, on Saint Jacob day last past. By ever your own poor, J. Pelham”.

Lady Joan’s ghost, the ‘Grey Lady’ is said to sometimes be seen pacing the parapet, scanning the horizon for her husband’s return and the end of her ordeal.

“And next, a noble prison, a new role.” The Lancastrian Kings used the castle as a prison for high-ranking nobles. These included King James I of Scotland (captured on his way to France in 1406), Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York (for plotting against King Henry IV) and Queen Joan of Navarre, Henry IV’s second wife (held from 1419 to 1422 on the orders of her stepson, Henry V, on a (false) charge of plotting to kill him through witchcraft!). There are two dungeons, both damp and gloomy. The ‘Oubliette’ (from the French oublier – to forget) is accessed by a trapdoor, and a separate dungeon, reached by a spiral staircase. In his will Edward of Norwich left £20 to his jailer, Thomas Playsted, “for the kindness he showed me when I was in ward at Pevensey”. Unsurprisingly, kindness in such circumstances was to be highly valued. Queen Joan is an alternative contender for the ghostly role of ‘Grey Lady’.

When the Tudors took over, the castle was abandoned, apart from the installation of two cannons at the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588. One of these cast-iron cannons, probably manufactured in a local Sussex Weald ironworks, is preserved in the inner bailey of the castle. It is mounted on a replica carriage, in turn inevitably mounted by children having their photos taken.

The castle’s last private owner, the 9th Duke of Devonshire, gave the castle to the state in 1925 as a historic monument. The castle’s most recent role – “And still the guardian” – was in World War 2 when, in 1940, it was re-occupied by the military against the threat of a German invasion after the fall of France. Machine gun pillboxes were built into the fabric of the castle and anti-tank measures were installed.

“And what remains ... “ - the pyramid of large stone balls near the “stump of Keep” were 14th Century catapult (trebuchet) ammunition. The space enclosed by the original Roman curtain walls, the outer bailey, was used as a training ground for the Home Guard in WW2. It is now shared between visitors and, occasionally, by grazing sheep.


Acknowledgement of sources


• ‘Guidebook: Pevensey Castle’, English Heritage, 28pp.

• ‘Pevensey Castle, East Sussex’, English Heritage postcard.

• ‘Britain AD’, Francis Prior, Harper Perennial, 2005 (“Saxon Shore” forts p135-143)

• ‘England’s Thousand Best Houses’, Simon Jenkins, Penguin/Allen Lane, 2003 (p782)

• ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles’, an illustrated edition translated and collated by Anne Savage, Phoebe Phillips/Heinemann, 1982.

• ‘Map of Roman Britain (3rd. Edition), Scale 16 miles to One Inch, Ordnance Survey, 1956.

• ‘OS Landranger Map 199: Eastbourne & Hastings’, Ordnance Survey. (Shows the route of the 1066 Country Walk from Eastbourne via Pevensey Castle and Battle Abbey/1066 Battlefield to Hastings.)

• ‘OS Explorer Map 123: Eastbourne & Beachy Head’, Ordnance Survey. (A larger scale walkers map showing the 1066 Country Walk between Jevington and Pevensey).

Websites (includes a detailed account of the archaeological investigations) (“The Ghosts of Pevensey Castle”, a spine-tingling article by Elizabeth Wright, drawing on the ghost tales of Robert Slater, host of the Pevensey Castle Ghost Walks)

• Relevant websites found by searches for ‘Pevensey Castle’, ‘Saxon Shore’, ‘1066 Country Walk’, ‘Saxon Shore Way’.

For walkers

The Long Distance Walkers Association website contains details of both the connected 1066 Country Walk and the Saxon Shore Way. The 1066 Country Walk (Westwards) also connects up with the South Downs Way at Jevington. The walks take you through Pevensey Castle (on OS Map 123 labelled ‘Pevensey Castle and ANDERITUM ROMAN FORT’) and the 1066 Battle Site, among other historic sites in Sussex. The Saxon Shore Way coastal footpath (Eastwards) finishes at Gravesend in Kent.

Some other ‘connections’

• An American band Saxon Shore took the name of the region.

• The Saxon Shore is the title of a novel by Jack Whyte.