Canterbury: The castle

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.

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Edward Hasted, 'Canterbury: The castle', in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11, (Canterbury, 1800) pp. 59-66. British History Online [accessed 22 May 2024].

Edward Hasted. "Canterbury: The castle", in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11, (Canterbury, 1800) 59-66. British History Online, accessed May 22, 2024,

Hasted, Edward. "Canterbury: The castle", The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11, (Canterbury, 1800). 59-66. British History Online. Web. 22 May 2024,

The castle

THAT THERE WAS A CASTLE HERE before the conquest, appears from the survey of Domesday, taken in the 15th year of the Conqueror's reign, in which it is said, that the king had this castle in an exchange made with the archbishop and the abbot of St. Augustine, who had for it, the latter fourteen, the former seven burgages. (fn. 1) Before this, there is no mention made of any castle here, not even by our antient historians in their relation of the several sieges of this city by the Danes, in which, as to every thing else, they are very particular. The most probable opinion therefore is, that the present building was one of those many castles or fortresses built by William the Conqueror, for his better subduing and bridling of those parts of the kingdom that he most suspected, to several of which it has a very similar appearance. (fn. 2) It had a bayle or yard adjoining to it, of upwards of four acres, Surrounded by a wall and ditch. (fn. 3) The passage from the city to it was antiently by a bridge, and beyond that a gate, built at the entrance of the castle-yard, (fn. 4) and on the opposite side towards the country was the antient gate of the city called Worth-gate, the remains of which were nearly entire till a few years since; the appearance of it carrying a greater shew of antiquity than the castle itself, in the perfect circular arch of long British or Roman bricks of great strength and beauty; (fn. 5) through this gate the passage seems to have led in the time of the Romans over the Stonestreet way to the Portus Lemanis, and afterwards as the public passage of the city to Ashford and elsewhere, until it was divided by another course, and the gate reserved solely for the use of the castle, and as such it continued till the time of king Edward VI. or, as others say, until Wyatt's insurrection in queen Mary's reign, when it was stopped up, for the better security of the castle from any assaults in those critical and dangerous times.

Canterbury castle

King Henry II. seems to have increased the extent of this castle and its fortifications, for he caused certain land of one Azelitha, which she held of the prior of Canterbury, to be taken in, to fortify the king's castle here; for which certain lands in Canterbury were assigned to her in exchange, by Richard de Luci, chief justice at that time. (fn. 6) In king Henry III.'s reign, this castle appears to have continued of some consequence; in the 12th year of which, Hubert de Burgh, earl of Kent, had, by charter, the custody of it committed to his charge; and in the same reign, Lewis, the French dauphin, arriving in the Isle of Thanet, and afterwards at Sandwich, having landed his forces without resistance, came to Canterbury, where he received both castle and city under his subjection.

There was as early as king Edward II.'s time, a common prison or gaol, kept in this castle, which was, according to Lambarde, the principal gaol of the county. (fn. 7) It was removed from hence, probably about the latter end of queen Elizabeth's reign, before which the assizes for this county were held at this castle, in the years 1565, 1569 and 1577. (fn. 8)

From the above time this castle seems to have been neglected, and to have fallen to ruin, and no further use was made of it; the remains of it at present are only the outward quadrangular walls, seemingly of not half their former height, built with rubble stones, and a great many Roman bricks interspersed among them; they are of an extraordinary thickness, with quoins and small circular windows and loop-holes, cased with ashlar stone.

Mr. King, who accurately surveyed this castle, makes the following observations on it: "Whoever," says he, "looks at this antient structure attentively, will easily perceive, that the present entrances have been forced, and could never have been there originally; and that there was once indeed a grand entrance similar to that at Rochester, and that the whole of the fortisication was in the same stile;" and this he shews by giving the following short and general description of the present state of it.

"This castle," he continues, " is eighty-eight feet in length and eighty feet in breadth, and the two fronts, which are of the greatest extent, have each four buttresses; whereas the others have only three; and the walls are in general about eleven feet thick. But as this tower is so much larger than that at Rochester, there are two partition walls instead of one, and in these are, in like manner as at Rochester, the remains of arches of communication."

