Walmer Castle

Part of the Downs defensive system built during the reign of Henry VIII in response to the threat of a Spanish-French invasion, Walmer Castle is the southernmost of the three castles of the downs. The other two castles were Deal Castle (the largest of the three) and Sandown Castle (built to the same plan as Walmer).

Map of Walmer Castle in its original form.

Walmer Castle consisted of a central circular keep surrounded by four rounded bastions. This was a typical plan of a series of coastal forts (known as the device forts) built by Henry VIII's German-born engineer Stephen von Haschenperg.

Although they were designed to have low profiles and strong walls, these forts were weak because their rounded bastions did not allow complete coverage of the ditch. There was dead ground at the heads of the bastions, where the guns from the next bastion could not fire. In this dead ground an attacker could start to unermine the wall in relative safety from the defenders.

The castle is surrounded by a deep, wide ditch, with the counterscarp revetted in stone. This ditch prevented an enemy from easily reaching the walls, and hid the foot of the wall from enemy cannon. The ditch is covered by gunports in the lower storey of the fort.

Guns on one of the seaward outer bastions.
An outer bastion seen from the counterscarp. At the bottom are the gunports covering the ditch, above are the embrasures for guns and at the top are more guns on the terrace.

Above the gunports for muskets on the lower floor, there are embrasures for cannon on the upper floor. These embrasures allowed guns to fire just above the outer edge of the ditch. On the terrace on top of the bastion, more guns were mounted.

These guns were for long range fire against enemy ships. There were no embrasures on the top of the bastions, leaving the guns exposed but able to be moved around easily to fire from different positions.

As at Deal, behind the outer bastions there was an 'inner ditch' running around the central keep, although it has been built over in places in later years. This inner ditch was covered by gunports in the walls of the keep, and gave the defenders the option of retreating into the central fortress if the outer walls were breached.

View along the seaward side of the castle.
Left: an unaltered seaward bastion, centre: the northern 'gatehouse' bastion, which was altered as the castle became a residence. In the right background is a fake castellated wall, which was added in the 18th century.

In the English Civil War, a royalist garrison held out for three weeks when besieged by the Parliamentarians. In 1708, Walmer Castle became the reisidence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a series of large port towns in England given special priviledges by the crown.

As the castle became a residence, its military role was lost and it was transformed into a confortable home. The two landward bastions were built on top of to create more living space, and the inner ditch was built across in places. The seaward bastions were largely unaltered, serving as terraces, offering unrivaled views towards the sea.

An extra bridge was added at the southwest bastion to give access to the gardens, which were created by the Lords Warden. The interior has been converted from sparse garrison accommodation to a cosy living space for the rich.

The landward side of the castle viewed from the gardens. The gatehouse bastion is on the left, and the southwest bastion is on the right.

Famous past Lords Warden who lived in the castle include the British Prime Minister William Pitt the younger and the Duke of Wellington, who died there.

Visiting Walmer Castle

The new entrance to the south-west bastion, which has had an extra storey added.

Walmer Castle is on the coast, a short distance from Walmer station. It is within walking distance (2km) of Deal Castle, the largest of the castles of the downs. A further 2km from Deal Castle lie the ruins of Sandown Castle, which was identical to Walmer when constructed.

Walmer Castle is owned by English Heritage, with an entrance fee of about ú5 for the castle and the gardens. Much of the interior of the castle can also be visited, including the rooms of the Duke of Wellington - as they were at his death in 1852. The extensive gardens are well worth a wander, and there is a gift shop and tea shop in the castle.

Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
7 7 7 8 7 7.2
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