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Artillery castle at Walmer

A Scheduled Monument in Walmer, Kent

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Latitude: 51.2006 / 51°12'2"N

Longitude: 1.402 / 1°24'7"E

OS Eastings: 637760.776987

OS Northings: 150096.081332

OS Grid: TR377500

Mapcode National: GBR X24.M97

Mapcode Global: VHMDN.821Z

Entry Name: Artillery castle at Walmer

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 28 June 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013381

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27015

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Walmer

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent


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.

Excluded from the scheduling are all parts of the castle in use as the Lord
Warden's apartments and the castle museum, the modern surfaces of all paths
and the causeway, all modern fixtures, fittings, railings, signs, the modern
wooden footbridge which spans the south western side of the moat and the
modern wooden ramp which leads down into the western side of the moat just to
the south of the causeway, although the structures and ground beneath all
these features 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.

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.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Walmer Castle and its Gardens, (1992)
Saunders, A D, Deal and Walmer Castles, (1982)

Source: Historic England

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