Deal Castle

In 1538 France and Spain formed an alliance, after King Henry VIII of England embraced protestantism and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Faced with the threat of invasion from this catholic alliance, Henry VIII began constructing many coastal forts and blockhouses to protect the south coast. Deal Castle was designed by Stephen von Haschenperg, a German in the service of Henry VIII, and it is the largest and most impressive of the device forts.

Scale model of Deal Castle.

The coast of east Kent provided an excellent landing place, being close to the continent, sheltered by the Goodwin Sands and having long beaches. In 1539 it was decided that a chain of three coastal forts would be built at Sandown, Deal and Walmer.

They would be designed to support each other, and they would be linked by a line of entrenchments. Deal Castle was the largest of these forts, mounting over 100 guns on three tiers of semi-circular bastions.

The unusual design of the castle is said to have been an attempt to emulate the form of the Tudor Rose, the emblem of the royal family. The rounded walls allow much more flexible fields of fire against moveable targets - naval ships.

Guns on one of the outer bastions.

The platforms on top of the outer bastions sloped outwards so that the guns rolled back to the walls after recoiling. They have no embrasures, probably because the ability to move guns around the bastions to meet different targets was considerd more valuable than protection from relatively inaccurate fire from the decks of rocking ships that would have been offered by embrasures.

The ditch in front of the seaward bastions of the fortress.

At the foot of the outer bastions there is a large, wide ditch to stop attackers from reaching the walls. The outer bastions have gunports (like loopholes) to allow musket fire to cover the ditch. There is a sally port between two bastions to give the defenders the ability to make counter attacks into the ditch.

Behind the outer bastions there was an 'inner ditch', covered by gunports from the inner fortress. This permitted the garrison to abandon the outer bastions and retreat inside the inner defences if the enemy had breached the walls. These consisted of a large central circular tower surrounded by 6 rounded bastions, which could carry guns and commanded the outer bastions. It seems likely that the crenellations currently visible on the inner walls and gatehouse were added in the 17th century, and replaced the original more convetional embrasures.

The inner ditch between the outer bastions and the inner defences.
The three tiers of Deal Castle.

Impressively, the castle was completed in 1540 after just one year's work. The immediate threat of invasion had pressed construction deadlines and the castle needed to be defensible as soon as possible. The basement of the fortress was a storage space for munitions and food, with a well for water.

The middle tier contained the kitchens and accomodation for the garrison, and the upper tier held the officers' quarters. The middle tier had two staircases leading upwards - one to the officers' rooms and one giving the gunners access to the roof without having to go through the officers' rooms.

The entrance to the castle traverses the westernmost outer bastion, which has an additional storey to give it extra strength. This gatehouse acts as a primitive demi-lune, and has a kinked entrance path to slow attackers. The holes above the gate suggest that ropes or chains were once used for a drawbridge.

The gatehouse and drawbridge.

Deal Castle saw action in the English Civil War, when the royalist garrison was besieged for several months in 1648. The officers' quarters were refurbished in the early 18th century and the captain's residence was destroyed by a German bomb in the Second World War, but apart from that and the newer crenellations, the castle is as it was in Tudor times.

Visiting Deal Castle

The rear of the gatehouse.

Deal Castle is a short distance from Deal station, and is easily accessible by road, with nearby parking. The castle is owned by English Heritage, who charge around £3 for entry.

There is an audio tour available in several languages, and a gift shop. Sadly, there is no access to the roof of the lower bastions or the central tower, which I found disappointing. Within walking distance (about 2km) are Walmer Castle and the remains of Sandown Castle (about 4km between Walmer and Sandown), both part of the same defensive system as Deal.

Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
10 7 7 9 7 8
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