In this castle, as has been mentioned before, is a well, just like that castle too, within the substance of the wall, and descending from the very top of the castle; and in the pipe of this well also, as it passes down by the several apartments, are open arches for the convenience of drawing water on every floor.— There is also in this castle, as in the other, a gallery in the wall, of which a part is laid open, and visible to the eye; but the staircases are so much ruined, that one cannot ascend here to examine every thing with the same accuracy, as at Rochester. Nor can one precisely determine whether there were more than two staircases, though I suspect, from the appearance of the walls, that there were; and that only one went down to the ground floor. In all other respects, the mode of fortification seems to have been precisely the same, for there were only loop holes and not one window under any of the arches in the walls on the first floor, and only a very few loop-holes on the ground floor. And the state apartments may clearly be seen to have been in the third story, where alone are found large and magnisicent windows, as at Rochester; and in the upper apartments next the leads are other smaller windows; but there are no windows lower than the grand apartments.

The present entrances on the east side are most evidently modern breaches, made through the places, where probably were two arches in the wall, leading to small loop holes, and indeed the present modern entrances to most of the old castles have manisestly been obtained merely in the same manner.

But on the north end there appears, at a considerable height, a large old arch, like a door-way or portal, now bricked up; and this, on examination will be sound, to have been most unquestionably the original grand entrance; for under it is a very considerable projection of solid stone work, which seems to have been the foundation of some stair case, or strong adjoining building, and there are also on the walls of the castle, marks of the upper part of the stairs descending from this portal; but these must be carefully distinguished from those lest by the gabel ends of some houses, that were built against this side of the castle some years ago, and are now pulled down.— These marks however of the remains of steps ascending to this portal, are by no means the only indications of its having been the original entrance; for the whole plan and formation of the sturcture within proves it. At the back of the arch thus bricked up, is a very large arched door-way of stone within the castle, of very curious workmanship; and directly under it is a steep stair-case leading to a dungeon, the situation of such kind of prisons appearing usually to have been under the entrances to most castles, and it was so at Dover particularly, as well as here and at Rochester; and both these circumstances are farther proofs that this was the great portal. The inhabitants of Canterbury indeed have an idea, that this arch was broken through for the use of one of the houses, which, as is mentioned before, was formerly built against this side of the castle; but the largeness of the arch, the regular stone work round it, the symmetry with which it is finished, and the rich stone arched door-way within the castle directly against this arch, shew their mistake in this matter; and that it was, in reality, much more antient than those houses, may also be concluded from the very circumstance of its being bricked up so carefully; for although it seems highly probable, for many reasons, that it might be so stopped up at the time the houses were built, yet it is in the highest degree improbable, that they should have taken the trouble of doing so, when the houses were pulled down, and when so many other breaches and cavities in the castle were left open without any such care being taken. He therefore concludes, that here and here only was the original entrance, approached by means of a flight of steps, and a drawbridge, as at Rochester; and that the fragment of the foundation of those steps and of the outward entrance, now remaining at the corner, was found too strong to be destroyed, when the adjoining houses were built. (fn. 9)

The southern wall of the bayle, or castle-yard, was the antient wall of the city, in which at the south-east corner of the castle was the antient Worthgate, before-mentioned; the wall and ditch on the east side of the bayle remained till lately, but in 1792 the most considerable parts of the boundary wall of the castle were demolished, and several buildings were erected on the scite, so that a very small portion is now left, and the ditch is mostly filled up, the only part now visible being that, which was likewise the city ditch between the new road and St. Mildred's church.

By the late alteration of the public road by Wincheap to Ashford, it is now made to go in a strait line from Castle-street, over the middle of the castle bayle or yard, and so on through the scite of the antient Worthgate, which has been pulled down for the purpose, into Wincheap, being probably made in the same tract that the road went in very antient times before that gate was closed up. (fn. 10)

Within the castle yard, on the opposite or eastern side of the above road, is the sessions-house for the eastern part of the county of Kent, built partly on the city wall above-mentioned, in 1730; in which all public business for this part of the county is transacted.

I HAVE MET with a few names of THE GOVERNORS or keepers of this castle.

Hubert de Burgh, on June 25, anno 17 John, was made governor of Canterbury castle, (fn. 11) and anno 12 king Henry III. had a grant of Dover castle, and of these of Canterbury and Rochester, during his life, with the fee of one thousand marcs per annum; and the same year was constituted governor of those castles for the term of his life; (fn. 12) but in the 16th year of that reign he was, at the instigation of Peter de Rupibus, bishop of Winchester, removed from the custody of them, and Stephen de Segrave was appointed in his room. (fn. 13)

Nicholas Moels was made governor of Canterbury and Rochester castles in the 43d year of Henry III. (fn. 14)

Robert Waleran was made governor of both castles in the 45th year of that reign. (fn. 15)

William de Eschetesford was warden of this castle in the beginning of Edward I.'s reign. (fn. 16)

