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During the Iron Age (-AD 43) individual settlements were fortified for protection from seaborne raiders such as that which existed at Hengistbury Head (Bournemouth), Dorset. How much communication and co-operation between such Iron Age ports is not known, but probably it was minimal if it existed at all.

Persistent Saxon raids during the Roman occupation of Britain (AD 43-410) led to the appointment of a "Count of the Saxon Shore" charged with defending the south-east coasts of Britain against the raiders.

The departure of the Romans left England open to gradual conquest by the Saxons who did not unify the country until late in the ninth century. They in, their turn, were plagued by the destructive raids of the "Danes" or "Vikings" who made deep inroads from the coasts along England's many navigable rivers. The county levies were organised as a defence against the raiders but, ultimately, relied on the walled towns or "burghs" such as Christchurch, Poole and Wareham, ordered by Alfred the Great, king of Wessex (c.871-c.901).

The French possessions of the English kings of the Middle Ages necessitated frequent crossing of (and warfare across) the English Channel for which the monarch relied on the ships and men of the Cinque Ports federation stretched along the south-east coast from Aldeborough to Poole.

Fearfull of a possible French invasion, Henry VIII (1509-1547) invested some of the great wealth created by the dissolution of the monastic houses to build an extensive chain of forts along the south coast. He also understood the need to control the seas and built up a strong navy. It was the navy which his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), relied on to disperse the Spanish Armada assembled to invade England in 1688, the high points of the south coast being equiped with alarm beacons to warn of the arrival of the Spanish naval force.

The fate of coastal defences ebbed and rose with the threat of invasion, repaired and improved in times of threat, almost forgotten in periods of comparative peace. Threat of invasion by Napoleon caused a line of "Martello Towers" to be constructed along the south-east coast about the turn of the nineteenth century. The Royal Military Canal was built to serve as a ditch defending Romney Marsh in Kent and roads such as the A27 were costructed or improved to enable the rapid movement of troops along the coast.

The unprecedented scale of World War II (1938-1945) was reflected in Britain's defences against attack on land, sea and in the air. The war has left an extensive range of relics, not least the many wrecks sunk during both world wars off the South Coast (over one hundred and fifty off the Dorset coast alone).

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Military Defences

To defend the country against the danger of invasion from continental Europe and particularly from France, Henry VIII built some twenty castles along the South Coast. Examples are;-

Poole Harbour
Brownsea Castle

On the southern extremity of Brownsea Island, to command shipping entering and leaving the narrow mouth of the harbour between Sandbanks and the Studland Peninsula. The castle burnt down in 1896 and was subsequently rebuilt.

Portland Castle

Portland Castle (1539) to the north of the headland, protecting the great natural harbour which is part of Weymouth Bay, cost less than £5,000 to build and is still in use. Designed for ordnance in times when archers were still important in warfare, it comprises a two-storey tower, a casement for the main battery and wings for garrison quarters.

Sandsfoot Castle

Built in 1539 to protect the great natural harbour which is part of Weymouth Bay from the north, is now a ruin.

Hurst Castle

Protecting the Solent.

Deal Castle

nr. Deal.

Sandown Castle

nr. Deal, now washed away by the sea.

Walmer Castle

nr. Deal, the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

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