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Walmer Castle


Gardens and grounds from the 18th and 19th century surround the castle, which was begun by Henry VIII in 1539. The gardens include a commemorative lawn, woodland walk, croquet lawn and working kitchen garden. The gardens are set in a wider landscape of ornamental woodland of 8.5 hectares and meadows of 7 hectares.


The north-east half of the site lies on the narrow, level coastal strip, the land rising gently to the south-west onto the edge of the dip-slope of the North Downs.

The gardens extend to 20 hectares and there are four main categories:

1. The formal/semi-formal areas around the castle and especially on the south-west and west side away from the sea. There are well-mown grass moats and courts, considerable planting of roses, shrubs, herbaceous and bedding plants. Figs are especially noted, and leading away from the main castle down into the garden there is a wide, bold double border with a gravel path and backed by a fine old yew hedge. Beyond, the broad flights of steps ascend to a formal bedded flower garden, recently enclosed with a beech hedge.

There are extensive mown lawns and tall 60-80 foot trees of the Pitt or Granville eras. Lime is especially dominant, with beeches, sycamore and yews. Trees in this area have been planted by past and present Lord Wardens. Eight large trees (mostly yew) have been lost in the more immediate vicinity of the Castle. All damage here has been cleared up and re-planting and re-designing is in operation.

2. The wild garden. The steps and mown grass lead via a gate into a wilderness area, of the late Victorian or Edwardian era. Scattered trees and shrubs of the bulky evergreen municipal parks type are in long scythed grass. There are laurels (Laurus species) and hollies beneath more fine trees including massive cedars and a redwood or two. Beech and sycamore seedlings are regenerating here. Paths wander through the woods and one forgets one is close to the breezy channel coast. This area has been quite badly storm-hit and is being cleared.

3. Canopy woodland. Further to the west and south-west the gentle slope that rises from the castle ends in a small promontory on which mature woodland of the beech/yew type grows well. There are beeches up to 90 feet high on chalky soils here, with dense groups of yews and an under-storey of holly, dogs mercury and butchers broom. These point to this being woodland of some age and size.

The land falls away abruptly to the west beyond the boundaries of the castle estate. This woodland has remarkable stature and atmosphere for such a maritime feature. Sadly, it has been badly affected by the 1987 storms. At least 50% of trees are irrevocably damaged or have fallen. Plans are afoot to convert an old chalkpit (used for lime to construct the castle) to a woodland dell.

4. Parkland. To the north-west of the garden lies an extensive area of pasture and ancient trees, mostly holm oaks of the 18th-century style, grazed by cattle owned by a tenant farmer.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

A late 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century formal and ornamental garden associated with a 16th-century moated castle, with features designed by William Pitt and by the 19th-century horticulturalist, William Masters and set in 19th-century parkland.


Walmer Castle lies between the eastern edge of Walmer village and the B2057 north/south coast road from Deal to Kingsdown. The registered area comprises 6.5ha of formal and wooded ornamental gardens and 6.5ha of parkland and meadows. The north-east half of the site lies on the narrow, level coastal strip, the land rising gently to the south-west onto the edge of the dip-slope of the North Downs and, beyond the site boundary, an open landscape of rolling, arable farmland. The iron-fenced parkland is bounded to the north-west and north by minor roads and the housing of Walmer village. To the south, the fenced woodland belt within the site is bounded by a public footpath and the rear gardens of properties on Hawks Hill Road, with the open countryside of Hawkshill Down beyond. To the east, the partly wooded, iron-fenced boundary abuts the coast road, which is separated from the beach by a bank of shingle.


The site is approached from the B2057, Kingsdown Road. A gravelled drive enters through wrought-iron gates hung on brick piers with stone ball finials, then swings c 60m south-westwards to the Castle. The entrance, which remains in its original C16 position, is through the gatehouse in the north bastion, which is approached across the moat on a bridge and drawbridge (Campbell 1984) although in the C19 the principal approach drive was from the north-west across Castle Meadow (Tithe map, 1844). The present double avenue of holm oak lining this route was planted in 1866 by William Masters (1796-1874) of Exotic Nurseries, Canterbury, for the second Earl of Granville, some trees subsequently being felled at various times in the C20 (Campbell 1984) and replacement planting being carried out in the late 1980s. The avenue remained the principal approach until superceded by the present drive, also shown on the Tithe map, in the 1950s.


