Deal Castle aerial view

Deal Castle aerial view

Deal Castle from the East

Deal Castle from the East

Deal Castle was built as a consequence of international tensions between England, France and the Holy Roman Empire in the final years of the reign of King Henry VIII. Traditionally the Crown had left coastal defences to the local lords and communities, only taking a limited role in building and maintaining fortifications, and while France and the Empire remained in conflict with one another, maritime raids were common but an actual invasion of England seemed unlikely. Modest defences, based around simple blockhouses and towers, existed in the south-west and along the Sussex coast, with a few more impressive works in the north of England, but in general the fortifications were very limited in scale. In 1533, Henry broke with Pope Paul III so as to annul the long-standing marriage to his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and remarry. Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and he took the annulment as a personal insult. This resulted in France and the Empire declaring an alliance against Henry in 1538, and the Pope encouraging the two countries to attack England. An invasion of England appeared certain. In response, Henry issued an order, called a "device", in 1539, giving instructions for the "defence of the realm in time of invasion" and the construction of forts along the English coastline.


Deal and the adjacent castles of Walmer and Sandown were constructed to protect the Downs in east Kent, an important anchorage formed by the Goodwin Sands which gave access to Deal Beach, on which enemy soldiers could easily be landed and an area the King knew well. The stone castles were supported by a line of four earthwork forts, known as the Great Turf, the Little Turf Bulwark, the Great White Bulwark of Clay and the Walmer Bulwark, and a 2.5-mile-long (4.0 km) defensive ditch and bank. Collectively the castles became known as the "castles of the Downs". It is not known who designed Deal Castle, but Sir Edward Ryngeley and Thomas Wingfield served as the commissioners for the project, with Robert Loyrde and David Marten as the paymaster and comptroller, and Christopher Dickenson and William Clement as the master mason and carpenters. Work began at Deal in April and progressed at speed, with 1,400 men at work on the site by the following month. A strike for higher pay was broken up over the summer by Ryngeley and by December, when Anne of Cleves dined there, the castle was mostly completed.


Deal and the other fortifications along the Downs cost the Crown a total of £27,092 to build, much of which came from proceeds of the dissolution of the monasteries a few years before. Lead, timber and stone from local monasteries were also recycled for use in Deal Castle. Wingfield became the first captain of the castle in 1540, supported by a lieutenant and overseeing a garrison of eight soldiers, sixteen gunners and two porters. He reported to the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The original invasion threat passed, but the castle was reinforced in 1558, due to fresh concerns of a French attack. Around 1570, the main bastions were filled with earth, probably to allow heavier guns to be mounted on them, and Queen Elizabeth I inspected the castle in 1573. The defences along the coast were mobilised in 1588 in response to the threat posed by the Spanish armada, and were probably kept ready for action throughout the rest of Elizabeth's reign.


In the early 1600s, England was at peace with France and Spain, and coastal defences received little attention. Deal Castle was in a poor state of repair by 1615, the outer walls damaged by storms and coastal erosion, and a 1616 survey suggested that repairs estimated at £396 were necessary. The problems persisted, with the winter storms filling the moat with water and stones from the beach, and undermining the foundations; the castle's captain, William Byng, sent numerous complaints about this to his superiors. By 1634, surveys were suggesting that the repairs would now cost £1,243; a suggestion was put forward by the George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, that nearby Camber Castle should be demolished to help provide materiel for the work at Deal. Most of the garrison were now living in the town of Deal and complaints were made by the Lord Warden in 1618 that only a small guard force was being left to secure the castle at night. As the condition of the castle waned, fighting between Dutch, French and Spanish ships in the Downs became common. Some repairs were probably finally carried out in the late 1630s.


Deal Castle was seized by Parliamentary forces at the start of the first English Civil War between the supporters of King Charles I and Parliament, resulting in the dismissal of Byng as a suspected Royalist, and his replacement by Colonel Rainsborough, a vice-admiral. The castle did not play a significant role in the remainder of the initial conflict. After the few years of unsteady peace after 1645, the Second Civil War broke out in 1648, this time with Charles' Royalist supporters joined by their Scottish allies. The Parliamentary navy was based in the Downs, protected by Walmer and the other Henrician castles, but by May a Royalist insurrection was under way across Kent. Vice-Admiral William Batten had been forced to resign from his post as Commander of the Fleet the previous year by Parliamentary officials, and he now encouraged the fleet to join the Royalist faction. Sir Henry Palmer, a former sailor, accompanied by other members of the Kentish gentry, also called on the fleet to revolt, taking advantage of the many fellow Kentish men in the crews. Walmer and Deal Castle declared for the King, shortly after the garrisons at Sandown. Rainsborough was removed from his post as captain. With both the coastal fortresses and the navy now under Royalist control, Parliament feared that foreign forces might be landed along the coast or aid sent to the Scots.