Sir William Peche, of Lullingstone, had a grant in the 2d year of king Edward IV. of the custody of this castle; for as the record informs us, the king granted to him then the whole county of kent, together with the castle of Canterbury, and appointed him sheriff of Kent; and he granted to him forty pounds yearly, until he should have given him so much in special tail to him and his heirs male. (fn. 17)

The property of the castle, with its yard and appurtenances, seem to have continued in the crown till about the latter end of king James I.'s reign, when the king granted it in fee, to hold of the manor of East Greenwich in common socage, to Mr. Watson, in whose descendants of the same name it continued for more than one hundred years, and till at length it was sold by one of them in 1732 to Mr. Fremoult, of Canterbury, whose son the Rev. Samuel Fremoult died possessed of it in 1779, upon which it came by his will to his nephew Mr. Samuel Balderston, gent. of this city, who a few years ago alienated a considerable part of the precincts of the castle, which in cluded the eastern wall and ditch, to Messrs. Fcnner and Flint, of Canterbury; and then in 1797, conveyed the castle, and the remaining part of the precincts of it, by sale to Mr. Thomas Cooper, who has built a good house within them, on the scite of one before inhabited by the Delastangs.

The whole of the precinct of the castle is within the jurisdiction of the county of Kent.


  • 1. See Doomsday before.
  • 2. Battely's Somner, p 18.
  • 3. Part of these walls were taken down within these few years, to prevent the mischief threatened by their fall; by the account of the workmen employed on this occasion, these outworks were never so well built as the tower itself, and were become rotten and mouldered to rubbish; whereas those of the castle remain firm, and as solid as the stone itself.
  • 4. Battely's Somn. p. 18. I find this castle gate mentioned in the will of William Bennet, anno 1464.
  • 5. This arch has been repaired some years ago, out of veneration to its antiquity, by Dr. Gray, an eminent physician of Canterbury, at his own expence. It was supposed to be one of the most entire Roman arches in the kingdom. The ground had risen to within 8 feet 8 inches of its summit. It was made entirely of British or Roman bricks, set edgeways, each fifteen inches and a half long, and one and an half thick; the diameter was 12 feet 3 inches and a half, and the base within, 12 feet 6 inches.
  • 6. See Madox's Exchequer, p. 138.
  • 7. In the 1st year of king Edward, William de la More, master of the knights templars in England, was imprisoned in the castle of Canterbury, under the jurisdiction of the sheriff of Kent.— Rym. Foed. vol. iii. p. 83. In the wills in the Prerog. office, there are frequent entries of legacies left to the prisoners of the castle of Canterbury, and of Westgate, from the year 1461 to 1585; soon after which this castle seems to have ceased to be a prison, and about the year 1592, or perhaps a year or two before, the present gaol of St. Dunstan's was substituted in its room; on which account that gaol gained the name of the castle; for Leonard Cotton, gent. in his will anno 1605, gave a legacy to the prisoners in Westgate, Canterbury, and the prison called the Castle, without Westgate; and what confirms this still further is, the will of Tho. Petit, esq. of St. George's, anno 1626, who gave 50s. to be distributed towards the payment of the fees of the poor prisoners which are in the common gaol of the castle of Canterbury, situated in the parish of St. Dunstan's, without the walls of the city. In former times the Jews were frequently imprisoned in this castle, and during their consinement in it they employed themselves in cutting on the stones numbers of the versicles of the psalms in Hebrew, many of which remained on those of the north east staircase in Dr. Plot's time, anno 1672.
  • 8. Kilburne, p. 400, 402.
  • 9. See Mr. King's Observations on Antient Castles, in Archæologia, vol. iv. p. 392; vol. vi. p. 298.
  • 10. This new road runs close by the west end of the Sessionshouse, between it and the Old Castle, and thence through the scite of the antient Worthgate, across the castle or city ditch, by Barnacle cross into Wincheap-street. With the view of accommodating the public with this passage, the corporation of Canterbury conveyed their piece of land called Colton-field, adjoining the castle, to Mr. Balderston, in exchange for his land, which now forms the above road. The antient arch of Worthgate was removed as entire as possible into the garden of a neighbouring citizen.
  • 11. Dugd. Bar. vol. i. p. 693.
  • 12. Ib. p. 695.
  • 13. Ib. p. 696.
  • 14. Dugdale's Bar. vol. i. p. 619.
  • 15. Ibid p. 672.
  • 16. Reg. Abb, S, Rading cart. 727.
  • 17. Pat. ejus an. p. 2.