Friday, 5 September 2014

I have been to ... Upnor Castle, Kent

Sue and I are both members of English Heritage, and over recent weeks we have visited several of their properties, including Lullingstone Roman Villa and Eynsford Castle. One property that we had not visited was Upnor Castle, which is situated on the River Medway near Strood on the opposite bank of the river from the former Chatham Naval Dockyard.

The drive to Upnor took us under forty minutes, and we parked in the village car park. From there we walked along a short path through some trees ... and out into the High Street.

We walked down the High Street towards the River Medway, passing some wonderful examples of local building styles.

Where the road ends there is a house with a unique gazebo at the end of the garden ...

... opposite which is the entrance to Upnor Castle.

A brief history of Upnor Castle
The building of the castle began in 1559 when the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth I ordered that a bulwark be built at Upnor. The original fortification was designed by Sir Richard Lee (the foremost English military engineer of his day) and the work was overseen by his deputy, Humphrey Locke, and Richard Watts, a former Mayor of Rochester and subsequently paymaster, clerk-of-the-store, and purveyor of Upnor Castle.

The work took some time to complete, and it was not finished until 1567. BY 1587 England was at war with Spain and at the suggestion of the castle's master Gunner a chain was stretched from the castle across the River Medway to the other bank of the river. This was to prevent any enemy ships sailing up the river in order to attack English ships that were moored at Chatham. At the time of the possible Spanish invasion in 1588 the castle's garrison included a Master Gunner and six gunners, and by 1596 it had expanded to include eighty trained men ... who cost 8d per day in pay.

In 1600 a wooden palisade was erected on the seaward side of the castle to protect the bastion and the defences were further enhanced by a the digging of a ditch on the landward side. The was 18' deep and 32' wide. At the same time extensive repairs were carried out to the Castle. the stone being 'robbed' (i.e. salvaged) from the derelict Rochester Castle.

During the English Civil War the castle was held by Parliament and served as a prison for captured Royalist officers. It was temporarily captured by Royalist forces during the Kentish Rising of 1648, but was soon recaptured ... and more repairs were undertaken. Even more repairs were required after a serious fire broke out in the Gatehouse in early 1653.

When the Second Dutch War broke out the castle's garrison was brought up to strength even though the English Government felt that the Dutch Navy had been neutralised after a series of naval victories. A significant number of Royal Navy ships were therefore moored in the River Medway in and around Chatham rather than being kept at sea, relying upon the coastal and river defences to protect them.

In June 1667 the Dutch fleet, under the command of Admiral de Ruyter, sailed up the River Thames as far as Gravesend. They then attacked and destroyed the unfinished fort at Sheerness at the entrance to the River Medway. They followed this success up with an attack on on the Royal Charles, which was moored behind a chain that had been stretched between Hoo Ness and Gillingham. The chain failed to stop the Dutch advance up the river, and on the following day the Dutch sailed upriver again, this time to attack the ships at Chatham.

By this time the Duke of Albemarle (the former General Monck) had arrived to take command of the defences, and he ordered several artillery batteries to be set up along the River Medway, including an eight-gun one alongside Upnor Castle. Fire from the castle and these batteries did not prevent the Dutch from setting fire to several ships moored at Chatham, but it did prevent them from making any further progress upriver.

In the aftermath of the Second Dutch War Upnor Castle was seen as a vital part of the Chatham defences, but as newer fortifications were built, its importance declined, and by 1668 it was no longer regarded as suitable and was converted into a store and powder magazine. In 1827 its role changed again and it became an Ordnance Laboratory, and in 1891 it was passed from the War Office to the Admiralty. During the Second World War the castle was part of the Royal Navy Magazine Establishment,and in 1945 it became a museum.

Our route around Upnor Castle
We entered the castle ...

... via the Gatehouse.

We entered the Courtyard, and to the right we could see a large oak tree that is reputed to have grown from an acorn that was brought back from the Crimea.

To our left we saw the stump of a matching oak tree as well as the tiny entrance to the Sallyport to its left.

We then entered the Main Building ...

... which contained a number of cannon barrels, ...

... some examples of powder barrels, ...

... several small artillery pieces (including a small calibre quick-firing gun mounted on a very unusual pole carriage ...

... and a 7-pounder Rifled Muzzle Loading Mountain Gun), ...

... and a display that tells the story of the 1667 Dutch attack using lighting techniques and a recorded commentary.

The display includes a very nice model of Upnor Castle which appears to be garrisoned with 15mm-scale Essex Miniatures.

We then made our way down a very steep wooden spiral staircase ...

... and out onto the Bastion.

Two smooth-bore cannons were emplaced on the bastion and gave a good idea as to how the castle's guns commanded this narrow stretch of the River Medway.

We then walked through a gateway at the bottom of the North Tower, ...

... along a bricked-lined passageway ...

... that took us out through a further gateway ...

... and outside onto the North Platform.

From there we made our way back through the gateway in the north wall of the castle and into the Courtyard.

Between the North Tower and the Main Building two more smooth-bore cannon were on display ...

... and these were matched by a further cannon that was emplaced between the Main Building and the South Tower.

During our visit to Upnor Castle we also climbed up to the top of the gatehouse and up to the second floor of the Main Building. There was not a great deal to see in the Gatehouse except for the clock mechanism that powers the castle's clock, and the second floor of the Main Building was set up for use as a wedding venue. (The castle is licenced for use as a venue for civil weddings.)

We would certainly recommend a visit to Upnor Castle. There is lots to see, it is not too difficult to reach by car, and it is close to other tourist attractions such as Rochester Castle, Rochester Cathedral, Chatham Dockyard, Fort Amhurst, and the Royal Engineers Museum.


  1. Hi Bob,

    That takes me back! I visited Upnor on a school trip when I was boy living in Sheerness. As an aside Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey was occupied by the Dutch briefly during the raid up the Medway and was technically Dutch terrotory until quite recently.

    The town of Queenborough used to have a couple of Dutch-themed pubs as well.

    I must go back to the castle at some point - and back to Sheerness as well to visit the former naval dockyard.

    All the best,


  2. I live in Medway. Upnor Castle is one of my favourites.

  3. Great post Bob...

    ... you are made of stronger stuff than me though, if I visit a castle, find a floor plan, take loads of pics, then see a model of it it is inevitable that in just a few hours of arriving ho,e I'll be up to my neck in polystyrene offcuts.



  4. Nice report ... not somewhere I have visited but it is on my list now ...

    Thanks for drawing it to my attention


  5. David Crook,

    There is so much of interest in the area around Chatham that it would be very easy to spend days visiting them all. I strongly recommend that you return to your boyhood roots to refresh your memories of them!

    All the best,


  6. John Lambshead,

    You are a very lucky man to live so near to so many interesting places.

    All the best,


  7. Pete.

    I must admit that I was very tempted to build something similar ... and may well still do so!

    All the best,


  8. SoA Shows North (Phil),

    You could easily spend a couple of days in the area visiting the numerous places of interest ... and I strongly recommend that you do!

    All the best,


  9. The half timbered house a few doors down on the left in your second photo is actually a recent build using traditional methods.

  10. Nigel Drury,

    You don't say! I must admit that it looked in keeping with the other buildings, which is why I probably didn't notice that it was a recent addition.

    All the best,


  11. Visited this same castle a few years back. Loved it. Your photos are wonderful, makes the ones I took look very silly! Thanks for blogging this.

    1. Maggiewebbercdn,

      We liked it so much that we almost bought the house with the gazebo!

      All the best,



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