Parliament defeated the wider insurgency at the Battle of Maidstone at the start of June, and then sent a force under the command of Colonel Rich to deal with Deal and the other castles along the Downs. Walmer Castle was the first to be besieged, and surrendered on 12 July. Deal, which had been resupplied by the Royalists from the sea, was besieged in July. A Royalist fleet bombarded the Parliamentary positions and temporarily landed a force 1,500 Flemish mercenaries in support of the revolt, but a shortage of money forced their return to the Continent. The garrison then carried out a surprise attack on their besiegers but were fought back with some losses. The fleet, under the command of Prince Charles, attempted to land a fresh force in August, but despite three attempts the operation failed and suffered heavy losses. After news arrived of the Royalist defeat at Preston, Deal surrendered on 20 August, and artillery assaults then began on Sandown, leading to the surrender of the remaining fortification.


The castle had been badly damaged during the conflict — Colonel Rich reported it to be "much torn and spoiled with the granades" – and it was estimated by Rich, responsible for carrying out the repairs, that work would cost at least £500. A governor, Samuel Taverner, was appointed, supported by a corporal and twenty soldiers. In light of the Dutch threat, Deal Castle was maintained and kept equipped with powder, and was reinforced with earthworks and soldiers at the start of the First Dutch War in 1652. Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and reduced both the size and the wages of the garrison, but the castle continued to play an important role in defending the Downs during the Second and Third Dutch Wars, supported by local trained bands. Byng attempted to reclaim his former captainship under the new regime, and may have been briefly reappointed in early 1660. With the revolution against James II in December 1688, the townsfolk of Deal seized the castle in support of William of Orange, and took steps to defend the Downs against a feared Irish invasion which never materialised.


Deal Castle continued to be used as a military fortification throughout the 18th century, and in 1728 it was equipped with 11 culverin guns. The following year, however, the captain, naval officer Sir John Norris, redeveloped the castle to improve his personal accommodation. Similar work had been carried out at Walmer in 1708 by the Duke of Dorset, Lionel Sackville, and there may have been some competition between the two men. The keep was redesigned with medieval-style battlements, and wood-panelled accommodation at the rear overlooking the sea; the porter's lodge was also updated. During the Napoleonic Wars, the castle was armed with nine 36-pounder guns, supported by further artillery batteries placed along the beach. To protect Deal, units of infantry and cavalry, called fencibles, were formed in 1794 by William Pitt the Younger – then both the Prime Minister and the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports – and in 1802 units of bombardiers recruited by Pitt carried out military exercises at the castle. The politician and banker Lord Carrington carried out improvements to the castle in 1802, apparently as a rival project to his friend Pitt's work at Walmer. According to Samuel Wilberforce, Carrington had hoped to charge the cost of the work to the Treasury, but when he attempted to submit the claims, they were rejected by Pitt and he had to pay for the improvements himself.


Deal Castle was increasingly resembling a private house, rather than purely a fortification, and this led to arguments in 1829 as to whether it should be subject to local taxation as a private dwelling, or continue to be exempt as a military site. The captaincy had long since become an honorary position, given out as a reward by the Crown. In 1898, the War Office agreed that the Office of Works should be consulted over any external alterations to the historic castle, and that the Office of Works would be responsible for paying for any resulting work. The War Office finally concluded in 1904 that the castle no longer had any value either as a defence or as a barracks, and transferred it entirely to the Office of Works. When the captain was not in residence it was opened to visitors. Early in the Second World War, a German bomber destroyed much of the captain's quarters, forcing the incumbent, William Birdwood, to move to Hampton Court Palace. Two 6-inch naval guns were mounted in front of the castle between 1940 and 1944, manned by 337 Battery of 563 Coast Regiment. The castle operated as a Battery Operating Post – one of the first-floor rooms in the keep became the Battery Office — and provided accommodation. In 1951, the castle officially ceased to function as a residence and was passed to the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. Restoration work was carried out during the 1950s, largely removing the remaining 18th-century modifications on the seaward side of the castle.


