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Yarmouth Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

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Latitude: 50.7066 / 50°42'23"N

Longitude: -1.5 / 1°30'0"W

OS Eastings: 435399.277408

OS Northings: 89776.226291

OS Grid: SZ353897

Mapcode National: GBR 78Q.RJN

Mapcode Global: FRA 77R6.MG0

Entry Name: Yarmouth Castle

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 13 December 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009391

English Heritage Legacy ID: 22016

County: Isle of Wight

Civil Parish: Yarmouth

Built-Up Area: Yarmouth

Traditional County: Hampshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Isle of Wight

Church of England Parish: Yarmouth St James

Church of England Diocese: Portsmouth


The monument includes an artillery castle lying at the mouth of the River Yar
where it enters the sea on the north west side of the Isle of Wight. The
modern town of Yarmouth lies to the south and east of the castle.
The Castle which is a Listed Building Grade I, is stone built and square in
plan with a bastion of arrow-head shape at its south east corner. It has two
floors above the ground floor. The walls of the castle rise to c.30ft and are
washed by the sea on the north and west sides.

Within the walls, the castle consists of an embankment topped by a gun
platform on the northern, seaward side, behind which are ranges of rooms.
Originally the courtyard appears to have been central with a tier of guns set
on the upper floor of the surrounding ranges, but from the late 16th century
the present arrangement superseded this with the heaviest guns mounted on the
platform. The courtyard then took on its present form with a range of
buildings along the south wall. These were heightened and enlarged at the end
of the 16th century and again in the first half of the 17th century. The
original entrance gateway into the courtyard was on the east side. To the west
of the courtyard a small barrel-vaulted cellar, which was probably an original
powder magazine, has been fitted into the wall. Opposite are two more barrel-
vaulted compartments, which, until recently, contained circular powder
magazines. These were in existence in 1718 and are part of Holmes'
improvements. On the south side of the courtyard is the master gunner's house
which was originally of two storeys. This represents a good example of an
Elizabethan house plan of medieval derivation: the door led into a truncated
hall, communicating with a kitchen and service wing, which was formed in the
bastion, and a parlour on the side away from the door. A staircase rises from
the hall and leads to the chambers above it. At this first floor level the
chambers over the hall and parlour have been made into one. The uppermost
floor can now only be approached via the platform. This second floor has a
long room, dating to 1632, on its southern wall, and in front of this the one
surviving lodging room of the original two. The platform, covering the north
side of the second floor, was constructed between 1559 and 1565. It was built
to carry all the heavier armaments of the castle. The present parapet with
rounded internal angles of the wall was formed in 1813 and at the same time
the iron rails on which the gun carriages were traversed were established.
On the north side of the castle, two blocked gun ports of the first floor tier
may be seen. One is partly blocked by a pair of pointed buttresses which were
added in 1609. Towards the west side are two surviving arched gun ports of the
same tier as the blocked ones.

The south and east walls were flanked by a moat 9m wide, terminated by
continuations of the north and west walls. The moat can no longer be seen at
ground level, but survives as a buried feature. There was formerly an earthen
bulwark of Elizabethan date outside the moat and, more recently, an auxiliary
battery on the quay to the west.

The Castle was part of Henry VIII's defence against the French; indeed the
Isle of Wight had been attacked by them in 1545. The Castle was erected by
1547, when one thousand pounds was paid to George Mills for building works and
for the discharge of the soldiers guarding the operations. At that time it
contained three cannon and culverines and 12 smaller guns.
Henry's innovation of artillery castle building along the east and south
coasts of England had begun in 1538 on news of the `rapprochement' between the
Holy Roman Emperor and the King of France. These earlier castles all had low
round bastions to carry the guns. However, by 1545, this type of design was
being superseded by pointed or `arrow-head' bastions, which allowed complete
coverage of the walls by lateral fire with minimum exposure. Yarmouth Castle
has one `arrow-head' bastion, which has been identified as the earliest
surviving in England.

In 1558 Richard Worsley, a previous Captain of the Island under Henry but
dismissed by Queen Mary in 1553, was recalled by Elizabeth, and he immediately
surveyed, repaired and improved all the castles in the island. To him is
credited the creation of the platform on the seaward side and the abandonment
of the central courtyard. The existing house was also begun at this time. In
the later Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, the castle underwent frequent
modification. In 1587 when the Spanish Armada was imminent, some 50 pounds
worth of repairs was done, and in 1597-1598, when Spain had lost much of the
initiative of the war, a more elaborate addition was made. Besides further
repairs and a new building on the platform, an earthen bulwark, with bastions
and revelins for further guns, was constructed outside the moat. In 1599, 1603
and 1609 there were further repairs, the last included the addition of the two
corner buttresses. Soon after 1632 more work was carried out on the fort
including raising the parapet and the creation of the long room as a store
serving the platform.

During the Civil War the castle commanders were royalist, but the castle was
surrendered to the Parliamentarians without fighting. The fort's garrison
increased in size until with the Restoration came general disbanding of the
army, and in 1661 the garrison was dismissed. Eventually in 1669 Sir Robert
Holmes was appointed Captain of the Island, and he reorganised the defences.
It was during this time that the moat was filled in and a house, now the
George Hotel, built partly over it. The castle remained undisturbed throughout
the 18th century, while in 1813, towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the
parapet reached its present form with the rails laid down to take the
traversing platforms of four naval guns. In 1885 the authorities decided to
withdraw the garrison and dismantle the guns.

The Yarmouth Harbour Commissioner's Office and buildings belonging to the
George Hotel which lie on the south side of the castle and straddle the moat
are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath is included. All road
and pedestrian surfaces, and all modern fixtures and fittings are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them and the fabric to which
they are attached are included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Artillery castles were constructed as strong stone defensive structures
specifically to house heavy guns. Most date from the period of Henry VIII's
maritime defence programme between 1539 and 1545, though the earliest and
latest examples date from 1481 and 1561 respectively. They were usually sited
to protect a harbour entrance, anchorage or similar feature.
These monuments represent some of the earliest structures built exclusively
for the new use of artillery in warfare and can be attributed to a relatively
short time span in English history. Their architecture is specific in terms of
date and function and represents an important aspect of the development of
defensive structures generally.
Although documentary sources suggest that 36 examples originally existed, all
on the east, south and south east coasts of England, only 21 survive. All
examples are considered to be of national importance.

Yarmouth Castle is an imposing and well preserved example of an artillery
castle. Much of the castle stands in its early 17th century form and is in an
excellent state of preservation. It displays the earliest use of an `arrow-
head' bastion in England and as such is unique in the development of defensive
buildings in this country.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Rigold, S E, Yarmouth Castle, (1985), 14-18
Rigold, S E, Yarmouth Castle, (1985), 3-13

Source: Historic England

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