From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present
Reculver Towers
Statistics
Category
County
Coordinates
Grid
Condition
Age
Cost
Roman
Kent

-
Ruined
210
Free
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  • History
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Reculver Towers are located at Reculver which is close to Herne Bay in Kent. The towers are from a ruined church which was built on the site of a prehistoric village, a Roman fort and later an Saxon shore fort. The ruined church sits on the edge of a small cliff due to coastal erosion, but in Roman times it sat on the northward end of the Wantsum Channel which separated the Isle of Thanet from the main land. The Roman fort was called Regulbium and is thought to have controlled shipping in the channel.

An archaeological dig at Reculver found a pre-historic settlement under the later Roman fort. The Roman fort was built around the year 210 to control the shipping in the Wantsum Channel and the River Medway with a watch tower but also to protect a light house also built on the same site. Around the year 300, Carausius, a Roman naval commander took control of the fort in an effort to stop pirate attacks on shipping and various ports in the country. He set up a new chain of command which saw the beginning of the Saxon Shore Forts, a protective string of forts around the coast.

As the Roman empire fell, the Romans left the country leaving behind various forts and towns intact. The Anglo-Saxons made use of these forts, building churches and fortified settlements reusing many of the building materials. King Ecgberht set aside the land at Reculver for a monastery to be built around the year 669. This became an important site and was even mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon chronicles when Bede spoke about its abbot, Bertwald who became the archbishop of Canterbury. The abbey was gone by the 10th, the reasons are unknown but it is thought that repeated Viking raids was to blame.

The remaining church on the site became St Mary's in the mid 10th century and over time the church was rebuilt and additions made. The towers were added in the 12th century and it was claimed to have spires added to the towers in the 15th century and became known as the 'twin sisters'. Coastal erosion became a major problem at Reculver, the village around the church was abandoned in the 18th century and the church was demolished. The twin towers were kept navigational aids through the intervention of Trinity House but a storm in 1819 destroyed the spires and Trinity House replaced them with similarly shaped, open structures, topped by wind vanes. These structures remained until they were removed between 1925 and 1931.

During World War II the bouncing bomb was tested at Reculver and at Chesil Beach. These bombs were filled with chalk and concrete and finally with explosives. The bombs became known as 'upkeep' and were used successfully in the dambuster raids by the Raf 617 squadron in operation Chastise, which targeted dams in the Ruhr district of Germany on 17 May 1943 using a formation of Lancaster bombers led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. A Lancaster bomber over flew the Reculver testing site to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the exploit on 17 May 2003. Wing Commander Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the raids. In 1997 four of the prototype bouncing bombs were discovered at Reculver, these were washed up close to the shore sitting in the mud, clearly visible at low tide. These four ton bombs were recovered and are now on display, one in Herne Bay Museum, one at Dover Castle and another at the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum at Raf Manston.

The site of the church at Reculver is managed by English Heritage. New sea defences were built in the 1990s and a visitor centre in Reculver Country Park, just west of Reculver church, highlights the significant archaeological, historical, geological and wildlife conservation value of the area.

Notes

The sound of a crying baby can be heard in the grounds of the fort and amongst the ruins of the church. Infant skeletons were found in the 1960's under the walls of the Roman barrack blocks.