Notes: Follow signs to Reculver with the distinctive towers being visible from some distance. A central (pay and display) car park provides parking directly adjacent to the fort.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The platform for an early third century Roman fort including some surviving sections of masonry. Much of the fort has fallen into the sea but the distinctive Reculver Towers, formerly from a twelfth century church built within the fort’s enclosure, is a notable landmark.
1. The Notitia Dignitatum lists nine forts under the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore. Three of the forts were constructed early in the third century AD - Brancaster, Caister and Reculver - and confirmed to traditional Roman military design, i.e. based on a 'playing card' shape. The reminder were constructed in the latter part of the third century and were defined by thicker/taller walls, semi-circular bastions and irregular layouts. The forts of the latter group were: Bradwell, Burgh, Dover, Lympne, Pevensey, Portchester and Richborough.
2. The garrison of Reculver was cohors I Baetasiorum, a unit of soldiers traditionally recruited in Germany. Previously they had been based at Maryport as part of the garrison manning Hadrian’s Wall and the associated sea defences.
Reculver Roman Fort Layout. The fort was constructed in a traditional configuration including angular turrets and rounded corners. Originally over a mile from the open sea, a significant proportion of the fort has been lost to coastal erosion.
Guarding the Wantsum channel from Saxon and Frankish raiders, Reculver Roman Fort was one of the first forts later associated with the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore. After the departure of the Romans it was abandoned but became home to a monastic community during the Dark Ages.
HISTORY OF RECULVER ROMAN FORT
Although there is some dispute amongst academics, the prevailing view is the Roman invasion of AD 43 initially landed around the Wantsum channel; defensive earthworks from the Claudian period found at both Richborough and Reculver support this. Whilst the former became the primary port of the new Roman province, Reculver also developed into a settlement probably surrounding a small harbour.
After the initial earthworks associated with the invasion force, no further fortifications are recorded at Reculver until AD 200. At this time the Romans established a fort here probably as a direct result of the increasing raids from Frankish and Saxon raiders. Reculver guarded the northern entrance to the Wantsum Channel which in Roman times was a major navigable route offering a huge sheltered harbour along with access to the Isle of Thanet and the River Stour (which at the time was navigable upto Canterbury). Known as Regulbium it was home to a garrison of cohors I Baetasiorum, 480 soldiers from western Germany.
Unlike later ‘Saxon shore’ forts, Reculver conformed to normal Roman military designs. The fort’s enclosure consisted of stone walls backed by an earth bank and was configured with rounded corners with angular turrets in each. A gatehouse was positioned in the centre of each side and a double set of ditches - optimised for projectiles being thrown from the ramparts - surrounded the complex. Internally the centre was a Headquarters building and a house for the Commanding Officer whilst the quadrants were populated by barracks, workshops and granaries.
The fort was later paired with Richborough Fort, built around AD 285 and positioned on the south side of the channel, and was eventually incorporated into the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore. This military command of the late Roman era was designed to counter the increasingly vicious attacks of Saxon raiders and was a chain of at least nine forts – and probably numerous other signal stations and auxiliary sites – used to protect key inlets which led far inland to mainland Britain.
The site was abandoned around AD 375 seemingly well in advance of Roman army withdrawal from Britain in the early fifth century. However in the seventh century it was granted by King Ecgberht of Kent to St Augustine's abbey in Canterbury. Re-using the stone of the Roman fort, a priest named Bassa built a monastic church here in AD 669 but was ultimately abandoned with the increasing regularity of Viking raids in the ninth century. Thereafter it was re-occupied in the twelfth century when a new church, with the distinctive towers seen today, was constructed. This remained in use until coastal erosion forced its abandonment in the early nineteenth century. The church was demolished but the towers were left intact as an aid for shipping.
The site saw a brief return to military use during World War II when it was used as a test site for Barnes Wallis's 'dam busting' bouncing bombs; the remote location, shallow water and clearly visible church towers made it an ideal for this purpose.