Queenborough Castle


Between the years 1361 and 1377 King Edward III ordered a castle to be built at Bynne, now known as Queenborough, on the site of an earlier fortification. The castle was to protect the passage of ships on the Swale and Medway Estuaries (at this time it was safer for ships to travel this way rather than the open waters of the English Channel when on their way too or from the south coast), they would also use this route when on their way to Europe as they stopped near Dover before crossing the channel.

The castle was designed by William of Wycheham who was the Surveyor of the King’s Works and also the keeper of the Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor. The new castle resembled a French Style Chateaux and is believed to have influenced the designs of Walmer and Deal Castles. William also designed and built Windsor castle.

Queenborough Castle was built of stone to a circular design, quite novel for the time and seemed to anticipate Henry VIII’s castles that were built nearly 200 years later. The circular walls were built to withstand cannon fire although the power of these weapons at this time were relatively modest.

The castle had a circular rotunda at the centre and six towers connected by a circular curtain wall. The curtain wall was lined by two storey apartments which faced into a circular courtyard with a deep well in its centre. The rotunda and outer ward, or barbican, was surrounded by a second curtain wall which had two gateways set into it, the main gate at the west and a postern to the east. Surrounding all of this was a wet moat that was crossed using drawbridges to the two gateways.

As you can imagine it would have been very difficult to storm the castle - to do this you would have had to cross the moat, passing through the outer gate followed by the inner gate. Once into the outer ward you would have to circle the rotunda while under heavy fire before passing through another gateway into the central courtyard. You would then be under fire from the apartments surrounding you, these were also compartmentalised making it even more difficult to take over the castle.

The castle was likely to have been equipped with gunpowder, stone throwing machines and trebuchets.

The castle hosted many royal parties especially during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Queenborough Castle had many Governors, some very well known names appear on this list:

Monarch

  • Edward III – John Foxeley, John of Gaunt
  • Richard II – Robert de Vere, Arnold Savage, William Scroop
  • Henry IV – Sir Hugh Waterton, Sir John Cornwallis, Thomas Arundel (Archbishop of Canterbury)
  • Henry V – Gilbert Unfreville
  • Henry VI – Humphrey Stafford (Duke of Buckingham)
  • Edward IV – John Northwood, George Duke of Clarence
  • Richard III – Thomas Wentworth, Christopher Collins
  • Henry VII – William Cheyne
  • Henry VIII – Sir Frances Cheyne
  • Queen Elizabeth – Sir Robert Constable, Sir Edward Hobbie, Philip Earl of Montgomery

The Castle was declared obsolete in 1650 after nearly 300 years of protecting the Swale and Medway Estuaries - the fortress never realised it’s function as a garrison and recorded no active military history. The Commissioners of Parliament sold the castle for demolition to Mr John Wilkinson for the sum of £1,792. As a result of the demolition Queenborough Castle was sorely missed when the Dutch invaded Sheerness in 1667 with the invaders coming to Queenborough for provisions.

In 1725 the well that was once in the centre of the castle was re-opened for the Dockyard workers at Sheerness. When they inspected the well they found it to be 200 feet deep, surrounded by Portland Stone with the diameter at the top four feet eight inches wide. They had to bore down more than another 81 feet to find water, and once they had the well filled up rapidly. Not long after it was full the Corporation of Queenborough fought to gain ownership of the well, they succeeded and the Navy had to dig a new well in Sheerness for the use of the dockyard workers. It is unknown if the townspeople of Sheerness were given access to this well.

In 2005 Time Team descended on the site of Queenborough Castle, hoping to find any remains of the fortress. Even though they came armed with plans and illustrations including one from the 1640’s they couldn’t work out the real layout of the castle, none of the illustrations matched the others. They did eventually work out what parts of the castle they had found and were able to show how the castle would have looked. They found the remains of the castle cellars as well as bits of pottery and stone although most of the stone was missing due to being sold off during the demolition. The team were able to work out that the rotunda was around 40 metres radius which would have been big enough for the 40 rooms and 407 windows it reportedly had.

The site is scheduled by the Department of the Environment and is public open space.

Designed & built by - Kevin Ali