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The Device Forts - part 3

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Number 4: Sandown Castle (Kent)

Another one of the Castles of the Downs, Sandown was built between 1539 and 1540. It was very similar to Walmer Castle with a central keep and 4 circular bastions and a moat. It wouldn't see action in the role it was built for but during the Second English Civil War it was seized by pro-Royalists and only after months of fighting were the Parliamentarians able to retake the fort. The fort then shared the fate of Walmer and Deal castles and went from Royalist hands to Parliament hands, when the war ended however it remained in military use when the King re-arranged all defenses and Sandown Castle was manned by a Captain and 18 men.

The fort suffered from coastal erosion more than the other forts nearby and although it remained in military use, by 1785 the sea finally broke trough the outer wall. In 1793 it was considered unfit for duty and was repaired and garrisoned again for the French Revolutionary Wars. In the early 19th century it was used by the coastguard against smugglers, but by 1863 the coastal erosion had advanced and the upper parts were demolished and materials were sold off, parts were used in the rebuilding of Walmer Castle. In 1883 it was in ruins and in 1894 the bastions and keep were blown up on the seaward side. The little bit that was left continued to be eroded by the sea and in the late 1980's there wasn't much left, the remains were used in the sea defenses. Today the remains are protected by law but it is hardly noticeable that this was once a powerful military fort.

I visited the place a few times but there is hardly anything left, the stones are part of a community garden now and only the name reminds people of the castle that once stood here.

Meanwhile the area around the garden is protected by a huge sea wall, however it remains vulnerable to coastal erosion and it is clear to sea why the castle itself is gone, even if the sea wall had been built 100 years before, it would still have been a huge task to actually prevent the castle from being washed away by the sea, Deal and Walmer were built further from the actual coast than Sandown and they both survive to this day.

Number 5: Southsea Castle

Portsmouth, maybe one of the best known military towns in the world! But there is more to this place than the current Naval Base and museum surrounding the HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. A little bit to the South of the entrance to Portsmouth harbour is Southsea, also known for the only surviving hovercraft passenger ferry in the world but even further South you can find Southsea Castle! Another of the famous Device forts. As the Isle of Wight is splitting the solent into 2 channels going to the sea, anyone can see that you would need at least a fort on either side to protect the waterway into Portsmouth and Southampton, so it was decided to build yet another fort at Southsea, located well ahead of the actual port entrance. Southsea Castle was built in 1544 and was designed with a square central keep, 2 square gun emplacements and 2 angled bastions, giving it the appearance of an early star fort. It was heavily armed and saw the action of the famous Battle of the Solent but was ironically not called to battle. Throughout its history the castle suffered some fires but remained in use. In the early 1600's the Device Forts were not maintained well and after a few fires, Southsea Castle was in need of repairs, these were made in 1635. By 1642 when the English Civil War broke out, the castle was in the hands of the Royalists, but was attacked and taken by Parliament forces. In the 1680's there was a new threat and the castle was rebuilt. In 1759 there was an explosion in the Eastern part of the castle and by 1785 it was reported that it was in such a bad state that repairing would not be reasonable. In 1797 a new French invasion looked to be happening soon and the castle was again rebuilt and made ready for action, building works being mostly completed by 1814.

In 1828 a lighthouse was built on the Western gun platform and this was heightened to 10 meters in 1854, giving it its current appearance. By 1869, another rebuilding base was completed and by 1886 the site was heavily armed, however the original castle itself was only used as a range finding post instead of being armed. However by 1901 it was re-armed with modern guns after yet another small rebuilding period. In the First World War it was armed and manned, an Anti-Aircraft gun was installed to deal with German Zeppelins and even after the war it remained an active military fortress. However by 1929 it has also become a tourist attraction with the public being able to see practice firings of the castle. In the Second World War it was again armed and saw action, it was even hit by 2 bombs that did little damage and it was involved in a stand-off with the French Navy. By 1960 it was completely outdated and was finally sold to Portsmouth City Council, in 1967 it opened as a museum, much of the later additions were removed but the lighthouse remained operational until 2017. It is now a popular attraction in the Portsmouth area.

I personally visited this castle a few times and was even able to fly my drone over it in 2022, you can see a collection of photos below.

On a trip to Southern England in 2022 I was able to fly my drone over the castle briefly and made a series of newer photos:

Number 6: Walmer Castle

The 3rd castle of the Downs is Walmer Castle, it was built between 1539 and 1540 to the same specifics as Sandown Castle completing the line of castles with Sandown in the North, the larger and stronger Deal Castle in the middle and Walmer in the South, all 3 were connected by earthwork defenses. After the initial threat of invasion passed, nothing much was happening at Walmer, it was manned but not well taken care of and left to decline ... like most of the Device forts. Like the situation of Deal Castle, most of the active men at Walmer Castle were actually living in the town of Deal instead of residing in the castle itself. In the first English Civil War the castle was seized by Parliament and not much else happened during the rest of the conflict, in the second Civil War however, all 3 castles of the downs declared for the Royalists. Eventually all 3 were retaken by Parliament, Walmer however was badly damaged at the end of the war. In the 18th century the castle became the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and was heavily rebuilt although it retained its military function, but now with a comfortable living space included and gardens attached to it. During the French Revolutionary Wars the castle was fully armed again but by the end it was getting clear that its military days were numbered. In 1904 the War Office officially declared that Walmer Castle no longer had a military role and handed it over to the Office of Works, after some repairs it was ... at least partially ... opened to the public. Even during World War One it didn't have any military role and after the war continued in its residential role being partially open to visitors. Although the official title of Lord Warden still exists today and that Lord has his official residence in the castle, the latest Lord Wardens didn't actually live there anymore and the castle and gardens are managed by English Heritage, opened to the public as a museum.

I personally visited the castle just once, photos can be seen below:

Number 7: Yarmouth Castle

Yarmouth Castle was built in 1547 and most other fortifications, Yarmouth was built in a different design with a rectangular central castle and an arrow-head landslide bastion, the first of its kind in England. Yarmouth was built in the so-called second wave of Device Forts as the threat initially passed but resurfaced later on, this was the reason why additional forts were built. Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the castle was rebuilt, half the courtyard was filled in to create a solid platform to hold 8 heavy new guns with uninterrupted view over the surrounding seas. By 1599 However, it needed heavy repairs, since Yarmouth was basically opposite Hurst, it remained in important military position and the castle remained in use, repairs were made together with some alterations, of which the 2 angular buttresses in the sea-wall are the most obvious ones we see today. In the first English Civil War the castle was held by Parliament, however after the restoration, the army was demobilized and by 1670 the Crown took control of the castle again, the guns had been relocated but they were brought back and the castle was refortified. Being located right opposite Hurst Castle gave Yarmouth the best position for supporting fire in case of an enemy ship passing the Needle. By 1813 work was done to modernize the castle and in 1855 the castle was repaired again when the whole South coast was refortified during the Crimean War. By 1885 however it was handed over by the military as it was outdated, so the coastguard took over. During both World Wars however it was again in use by the military, but saw no significant action. In the 1950's it was finally retired from military use. The castle is now, like so many others a museum and managed by English Heritage.

I have not visited this castle itself but have seen it from the Wightlink ferry that actually docks right next to it as seen below, a follow-up visit will soon happen I hope.

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