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A Brief Introduction

Deal Castle is situated on the seafront of the Kentish town of Deal.The building of Deal Castle was commissioned by Henry VIII in the late 1530s against a threat of invasion by the catholic powers of Europe.This was one of many castles built along the South coast of England and was originally built to protect the Downs anchorage, and also the Kent coast itself. Together with Walmer and the now much destroyed castle at Sandown, Deal castle was an important link in the coastal defences of England...

The Keep

The Keep was not like the ones found in many castles. Unlike keeps found in medieval castles, the keep at Deal was used as a garrison, and not as a family home. This meant that accommodation was of a lower standard, for there were no children or dignitaries staying on a permanent basis.On the ground floor of the keep there are several gun ports where soldiers could sweep the courtyard with gun shots if attackers got inside the castle. There are several brick ovens in the wall indicating where the kitchens would have been. Round the corner from here there is a chapel. It was created by Field Marshall Sir John French after the First world War. During the sixteenth/seventeenth centuries, it is said that the soldiers from Deal worshipped at St. Leonard's church. This means that there was not a chapel during before the First World War. Through into the next room there is a fire place. Underneath it there is a pit, which suggests there may have been used as part of a forge, for maintaining weapons.


Entrance to Deal Castle

Originally the central staircase was a double staircase, with both sets of stairs starting from ground level. The staircase now though is only fifty years old, although there are still five of the original Tudor steps have been incorporated into the staircase. The first floor has some very nice timber panelling which was installed during the 1720s. By then the use of Deal castle as a fortress was declining, and it was felt by Admiral Sir John Norris that the need for better accommodation was just the same as defence. Before these timber panels there were Tudor Wattle and Daub walls. These walls were made out of upright stakes that have been bound together with strong and flexible willow twigs, and then covered in mud or plaster. The rooms on the first floor were probably used by the captain of the castle as private accommodation.

The basement of the keep would have been used to store food, fuel and ammunition. In the basement now there are exhibitions displaying information on Henry VIII and the history of Deal Castle. Also the well for the garrison is down here, and there is still water in it. In the exhibition you will also find a model of Deal castle explaining how the different parts of the castle would have been used.


Around the Castle

The Entrance to the castle is where the Gatehouse would have been situated. Leading up to the Gatehouse it is believed that there may have been a draw bridge where the now solid stone one exists. Although no-one knows whether this is the case, the two circular holes above the gate may have been used for ropes to raise and lower the bridge.Inside the entrance there are grooves in the wall which indicate that there would have been a portcullis here. Just in front of these grooves, in the roof of the passageway, there are fives holes which would have been used to drop objects or fire hand-guns on any would be attackers below. Behind these holes are two enormous oak doors, with iron studs almost covering them entirely. When you move through these doors and into the entrance hall, you will notice that the inner doors are off-set from the main ones. This was designed intentionally like this so that attackers would not be able to charge straight through and into the courtyard.

History of "Castles in the Downs"

Deal, Walmer and the much destroyed castle at Sandown were all known as the "castles in the Downs". These castles, (and the other coastal defences), were the first attempt to protect landing places along the coast since Roman forts of the Saxon Shore, which was over 1200yrs before.The two main Catholic powers of Europe signed a peace treaty in June 1538. This meant, that along with the publishing of the papal Bull at the same time as the treaty (this excommunicated Henry VIII), it became likely that there maybe an invasion by the Catholic Crusade. Ships from the Royal Navy were brought into commission, able-bodied men recruited, and weapons were looked for from Hamburg and Antwerp. A survey was made of the South coast  in February 1539, and Henry wanted to protect suitable invasion beaches, fleet anchorages, harbours and ports, and also the new dockyard at Portsmouth. In this survey it was found that the coast of Deal was very vulnerable, due to the fact that this part of Kent in close to mainland Europe, and the coast was made up of long shingle beaches, with deep water close to the shore, making an excellent landing place. One advantage Deal had was the Goodwin Sands which lie around six miles off-shore, and run parallel to the coast for about ten miles. The Downs, the stretch of water between the coast and the Goodwin Sands, is reasonably sheltered, making an excellent safe-haven for ships during stormy weather. Even today ships can be seen at anchor in this stretch of water.