Deal Castle retains most of its original 16th-century structure, including a tall keep with six semi-circular bastions, 86 feet (26 m) across, at the centre, flanked by a further six rounded bastions, the western of which served as a gatehouse, surrounded by a moat and a curtain wall. The castle's bastion walls are 15 feet (4.6 m) thick. It was constructed using Kentish ragstone from near Maidstone, locally made bricks, and Caen stone recycled from local monasteries. It was larger than its sister castles at Walmer and Sandown, measuring approximately 234 by 216 feet (71 by 66 m) across and covering 0.85 acres. The castle originally had four tiers of artillery – the heaviest and longest-range weapons occupying the upper levels, including the keep – with a total of 66 firing positions, and another 53 gunloops in the basement for handguns, should close defence be required. The embrasures in the walls were all widely splayed to provide the maximum possible space for the guns to operate and traverse, and the interior of the castle was designed with vents to allow the smoke from its guns to escape. The battlements on the modern castle are in a faux medieval, rather than Tudor, style and date from 1732.


The historian John Hale considered the original castle to form a transitional design between older medieval English designs and the newer Italian styles of defence. The design of Deal, like its sister castles along the Downs, suffered from design problems: it needed too many guns to ever be fully equipped; its curved surfaces were vulnerable to attack; and despite attempts to keep the walls low and thick, its relatively high profile, driven by the requirement to support several tiers of defences, made it exposed to attack. Deal Castle is entered through the gatehouse, which originally overlooked a walled garden, since largely destroyed. The dry, stone-lined moat, 20 metres (66 ft) wide and 5 metres (16 ft) deep, would originally have been crossed over a stone causeway and a drawbridge, the latter now replaced by a modern wooden bridge. The gatehouse still has its original iron-studded doors — the historian Jonathan Coad considers them "among the best preserved for their date" – and five murder-holes to enable the garrison to defend the internal passageway with missiles or handguns; it would originally have also been protected by a portcullis at the entrance.


The outer bastions were filled with earth in the 1570s, and have 18th-century ramparts; the superstructure around the eastern bastion was rebuilt after the Second World War. A passageway called "the Rounds" runs along the outside of the outer bastions, linking the handgun positions covering the base of the moat. The keep has a central newel staircase, linking the basement, ground and first floors. When first built, the garrison would have lived on the ground floor of the keep, the first floor being used by the captain, and the basement for stores. The ground floor is subdivided by radial walls and originally would have been further subdivided by partitions; the original ovens and fireplace survive. The first floor mainly dates from the 1720s, although some Tudor elements remain. There is a wooden lantern structure on the top of the keep that contains a bell dating from 1655 and early 18th-century graffiti. The keep's gun embrasures were converted to form sash windows in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Due to the historic nature of the building there is limited access for the mobility impaired. There are multiple staircases, including spiral and straight, wood and stone. Car parking in the Captain's Paddock adjacent to the castle. There are toilets with disabled facilities on site. Assistance dogs are welcome. A dog bowl can be provided in the main entrance. Site Tours are available for the visually impaired if Pre booked at £2.75 per head.

Deal Maritime Museum

Deal Maritime Museum

Deal Timeball Museum

Deal Timeball Museum



The museum is housed on one of the last industrial sites left in Deal, showing the way in which commercial and domestic property developed next to one another from the seventeenth century onwards in what was known as the ‘New’ Town of Lower Deal. St George’s Road and the workshop complex was built on what was originally market gardens, producing the fresh produce needed to victual the Fleet lying in the Downs off Deal. In the mid nineteenth century the site became a series of workshops, with the owner living in the cottage next door. In 1867 Willard Sawyer built and stored his velocipedes, (the forerunner of the bicycle), in the front building, (he lived further up the road with his photographer son when they moved to Deal from Dover). A woodworking workshop on the second floor built ladders for the hop fields surrounding the town, taken out through the first floor doorway across the Chapel Field. Later it became stores for vegetables and then an ironmongers/builders merchant, finally becoming a garage before the site was donated to the Museum Trust by a generous benefactor.


