The historic Deal Castle
Deal Castle, sitting right on the coast and enjoying enviable views out over the English Channel, has a rich and fascinating history. It was built on the orders of Henry VIII between 1539 and 1540, and its main reason for being was as a sea defence against various threatening invaders who had been incensed by Henry’s treatment of the Catholic Church. When Henry created the Church of England, and ignored the wishes of the Pope and the teachings of Catholicism, he made many enemies, and it was England that was set to pay for his actions.
Deal Castle, along with Walmer Castle further down the coast and Sandown Castle on the other side of the town, were East Kent’s main defence against attack. Deal Castle was built to survive any assault, and the methods employed were state of the art in the 16th century. The moat surrounding the castle wasn’t meant for water – its shape and the vertical walls mean that it was solely put there to keep invaders out. There also used to be a drawbridge system in place, so that when the bridge was up, it was almost impossible for anyone to get in.
In addition, a portcullis was in operation, giving even more security to the castle. Whilst the invading forces were trying to get in, the soldiers inside the fortress could fire down on them, picking them off easily not only from the battlements themselves, but also by using the large holes that were built into the brickwork (from here they could drop missiles directly onto the enemies’ heads). And of course, with such a clear view out to sea, the castle was in the perfect position to use cannon to sink invading ships before they came too close.
It wasn’t until 1648, however, and the English Civil War, that Deal Castle was required to hold its own – initially reserved by Parliamentary forces as a place to sit should it be required, those same forces deserted to the Royalist cause, which brought the Parliamentarians rushing down to Deal. A three-month siege then took place, during which time Deal Castle suffered a large amount of damage, so much so that it had to be almost completely renovated after the war; the modernisation taking place from 1729 until 1732.
The castle was built to Henry’s exact specifications, but it is only from the air that the full beauty and ingenuity of the architecture can be appreciated. It’s built in the shape of Henry’s Tudor Rose, with six semi-circular bastions jutting out to give a full 360-degree view of the area around the castle. On the first floor, there are six more bastions, although smaller in size, attached to the castle keep. This gave an extra level of defence, and also meant that the interior of the castle was just that little big bigger than it would otherwise have been, allowing those living within it to be more comfortable.
Deal Castle is a fascinating place to visit. Although it may seem small when you arrive, once you step through the impressive gatehouse door and begin to explore, its corridors, passageways, extra rooms and secret staircases combine to make this an adventure for children and adults alike. It is even possible to walk – in semi darkness – around the entire circumference of the castle through a labyrinthine tunnel that literally takes you in circles. Giggles and shouts echo off the walls, and it is a creepy, yet exhilarating experience.
As well as being able to enjoy the castle rooms, there are interactive exhibitions set up that explain Henry VIII’s reasoning behind the fortress, about the building of the castle, and about the civil war when it really came into its own. The rooms themselves contain remnants of fireplaces, brick-built ovens, the remains of an old forge, and ancient military equipment. There is a beautiful and rather unexpected chapel of remembrance created by Field Marshall Sir John French after the First World War.
Deal Castle is a remarkable and surprising castle that holds many secrets and is well worth a look.
Entry prices: Adults £5.40, Children (5-15 years) £3.20
Opening times: 7 days a week, 10am-6pm
Deal Castle, Marine Road, Deal CT14 7BA
01304 372762 // www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/deal-castle