Walmer Castle gatehouse
The Queen Mother's Garden, Walmer Castle
Walmer Castle was built during the reign of Henry VIII as part of a chain of coastal artillery defences to meet his fears of a Catholic attack from Europe. It was the southernmost of three forts on this section of the Kent coast guarding a sheltered anchorage in the English Channel known as The Downs. The other two forts were Deal Castle which, like Walmer Castle, continues as a popular visitor attraction and Sandown Castle which, sadly, fell into disrepair. Today, little evidence remains apart from a few stones on the seafront at north Deal where the local community has created an attractive public garden.
The design of Walmer Castle comprises a circular central keep, encased by four outer bastions - one of which serves as a gatehouse. It is surrounded by a deep, wide moat. In the 18th- and 19th- centuries, the upper levels of the outer bastions were modified and apartments added, turning the Castle into an elegant home. In 1708 it became the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a role undertaken by many notable people since then.
Among these are William Pitt the Younger (Lord Warden from 1792 to 1806), The Duke of Wellington (1829 until 1852), high street stationer William Henry (W.H.) Smith (1891), former Australian prime minister Sir Robert Menzies (1966-1978) and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1978-2002). They and other Lord Wardens contributed to the development of the Castle in various ways. Today's visitors will find Pitt remembered in the Pitt Room where many items of his personal property are preserved. The fine gardens were designed by his niece Lady Hester Stanhope who, later, achieved fame through her visits to the Middle East.
Wellington's strong links with the Castle remain and pieces of furniture he used, such as the armchair in which he died on 14 September 1852 and his campaign bed, are on display along with many personal effects such as items of uniform and clothing including a pair of original "Wellington boots". The Duke entertained many famous people at the Castle - including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - and the rooms they occupied are maintained much as they were during their visit.
Another royal visitor was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who, as Lord Warden, regularly stayed at the Castle. Some of the rooms she used are open to visitors and the magnificent garden, created in celebration of her 95th birthday, is one of the highlights of the Castle grounds. These also include a commemorative lawn, woodland walk, croquet lawn, a working kitchen garden and substantial areas attracting wildlife and birds.
Visiting Walmer Castle
The entrance to Walmer Castle faces the seafront on Kingsdown Road, between Deal and Kingsdown village. It is well signposted from the A258 Dover Road in Walmer.
Operated by English Heritage, the Castle and gardens have a tearoom and gift shop and plants are often on sale. An audio tour is available to help visitors appreciate the Castle's history and features.
For more details of Walmer Castle, opening times, admission charges and events, see the English Heritage website.
The creation of the Sandown, Deal and Walmer Castles was accompanied by four blockhouses at strategic intervals between them plus a defensive ditch. A description and locations of the works feature in "Deal to Walmer, the castles, earthworks and bulwarks of the Downs, 1538-1540" by Jenny Wall (version 8, 2022).
The Wikipedia on-line encyclopaedia has a History of the Cinque Ports and a detailed history of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
updated 23 January 2023