Walmer Castle stands at the extreme eastern edge of the site, on level ground and looking out over the coast road and the shingle beach to the sea. It is set within a deep, circular moat and is built of stone to a quatrefoil plan in which a central, circular keep is surrounded by an open courtyard protected by a concentric curtain wall from which four bastions project. The first alterations to adapt the Castle to a residence were during the various periods of tenure of the Duke of Dorset, from 1708 until his death in 1765. He built out from the keep over the bastions to increase the number of first-floor rooms (illustration by J and N Buck, 1735, reproduced in guidebook) and in c 1730 added a two-storey weatherboarded house for a Gunners' Lodging at the rear of the south bastion. Interior alterations were made in 1746 to create the East and West Lounges and in 1874 the second Earl of Granville commissioned George Devey (1820-86) to build extra rooms over the gatehouse bastion using stone from Sandown Castle, then being demolished.


The formal gardens and pleasure grounds extend south-westwards from the Castle and also lie within the moat. The moat, divided into four sections by walls and the drawbridge, is laid out to a broad continuous ribbon of lawn, flanked by serpentine beds of banked shrubbery against the inner curtain wall. The moat appears on the Buck engraving of 1735 (guidebook) and is first recorded as being gardened in 1852 when described as the Duke of Wellington's kitchen garden (Campbell 1984). It was extensively planted ornamentally in the second half of the C19 on the advice of George Devey but the greater part of this planting and the central path shown on the 1863 plan had been removed by 1937. The moat garden was replanted after the Second World War, but largely cleared again in 1980 before the present shrubbery was laid out.

The gardens are approached across a timber bridge spanning the moat from the south-west side of the south bastion. A gravel path flanked by yew hedging and shrubbery follows the curve of the moat wall 15m northwards to the Broad Walk, which forms the north-east section of the principal axis of the gardens. The wide, gravelled walk, lined with 3m wide herbaceous borders and backed by high, massive sculpted yew hedges, was designed and planted in 1866 by William Masters, the borders originally containing annuals and standard roses and the yew hedges being formally clipped (photograph of 1898, in Campbell 1984). Altered c 1916 to the present herbaceous planting, by 1959 the clipped hedges had adopted their present naturalistic, loose form. North of the Broad Walk, the axis extends over two terraces, defined by grass banks and framed by mature trees to north and south. The lower terrace is broadly rectangular and laid out to a croquet lawn, while the upper one, planted as a parterre with annuals and with a central sundial, is semicircular in shape and enclosed on the south-west side by a clipped hedge, replanted in the late 1980s. The terraces were cut from the former Paddock by Masters in 1867 (Campbell 1984) and are shown on the 1st edition OS map surveyed in 1872. Their two axial flights of connecting stone steps were built in the 1920s by Lord Beauchamp, who also modified the shape of the lower terrace for tennis and croquet. An iron gate set within the enclosing hedge leads the axis south-westwards out into the Paddock.

South of the Broad Walk, the path around the outer wall of the moat leads south-westwards on to the c 100m long Oval Lawn, the shape of which is first shown on the Tithe map of 1844, although its design is attributed to William Pitt (ibid). The lawn, now (1997) used for concerts and as an informal picnic area, is enclosed by 2m tall yew hedges, shown as a double line of trees on an estate plan of 1863 (Beresford 1995), and is dotted with trees of mixed age and species including yew, a large central lime (its planting attributed to Pitt), sweet chestnut, and holly. East of the Oval Lawn, immediately south of the moat wall and enclosed on its north, east, and south sides by high, castellated red-brick walls, is the Queen Mother's Garden. Opened in 1997, it is laid out with a central, 28m long lily pool, overlooked at the north end by an arcaded summerhouse and flanked with broad panels of lawn, surrounded by gravelled walks and broad mixed borders. At the south end, facing the summerhouse, is a turf mount, crowned with yews clipped to form a castle. The rectangular outline of the present garden is first shown on a conveyancing plan of 1810 (ibid) and was probably laid out by Pitt. By 1844 (Tithe map) it had become a formal garden, divided into quadrants, although the brick walls are not clearly depicted until the plan of 1863. In the 1920s, although still referred to as the Kitchen Garden, it was turned into tennis courts, the hard surface of which was grassed over in 1959 (Campbell 1984).

