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Walmer Castle

Walmer Castle was built in 1539–40 as one of a chain of coastal artillery forts begun by Henry VIII in the late 1530s in the face of threatened invasion by Spain. From 1708 it became the official residence of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports, a position occupied by many distinguished people including the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It was adapted over the years to make it a more comfortable and fashionable home.

TUDOR FORTRESS

Walmer, together with its larger neighbour, Deal Castle, and the now largely vanished Sandown Castle, was sited to control the Downs, the sheltered area of water between the shore and the Goodwin Sands.

When the Tudor fort was built, it was to a state-of-the-art design. A squat circular keep, surrounded by a narrow courtyard, was protected by a concentric outer wall, from which four curved bastions projected to form roughly the shape of a clover leaf. The western bastion incorporates a gatehouse leading to a drawbridge over the moat.

The castle’s low height made it a difficult target to attack from the sea, and its curved walls were well equipped to deflect gunfire. Despite later alterations, the plan and structure of the Henrician fort are still largely intact.

The castle only once saw action, in 1648, when the castles of the Downs were occupied by Royalists during the Civil War. Parliamentarian forces besieged Walmer for about four weeks before the garrison surrendered, probably because of a lack of provisions. Deal and Sandown surrendered six weeks later.

GARDENS

As Walmer evolved from defensive castle to country residence, so the gardens developed with it. Formal gardens to the south and east of the castle are largely the result of efforts by William Pitt and his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope, who lived with him in the 1790s and early 19th century.

A survey of 1859 shows a well-established shelter belt of mature trees, the twin ovals of lawn, the kitchen and walled gardens and the paddock, now a wildflower garden. The dense shelter belt protects Walmer from the prevailing south-westerly winds.

In the second half of the 19th century Earl Granville did much to improve the grounds, laying out the gravel walk west of the castle now known as the Broadwalk, flanked by herbaceous borders and great yew hedges.

In 1997 Penelope Hobhouse created a new garden within the 19th-century walled garden to commemorate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s tenure as Lord Warden and to celebrate her 95th birthday.

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