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Tower keep castle at West Malling

A Scheduled Monument in West Malling, Kent

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Latitude: 51.2882 / 51°17'17"N

Longitude: 0.4023 / 0°24'8"E

OS Eastings: 567608.463196

OS Northings: 157081.831934

OS Grid: TQ676570

Mapcode National: GBR NPK.0KF

Mapcode Global: VHJM4.XWJB

Entry Name: Tower keep castle at West Malling

Scheduled Date: 13 January 1915

Last Amended: 22 January 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013382

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27016

County: Kent

Civil Parish: West Malling

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: West Malling St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Rochester


The monument includes a tower keep castle, known as St Leonard's Tower,
situated on a natural sandstone ledge near the head of a narrow valley on the
south western edge of the village of West Malling. The castle was built
between 1077-1108 by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, who also founded St Mary's
Abbey situated around 700m to the north east.
The castle survives as a ruin and in the form of associated earthworks and
buried remains. Its most prominent feature is the tall, square ruined keep,
constructed of coursed Kentish ragstone rubble, in which some herringbone work
is visible, with tufa ashlar dressings. The walls are c.2m thick, with each
face measuring around 9.75m in length at the base. Additional support is
provided by corner pilaster buttresses and a central buttress on the south
eastern face. The keep survives to a height of up to 20m and originally
contained a basement and three floors, although only the outer walls are
extant. The original entrance was through the north eastern face at first
floor level around 3m above the ground and was reached by a wooden staircase
which does not survive. This has been blocked and a new round-headed archway
pierced through the south western face at ground level. The upper floors of
the keep provided accommodation for the bishop whilst his servants would have
been housed on the first floor. Battlements and a fighting platform originally
topped the keep, although these have been destroyed. Access to the upper
floors was provided by a spiral staircase housed in an external angled turret
pierced by arrow loops attached to the north western corner.
The keep is lit by round-headed windows. The north eastern face is the most
ornate with five round-headed arches at second floor level, of which the outer
four are blind, headed at third floor level by two further windows. This
arrangement is continued on the south eastern face with a blind arcade of four
arched openings with one window over.
Associated with the keep are two low stretches of medieval walling
incorporated within a later, post-medieval garden boundary wall running for
c.39m towards the north east from the north eastern corner of the keep. The
first stretch of medieval walling forms the first few courses of the garden
wall and runs for around 23m from the keep. Traces of herringbone work
indicate an 11th or 12th century date. The second stretch is shorter and lies
around 5m to the north east. Both will date to the period in which the castle
was occupied and have been interpreted as forming part of an enclosure
attached to the castle or a forebuilding designed to protect the original
entrance to the keep. Surrounding the keep to the east, south and west is a
roughly rectangular area of undulating ground which will contain traces of
buried structures, including timber service buildings, artefacts and
environmental evidence associated with the castle.
The monument is in the care of the Secretary of State and open to the public.
The castle keep is Listed Grade I.
Excluded from the scheduling are the modern concrete steps which lead up to
the keep entrance, the modern concrete path, the modern information board and
the modern wooden door to the keep, although the ground beneath all these
features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the
principal defensive feature. The keep may be free-standing or surrounded by a
defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes
are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of
various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be
defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into
the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a
gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops,
may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout
the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid-
15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were
constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new
creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading
families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are
widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh
border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable
diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With
other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to
the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative
centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles
generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a
valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and
defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining
significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

The tower keep castle at West Malling survives comparatively well as a ruined
structure and in the form of associated buried and earthwork remains. It is an
early example of this type of castle, providing evidence for Early Norman
architectural fashions and construction techniques. The castle is relatively
unusual in that its defences remained largely undeveloped during the later
medieval period, thereby better preserving its rare, early features. The
proximity of the monument to the nearby, associated contemporary nunnery, the
subject of a separate scheduling, provides evidence for West Malling's role
as a religious and administrative centre during the Norman period.

Source: Historic England


HPG IAM file, St Leonard's Tower, Davison, B K, EH memo B K Davison IAM to Mr Fidler, St Leonard's Tower, (1989)
ref 10, RCHME, TQ 65 NE 3,

Source: Historic England

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