The wealth of Deal, Walmer and Kingsdown’s history limits display space. The Maritime Gallery on the ground floor houses many artefacts from the town’s impressive maritime history when it developed after Henry VIII built his three defensive castles, Sandown, Deal and Walmer along the foreshore, and it was safe for the famously skilled Deal boatmen to live closer to the sea and supply the ships which could then safely lay off in the Downs and wait for favourable winds, with fresh water, fresh produce, mail, cargo and passengers. A figurehead, ship’s bell and the only two known examples of carved spar boards from owner of the Cutty Sark ‘White Hat’ Willis’s ships, who lived in Deal, are on display, with a magnificent collection of model boats including the earliest known example of a working model boat. Also the Deal galley Saxon King, built in 1891 and one of the oldest remaining Deal built boats, a large collection of lifebelts and jackets, with many photographs and paintings of Deal, Walmer and Kingsdown’s lifeboats and crews, illustrating the many instances of the local boatmen’s skill and commitment to lifesaving over the years as well as their long tradition of smuggling, with information on the Naval Yard which employed so many townspeople are displayed. There are photographs and paintings of some of the more famous ships that have been wrecked off Deal and Walmer’s shores, including accounts from those lucky mariners who survived the Great Storm of 1703 which gave rise to Defoe’s famous slur on the boatmen of the town, so vigorously defended by the Mayor Thomas Powell.


A display of Royal Marine memorabilia of uniforms and photographs includes personal property belonging to one of the eleven Marines murdered in 1989, with other material from the three military barracks and Royal Naval Hospital, which later became the Royal Marines School of Music. Some of the photographs shown throughout the gallery are by world famous Deal born-and-bred photographer Harold Chapman. Deal is not a Cinque Port itself, merely a ‘limb’ or supporting town, but is home to the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports at Walmer Castle, and the museum display shows illustrations of the three castles and the many Lord Wardens, past and present, including Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s response for the correct pronunciation of ‘Cinque’, the Duke of Wellington, William Pitt, W H Smith, Winston Churchill, up to the current incumbent, Admiral The Lord Boyce.


The first floor displays aspects of the local industry and domestic history of the town, with a selection of the museum’s collection of drawings including Moses, J R Roget and engravings of JMW Turner’s illustrations of Deal. Many of the famous residents and visitors to Deal are illustrated, including the eighteenth century author, ‘blue-stocking’ and resident of Deal, Elizabeth Carter, considered the most intelligent woman of the eighteenth century, actor Charles Hawtry, entertainer Norman Wisdom, Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, who started her dancing career in Walmer, authors including Thomas Hood, J B Priestley, William Horwood, Frances Fyfield, and Robert Bridges, and Deal’s Victoria Cross holder, Arthur Tisdall, whose father was vicar of St George’s Church opposite. A less fortunate resident was William Boyes, buried in the churchyard and who was guilty of reluctant cannibalism when cast adrift with fellow mariners after the wreck of the Luxborough in the eighteenth century.


The original late nineteenth century ‘Deal Hooden Horse’, who roamed the town on Christmas Eve delighting local children, as well as many artefacts from local shops and businesses, including a giant shoe from a shoe shop and a stuffed rat from another shop belonging to a shop keeper called ‘Wratten’, pie dishes which could be hired from local bakers, and bottles from local breweries are just a few of the exhibits to be seen. There is an impressive collection of souvenir china depicting Deal and Walmer from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Deal had become more of a holiday venue, many depicting its famous piers. Other local industries such as mining, boat building and milling are also described. The ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ contains the famous lifeboat doctor, Dr James Hall’s, emergency medical supplies when he went out to sea with the lifeboat – a small bottle of navy rum!


The bier that Nelson’s protégé Captain Parker’s coffin was carried on when he was buried in the churchyard opposite is housed here too. The stained glass windows are from the now redundant Royal Marines Church once on South Barracks, one dedicated to a verger in the Royal Marines himself but whose sons all joined the other armed forces! Leisure pursuits are marked with information on the famous golf ‘links’ courses which surround the town, as well as football, rugby, rowing, the more ‘gentile’ sports of tennis, cricket and croquet, theatres and societies.


