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Walmer Castle

In the civil parish of Walmer.
In the historic county of Kent.
Modern Authority of Kent.
1974 county of Kent.
Medieval County of Kent.

OS Map Grid Reference: TR37755010
Latitude 51.20056° Longitude 1.40203°

Walmer Castle has been described as a certain Artillery Fort.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The history and development of the artillery castle at Walmer is documented by many contemporary records and illustrations, providing evidence for the changing function of the monument over five centuries, and its association with many famous public figures as the official residence of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports. Despite substantial subsequent alterations, the monument survives comparatively well, retaining the greater part of its original fabric within the later additions. The castle is one of three making up a distinctive and well known group of coastal fortifications. Together these illustrate the strategic role assigned to this stretch of coast during the 16th century. The monument includes an artillery castle situated on the low-lying east Kent coast in the modern seaside town of Walmer. The castle is one of a group of three, the other two being located at Deal 2km to the north and Sandown 4km to the north, built between 1539-40 by Henry VIII in order to protect the shallow semi-sheltered anchorage between the Goodwin Sands and the coast, known as the Downs. This was of great strategic importance because, by the 16th century, there were few other safe places of refuge for ships along the channel coast between Kent and Portsmouth. The castles of the Downs were built in the face of the political crisis and consequent fear of invasion occasioned by the king's divorce of Catherine of Aragon in 1533. They were financed from the proceeds raised by the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The castle, which has been the subject of substantial alteration and repair over the centuries, is built of Kentish ragstone from local quarries and the sea shore, brick, and Caen stone reused from nearby disused religious houses. It was designed around an essentially circular, symmetrical plan and originally incorporated 39 positions for heavy guns and many smaller hand-gun embrasures on four tiers, although many have been altered over the centuries to form window openings. At the centre of the original castle is a three-storeyed circular citadel, or tower, originally with a central newel staircase, which no longer survives. This provided accommodation for the permanent garrison, originally a captain, deputy, porter, ten gunners and four soldiers, with the officers' accommodation on the first floor. The ground floor contained the kitchen. The rib-vaulted, brick-lined basement originally housed the well and was used to store ammunition and supplies. Surrounding the citadel, beyond a narrow circular ward, are four low semicircular bastions connected by a curtain wall. These provided platforms on their upper levels for heavy guns, now represented by 18th century cast-iron guns mounted on carriages. Within the outer wall of the basement of the bastions, facing into the moat, is a continuous gallery pierced by 32 hand-gun ports which gave enfilading coverage of the bottom of the moat. Vents over the ports were designed to draw off the gun smoke, and at irregular intervals in the wall behind are L-shaped ammunition lockers. Contemporary illustrations show that the citadel and bastions were originally capped by broad rounded parapets pierced by gun embrasures. These survive on the south western bastion, but, elsewhere, have been removed and replaced by battlements during alterations carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries. The castle buildings are further protected by a stone-lined dry moat, now forming part of the castle's gardens, up to 25m wide and 5m deep, originally crossed on its western, landward side by a wooden drawbridge, giving access to the gatehouse within the north western bastion. The drawbridge has been replaced by a stone causeway. Defensive features incorporated within the gatehouse include eight murder holes, or vents (through which offensive materials could be dropped on attackers) set in the ceiling of the entrance passage, and a staggered approach to the ward and citadel. The outer defences were originally augmented by a series of bulwarks, or earthen defences, built along the coast between the castle and its sister castles at Deal and Sandown, although these defences no longer survive. The castle saw no action until the Civil War when, during the Royalist revolt in Kent in 1648, the castles of the Downs were captured and held out against Parliamentary forces for several weeks. The garrison's accommodation was improved at the beginning of the 18th century by the construction of a two-storeyed, rectangular timber and weather-boarded block, known as the Gunners' Lodgings, across the upper level of the southern bastion. This building now houses part of the castle's collection of heirlooms. Since the early 18th century, Walmer Castle has been the official residence of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports, a life appointment in the gift of the Crown. Subsequent alterations during the 18th and 19th centuries were designed to create a residence perceived to be commensurate with the dignity of the largely honorary office. The first resident Lord Warden was the 1st Duke of Dorset (1703-13 and 1727-65) who arranged for the construction of a brick-built, battlemented block which extended at first floor level from the exterior wall of the citadel out onto the north eastern bastion. The most extensive alterations were carried out by Lord Granville, Lord Warden between 1865-91, who added to the height of the Tudor gatehouse by building a suite of 13 rooms above it in the late 1860s. He also continued to develop the late 18th century gardens to the west of the monument originally laid out for William Pitt the younger, Lord Warden from 1792-1805. The castle gardens are Listed in the English Heritage register of parks and gardens of special historic interest at Grade II. Another famous resident Lord Warden was the Duke of Wellington (1829-52) who died at the castle, Queen Victoria stayed at the castle in 1835 and 1842. The castle continues to form part of the Crown Estate and now houses a museum displaying the furniture and heirlooms accumulated over the years. The castle is in the care of the Secretary of State and open to the public. (Scheduling Report)

The southern end of the Downs coastal defenses, centred on Deal castle with Sandown castle at the northern end.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:06

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