In 1539-1540 King Henry VIII carried out an enormous programme of defensive building round the eastern and southern coasts of England. Having renounced catholicism, he was expecting invasion from his old enemies, the catholic countries of France and Spain. On the vulnerable open beaches of this area, he established the three 'Castles in the Downs' Deal, Sandown and Walmer, using any materials available, including stone and other materials from the catholic monastic buildings of Kent that he had closed down. Carved fragments of the monastic buildings can still be seen in the walls.
The castles were built to a revolutionary design being intended to engage in short, violent action against an invading enemy rather than to withstand long sieges. They were built low to provide the minimum target for ships' guns while offering a clear view for their own guns. They had no flat or angular surfaces as rounded walls would deflect most cannon balls without damage. Each castle was staffed with a captain and gunners.bbn
The basic design has a hollow stone central keep in the form of a cylinder with 14 feet thick walls and a well of water at its base. Inside there was basic living accommodation and gun positions at the top. Semi-circular lunettes, or bastions, were built
against the circular wall of the keep and were provided with strong platforms on which the heavy guns were mounted. The entrance door is studded with 1,200 bolts to deflect the axes of any invader and, above it, are the "murder holes" from which quicklime or missiles would be dropped onto attackers.
Deal was the central and the largest of the three castles. It has six main lunettes for the heavy guns and, interspaced between them, six smaller lunettes from which hand guns could be used against enemy troops who had breached the outer defences. These lunettes give the castle its distinctive 'Tudor Rose' shape. The captain of Deal was senior to, and in charge of, the Captains at Walmer and Sandown, though all three castles were responsible to the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, who is also Governor of Dover Castle.
The Castle never figured in any important hostile action apart from a brief period when it was attacked and briefly captured by Royalist troops in the Civil War in 1648, having surrendered to the Parliamentarians in 1642. The Castle was garrisoned and modified during the Napoleonic Wars, when invasion again threatened.
The Castle is now preserved by English Heritage and is open to the public.
( photo captions )
- Julius Caesar who first of ye Romans sate foot in this Kingdom landed with his legions between Walmer & this
Place by Ninnius called Dole, from its Situation upon a low open plain, where he was warmly received by ye Britains. Leland in his Cygnaea Cantio observes His Trophys graced this Town; & a Table hanging in Dover Castle confirms it AD.1539 On ye Suppression of ye Monastasteries, while ye Commissioners were receiving ye Surrenders, K. Hen. VIII caused a Report to be spread, that ye Kingdom was to be invaded; to confirm it in Person visited ye Coasts & commanded Forts & Redoubts to be built, at which time this Castle was Erected. Engraving by S. & N. Buck
- Deal Castle, 1841
- Deal Castle c.1880 showing the Captain's house on the seaward side.