From 1708, Walmer Castle has been the official residence of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, (who was originally situated at Dover Castle until the Duke of Dorset decided to move), and this castle was modified for a more peaceful role. Deal however, is the most unaltered of the "castles of the Downs", and has only had a few modifications, like the captain's house (which was destroyed during action in World War Two).    

Medieval castles generally had high outer walls, to give the archers additional range and to give protection to the buildings inside. These walls though were found to be weak protection against the developing heavy guns, and engineers had to find a new style of fortification. This is what happened at Deal. The walls were made lower than those of medieval castles, and were made very thick to increase their strength against enemy guns. The semi-circular bastions, surrounding a circular tower came from the design of circular gun towers used to protect harbours from hostile ships.


During the seventeenth century the "castles of the Downs" became in need of repair, and they found it hard to gain money from the King. The men's morale at the garrison was low, and French and Dutch ships using the Downs became very disrespectful to customs dictated, like dipping their national flags to the castles.In the 1620s and 30s many skirmishes took place between Dutch, French and Spanish ships, showing that they were ignoring English law which laid out that foreign ships must not engage in acts of war here. One incident involved the Dutch Admiral Martin van Tromp driving a fleet of Spanish ships into the Downs to prevent them from taking reinforcements to the low land countries. although a small

British fleet did try to stop the fighting, 24 Spanish and 2 Dutch ships ran ashore between the castles of Deal and Walmer, with Dover and Deal being filled with just over 2000 wounded and distressed sailors and troops.In the Civil war the "castles of the Downs" and the navy came into the control of parliment. Deal castle was given some money to fund repairs, and each of the three castles was strengthened by another ten gunners each. The first time the castles saw action was in 1648, many numbers of men in Kent did not like parliamentary rule and became royalists (on the side of the King). At Maidstone their revolt was suppressed, but on the coast the naval vessels in the Downs joined the royalists, and royalist forces had taken control of the three castles. The royalists were also trying to take control of Dover castle, but they did not suceed  when Fairfax sent colonel Rich to take control, which he did on 5th of June. After this he turned to the "castles of the downs" and it took almost a month for Walmer castle to be taken (15th June-12th July). The parliamentary forces then turned their attention to Deal and Sandown castles. Because the small parliamentary force could not surround both castles, the garrisons of each castle were able to aid each other. Out at sea the royalist warships arrived on the 15th July, but their attempts to land were stopped, so they had to bombard parlimentary positions around Deal castle. On the 16th though, thirty Flemish ships arrived with about 1500 men. With a foreign army on Kentish land, many people in Kent felt that this was not right, and Sir Michael Livesey was able to raise a big enough force to aid Colonel Rich in his attempts to take the two remaining castles.

Soon though the royalists ran out of funds to pay the 1500 mercenaries, and the Flemish headed back to Holland. On the 28th July, the royalist warships returned and for three weeks tried and failed to land and relieve the garrison at Deal. On the night of the 13th August, the royalists managed to land 800 soldiers and sailors, with the cover of darkness to help them.They may have been able to surprise attack the parliamentarians from behind, but a deserter alerted the parliamentaries, and the royalists were defeated, 300 fleeing to Sandown castle, whilst less than a hundred managed to get back to the ships.Soon after another landing attempt was made by the royalists, but again this failed. On the 23rd August an arrow was shot into Deal castle with the news that Oliver Cromwell had defeated the Scottish at Preston, Lancashire, ending most royalist hopes of victory. On the 25th August, the garrison surrendered, and then on the 5th September Sandown also surrendered, ending the Kentish rebellion.

After the capture of Deal castle, Colonel Rich was appointed captain, who spent around �500 repairing the castle, and held the position until 1653.This was really the only action the castle saw during its life time as a fortress, but it did protect ships during the Dutch and Napoleonic wars, but saw no action then. After the castle was modernised and a captain's house built, the only major incident to take place was the destruction of the captain's house by a German bomber during the Second World War. The two highest ranking captains of the castle were Field Marshalls Sir John French (1923-25) and Allenby (1925-26).The castle was stopped living in permanently at the start of the Second World War.

The castle is now cared for by English Heritage who also look after many other places like Walmer Castle and Dover Castle.