History Files
 
 

 

Castles of the British Isles

Photo Focus: Walmer Castle

by Peter Kessler, 27 March 2011. Updated 2 November 2021

 

Walmer Castle in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Walmer Castle lies between Victoria Road and the beach, in Lower Walmer, on the East Kent coast. Henry VIII ordered the castle to be built as part of a chain of coastal defence forts in response to the threat of invasion by Catholic forces.

The work was carried out between 1539-1540 along with similar work on Sandown and Deal castles to protect the good landing grounds and strategic anchorage between the Goodwin Sands and the coast, known as the Downs. Today the care of the castle is in the capable hands of English Heritage.

Walmer Castle in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The castle consists of a three-storey circular central tower surrounded by four low semicircular bastions connected by a curtain wall. The castle buildings were also protected by a stone-lined moat and there was a gatehouse in the north-western bastion. The gatehouse contained a number of defensive features which included eight murder holes.

Walmer Castle in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Rubble from the recently-demolished St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury is said to have been used in the construction, but the castle saw no action until 1648, during the English Civil War, when it was captured by Royalists and held for a number of weeks.

Since then, various repairs and alterations have been carried out on the castle, causing it to evolve over time from an artillery castle into an elegant residence.

Walmer Castle in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Around 1730 the castle was enlarged and converted into the official residence of the lord warden of the Cinque Ports. The lord warden at this time was the duke of Dorset, but one more famous resident lord warden was the duke of Wellington in his later days. He actually died in residence in the castle.

Walmer Castle in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Important alterations were carried out in 1874 when the residence was enlarged by G Devey for Lord Granville. During the Second World War a pillbox was established in the northern meadow.

Walmer Castle in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The semi-circular bastions originally had heavy gun platforms on their upper levels. The lower levels of the outer wall have gun loops or ports which provided flanking cover for the bottom of the moat, which was filled until about 1800. Contemporary illustrations show that the central tower and bastions were originally capped by broad rounded parapets pierced by gun embrasures.

Walmer was linked to its sister castles of Deal and Sandown by a series of bulwarks, all three having been built around the same time.

 

All photos by P L Kessler, taken in February 2011.

Main Sources

PastScape

English Heritage

 

Images and text copyright © P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.