Between the Oval Lawn and the Queen Mother's Garden, the Woodland Walk leads around the entire southern and western perimeter of the grounds through a belt of mixed-age trees and an understorey of shrubbery and drawn-up yews. The tree belt, which was first planted in the late C18 by Pitt as a shelter belt on newly leased open parkland, had become dense woodland by 1863 (estate plan) and is now (1997) dominated by beech, ash, and chestnut. It suffered extensive damage in the storm of 1987 and was replanted in the 1990s. The tree belt forms the southern and western boundary of the Paddock, an oval-shaped open meadow dotted with several groups of trees and first shown on the 1844 Tithe map. In the 1860s, it was recommended by William Masters as the site for a pinetum and was planted with pines, cypresses, and holm oak, a few of which survive (1997). In the 1920s, Lord Beauchamp added shrub planting to integrate the Paddock with the garden and the axis on the Broad Walk was given a focus by a statue of Mercury (100m south-west of the terrace), replaced in 1968 by the present cherub on a pedestal (Campbell 1984). In the north-west corner of the gardens, the Woodland Walk leads past The Glen, a former chalk pit, now (1997) heavily overgrown with trees and understorey, laid out in c 1805 by Lady Hester Stanhope as a natural garden of 'creepers, furze and broom' (Lady Stanhope's correspondence, quoted in Campbell 1984). It is intended to restore the planting and path system of The Glen.


The grounds north of the gardens, named as Castle Meadow on the Tithe map of 1844, are open in character and mostly grazed. They are enclosed to the north-west, north, and east by iron-railed estate fencing and, on the Granville Road boundary to the north, by Meadow Plantation which is shown on the 1844 Tithe map and which was largely replanted after the 1987 storm. There is a scattered line of pines along the eastern boundary and the meadows are screened along their southern boundary from the Paddock by ribbon shelter belts planted during Lord Granville's tenure in the late C19 (Campbell 1984). The land now forming Castle Meadow was purchased by Lord Liverpool from the Leith Estates in the early C19 and placed in a trust for the use of future Lords Warden. The area immediately to the north of the kitchen garden and yards forms the present (1997) car park.


The kitchen garden lies on the north side of the Broad Walk and is divided by a secondary, south-westerly, grassed axial path. It is enclosed along its north side by lean-to glasshouses, built against the red-brick stable block, which are shown established by 1906 (OS) and which were enlarged and extended in the 1930s. The eastern half of the garden is divided into two rectangles, edged along the axial path by dwarf box and espaliered fruit trees and laid out to vegetables and cut flowers, while the western half is laid to grass with orchard trees. The kitchen garden is first recorded on a plan of 1725 as the Governor's Garden and was laid out during Pitt's tenure as Lord Warden (Campbell 1984). By 1844 (Tithe map), the stables and sheds had been built and by 1863 (estate plan) the garden was divided into four quadrants by paths edged with trees. It was reduced to its present size in the 1860s by the establishment of the Broad Walk on its southern edge.


Country Life, 46 (1 November 1919), pp 552-7

J Newman, The Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald (1969), pp 470-1

O Campbell, The Landscape of Walmer Castle, (HBMCE 1984)

Walmer Castle and Gardens, guidebook, (English Heritage 1992)

Walmer Castle, Gardens and Estate, Background report for Commission tour, (English Heritage 1995) [copy on EH file]

C Beresford, Walmer Castle: Walled Garden Outline History of Development, (report for English Heritage 1995) [copy on EH file]


OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1871-2, published 1887

OS 25" to 1 mile:

1st edition published 1871

2nd edition published 1898

3rd edition published 1906

1936 edition

Description written: September 1997 Amended: June 1999

Register Inspector: VCH

Edited: November 2003

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The site is open daily from 10 am between April and September, and from Wednesdays to Sundays throughout the rest of the year. It may be closed for a short period of private residence in the summer.