More Deal boats are to be found in the Boatyard at the rear of the building, Penny Ann (previously called Secret) a Deal beach boat, as well as a Dunkirk ‘Little Ship’ which rescued no less than twenty men herself, after ferrying numerous others out to waiting vessels lying off the Normandy beaches. A Montague whaler, used by the Royal Marines and Deal Sea Scouts, as well as ‘Eleanor’, a sprat punt built in Deal in1892 are displayed on the higher area. There is a representation of an Anchor Field, where anchors and chains, dredged or ‘hovelled’ from the seabed in the Downs, were sold to the fitters working in the Naval Yard or the ships lying off shore. The whale vertebrae, lead ‘pygge’ and ingots of glass and copper inside the Maritime Gallery, were originally ballast found on sunken seventeenth century ships in the Downs, the vertebrae destined for the cutlery trade in London. A small beach area shows a hundred-year-old local cart used for transporting sprats to the fish canning factories which once provided employment for the fishermen and their families, and also made the famous canned ‘Maconnichie’s Meat Stew’ to feed the troops in the First World War. Gravestones from St George’s Churchyard include that of an officer of the Westmorland Militia who was killed by smugglers on Deal Beach in the eighteenth century and another of a noted Deal boatman and life boatman who took part in many rescues in the early nineteenth century, when the lifeboat was rowed out to sea to rescue victims of the frequent storms and wrecks on the Goodwins.


The building at the end of the yard, dating from the late eighteenth century, was originally a stable, used in the 1914-1918 War to house the mules that carried armaments out to the Batteries on the Sandhills to the north. It now houses a Special Exhibition Gallery. There is Disabled Access throughout the entire ground floor and boatyard. Tea, Coffee and minerals are available. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Deal Timeball Tower Museum

Deal Timeball is a Victorian maritime Greenwich Mean Time signal located on the roof of a waterfront four-storey tower in the coastal town of Deal, in Kent, England. It was established in 1855 by the Astronomer Royal George Biddell Airy in collaboration with Charles V. Walker, superintendent of telegraphs for the South Eastern Railway Company. It was built by the Lambeth firm of engineers Maudslay and Field. The time ball, which, like the Greenwich time ball, fell at 1 pm precisely, was triggered by an electric signal directly from the Royal Observatory. Before it became a time ball tower, the tower was a semaphore tower used to signal to ships at anchor in the Downs or passing in the English Channel. From 1821 to 1831, the Tower carried a semaphore mast, which was used by the Coast Blockade for the Suppression of Smuggling to pass information along the coast. The Blockade was under the auspices of the Navy, and was manned by their personnel.


The Timeball Tower stands on the site of an earlier Shutter Telegraph. This was one of a chain of telegraph stations between the Admiralty in London and the Naval Yard at Deal. The telegraph line opened in 1796 and closed in 1814. Its purpose was to allow rapid communication between London and Deal, the latter being an important Naval anchorage during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1805 news of the naval victory at Trafalgar and the death of Nelson was brought to Deal by the schooner H.M.S. Pickle and transmitted by the telegraph to the Admiralty in London. The Deal Timeball Tower Museum features exhibits about the history of the tower and its use for navigation aid, fight against smuggling, signaling, and the mechanics of the time ball. The museum occupies four floors, unfortunately there is no lift or ramp so that wheelchair access is limited. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : Deal Castle, Marine Road, Deal, Kent, CT14 7BA

Location : Deal Maritime & Local History Museum, 22 St. George's Road, Deal, Kent CT14 6BA

Location : Deal Timeball Tower, Victoria Parade, Deal, Kent CT14 7BP

Transport : Deal (National Rail) then 10 minutes. Bus Routes : Stagecoach East Kent 12, 13, 13A, 14, 80A, 82, 82A, 93 and Regent Coaches 541, 542, 544 stop close by

Opening Times Castle : 1st November to 31st March, Weekends 10:00 to 16.00;  1st April to 31st October, Daily 10: to 17:00

Opening Times Maritime : April, May, September, October Tue to Fri 14:00 - 16.30, Sat 11.00 - 16.30, Sun 12:00 - 16.00; June, July, August Tue to Sat 11.00 - 16.30, Sun 12:00 - 16.00

Opening Times Timeball : Spring and Summer only - click for open times

Tickets Castle : Adults £5.80;   Concessions £5.20;   Children (5 - 15) £3.40

Tickets Maritime: Adults £3.00;   Concessions £2.00;   Children (5 - 15) £2.00

Tickets Timeball : Adults £3.00;   Children (5 +)/Students £2.00

Tel. : 01304 372762