Commissioned by Henry VIII in response to threatened invasions during the 16th century, Deal Castle was one of the last castles in England to be purpose-built as a military fort, able to afford both the power for attack and protection. At the same time, similar castles at Walmer and Sandown were constructed and these three together provided a formidable defence line along the coastal stretch of The Downs.
Based on a 'walls within walls' plan, Deal Castle is shaped liked a Tudor rose, perfectly symmetrical, with a low, circular Keep located at its centre. Around the circumference of the Keep stand six bastions, rising to the height of the first floor, with a further series of six bastions in the curtain wall, one of which serves as the gatehouse.
All outer walls of the castle and sturdy bastions are rounded, which provided strength and, more importantly, deflected shot more efficiently than flat walls. The overall circular design of Deal Castle also enabled particularly good artillery coverage, with over 200 cannon and gun ports set within the walls. Moreover, the entire structure was completely surrounded by a very deep, wide moat.
With the bastions radiating out from the Keep, these provided plenty of storage rooms, and living quarters for the garrison. As with most defensive castles, the Keep was entirely self-sufficient and had a well-head at the bottom of the central, hollow tower of the building. Although many alterations were carried out during the 18th and 19th centuries, it is still possible to see many of the original bastions used as storage areas, and the deep well remains exposed.
In 1648, during the Civil War, Deal Castle was beseiged but after that it never engaged in any further military action. The Governor's lodgings were rebuilt at the beginning of the 19th century, only to be destroyed again in 1941 by German bombs, as the Kent coastline came under invasion in the Second World War.
Entering Deal Castle today across the 'drawbridge' and through the first bastion, there is an overwhelming sense of power and foreboding lurking among the grey, stark walls of this vast fortification. But it is a delight to explore, with its endless circuit of passages, both below and above ground.