The site is on the A258 on the coast south of Walmer.


English Heritage

PO Box 569, Swindon, SN2 2YP

Only 200 yards from the English Channel, Walmer Castle is the best preserved of the three defence castles erected by Henry VIII along the shores of Kent. The other two castles are Deal (which has no real gardens or land) and Sandown.

The castle was built around 1539-1540. Materials used included stone from local quarries, the sea shore and disused priories recently abandoned at the dissolution. Sites from which stone was re-used include Horton Priory and Christchurch, Canterbury. The castle features a circular tower and semi-circular bastions. There are also Tudor block houses.

In the early 18th-century Walmer became the residence of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports. The building was converted from castle to residence about 1730. It was enlarged by Lord Granville in 1863, retaining for the most part the outlines of the original fort. George Devey undertook this work (see references, Newman).

Such illustrious people as the younger Pitt (1792-1806), the Duke of Wellington, Lord Palmerston, Lord Granville, W H Smith (of stationery fame) and Lord Curzon were all holders of the office of Lord Warden, and either lived or stayed at Walmer. Sir Winston Churchill when Lord Warden never took up residence. The last Lord Warden was HM Oueen Elizabeth, the Oueen Mother. The current Lord Warden is Admiral the Lord Boyce GCB OBE DL. There is a room on display in the Castle where the Duke of Wellington died, and many artefacts and some contemporary furniture are on show.

The gardens and grounds are unusually extensive and well-wooded for a castle, but its conversion in the early 18th-century to a residence was in a time of active landscaping and planting, and Lady Hester Stanhope had a hand in the original garden layouts during William Pitt's office. Most of the gardens as they exist today were laid out by Lord Granville (1865-91).

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):


Walmer Castle was begun by Henry VIII in 1539 as part of a system of fortifications around the coast of southern Britain which also included nearby Deal and Sandown Castles. It was first garrisoned in 1540. During the Civil War, all three castles were in the hands of the Parliamentarians and were later used to protect shipping during the Dutch Wars in the 1650s and 1660s. By the end of the 17th century the castles had become obsolete as fortresses and in 1708 Walmer Castle became the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The first occupant, the Duke of Dorset, altered and extended the Castle while William Pitt, appointed Lord Warden in 1792, extended the grounds by leasing more land to the north and west. From 1803 until Pitt's death in 1806, his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope lived at Walmer and assisted with improvements to the grounds. The Duke of Wellington stayed regularly at Walmer during his tenure as Lord Warden between 1829 and 1853, lending the Castle to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for a month in 1842. The last major alterations to the Castle were carried out by the second Earl Granville, Lord Warden from 1865 to 1891, who commissioned George Devey to extend the accommodation and restored and developed Pitt's work in the grounds. Walmer Castle was transferred from the War Office to the Ministry of Works in 1905 and opened to the public shortly afterwards. The most significant recent addition to the grounds is the garden created in 1997 by Penelope Hobhouse, as a gift from English Heritage to commemorate the ninety-fifth birthday of the then Lord Warden, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Both the Castle and the grounds are now (2003) managed by English Heritage.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: GD1220
  • Grade: II


  • Croquet Lawn
  • Lawn
  • Walk
  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: The castle was originally built during the reign of Henry VIII and formed part of the chain of coastal defences.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Moat
  • Description: There are well-mown grass moats and courts.
  • Planting
  • Description: The formal garden has considerable planting of roses, shrubs, herbaceous and bedding plants.
  • Specimen Tree
  • Description: Figs.
  • Border
  • Description: Leading away from the main castle down into the garden there is a wide, bold double border with a gravel path and backed by a fine old yew hedge.
  • Specimen Tree
  • Description: There are tall 60-80 foot trees of the Pitt or Granville eras. Lime is especially dominant, with beeches, sycamore and yews.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Wilderness
  • Description: This is the wild garden.
  • Tree Feature
  • Description: Canopy woodland to the west of the castle.
  • Kitchen Garden
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public


Civil Parish





  • Kent Gardens Trust