Westenhanger Castle

In August 2019, Folkestone & Hythe District Council (F&HDC) purchased the historic building and grounds to secure them as a community asset for the future.

Westenhanger Castle is a scheduled monument consisting of a fortified 14th century moated quadrangle with a Grade I listed manor house and barn.

The estate has changed hands many times over the years and has had a roster of interesting (and even royal) owners.

Recent times 

For 98 years the owners of Folkestone Racecourse also owned the castle, until it was transferred to the Ministry of Transport, along with the racecourse and Westenhanger railway station.

In 1996 the Forge family bought the castle and worked with English Heritage to consolidate the stonework and prevent further deterioration of the manor house, castle walls and associated buildings.

In 2002 they went on to acquire the medieval barn, which stands intact outside the inner curtain wall.

How it looks today

The 14-acre property is based around the original moated courtyard with the remains of curtain walls, towers and a drawbridge.

The manor house has been partly restored and includes an entrance hall, two reception rooms and a main bedroom that is used as a wedding suite. The second floor contains a single bedroom apartment with bathroom, living room and kitchen.

The 16th century barn is in excellent condition. Its roof is a rare hammerbeam construction and has short, supported, horizontal beams which look like wooden brackets, and which themselves support arched braces and struts.

Hammerbeam roofs were typically found in grand palaces such as Hampton Court - this type of roof has only ever been found in one other barn in the whole of England.

Looking to the future

F&HDC's development proposals for a new garden town, Otterpool Park, will see the castle and area to the south of it - formerly part of the deer park - reunited as a public park.

The park, including the former racecourse pond, will form the centrepiece of the town and will be closely linked to the town centre.

It is intended that the historic medieval barns will also be brought back into use, as part of a 30-year plan to give the castle a sustainable future as a community asset.

Idyllic Events, who currently lease part of the estate, will continue to manage the maintenance of the grounds and castle on behalf of the council.

History of the castle

Sir John de Criol

The earliest known record of a castle comes from 1343, when Edward III granted Sir John de Criol a license to 'crenellate' (provide a wall of a building with battlements), which suggests there was already a sizeable property in situ. Work continued and circa 1400 saw the addition of a strong curtain wall built around the site and strengthened with towers.

Sir Edward Poynings

In 1509 the manors of Westenhanger and Ostenhanger merged into one, under the ownership of Sir Edward Poynings. He embarked on a significant programme of expansion, but died in 1522 before work was complete. His son, Sir Thomas Poynings, finished his father's work and in 1540 exchanged Westenhanger with Henry VIII for estates elsewhere.

Henry VIII

The king converted the castle into a manor house, upgrading the accommodation to suit royal visitors. He created luxurious royal chambers that included garderobes (lavatories) and improved the kitchens by building three great hearths to roast the meat. He also extended the deer park and installed a new drawbridge over the moat.

The Smythe Family

In 1585 Queen Elizabeth I transferred the estate to Thomas 'Customer' Smythe as a reward for his service. In 1588, under his ownership, she used the castle as the command centre for Kent's 14,000 troops, who were to defend the south coast from the Spanish Armada. The house was later enlarged and by the middle of the 17th century it was one of the biggest and most imposing mansions in Kent.

In 1600 Sir Thomas Smythe (son of Thomas 'Customer' Smythe) founded an expedition to the 'New World' and, on behalf of the British East India Company, commissioned the construction of the three ships that entered Chesapeake Bay, Virginia on 13 May 1607. As a result of this, the first permanent English-speaking settlement was established at Jamestown, Virginia, forming a base for what later become the United States of America.

To commemorate its 400th anniversary, a full-sized replica of the ship Discovery was presented to the castle by the Jamestown UK Foundation on 19 December 2008 and currently resides within the grounds.

17th and 18th century

The Smythe family fell upon hard times and by 1701 much of the mansion had been pulled down. Over the coming centuries the story of the castle is one of neglect and decay. Ownership went on to change several times, with the mansion reducing in size as materials were taken from the site for other building projects. By the 18th century it had been converted into a Georgian country house, yet the magnificence of the barn is a good sign of the former grandeur of the building.

Myths and legends

Many stories surround the castle, with tales of Roman habitation and that the estate was once owned by King Canute in 1035. There's even a myth that the ghost of Rosamond Clifford, King Henry II's mistress, sometimes walks along the top of the wall between the square tower and the dovecotes at midnight.

Further historic information

For further in-depth details about the castle, visit Historic England's website