December 2, 2023

Hever Castle & Hurst Castle

Hever Castle

Hever Castle, beside the River Eden, two miles east of Eden bridge, is set within a wet moat between beautiful gardens and what appears to be a Tudor village. Gardens, “village” and the splendid interior of the castle are all the creation of a rich American, William Waldorf Astor. He purchased the castle in 1903 and immediately set about its transformation, which thus went on at the same time as Lord Conway was restoring Allington Castle. To his credit, Viscount Astor did not interfere with the exterior, which remains largely authentic.

There is some doubt as to the original builder. William de Hever obtained a license to crenellate in 1340 and Sir John de Cobham obtained another in 1384. The latter date is favored, though Sir John may just have added the gatehouse. The castle is a simple, square enclosure its embattled curtain enlivened by Tudor windows, chimneys and gables.

Square turrets project at each end of the entrance front and between them is a handsome, oblong gatehouse. This dominates the rest and is no doubt an echo of the old keep-gatehouse theme. The gateway, surmounted by carved tracery and a row of machicolations, is placed off-center so that there is a large room on one side of the gate passage but just a tiny chamber on the other.

Two original wooden portcullises, one still in working order, hang in the gate passage; the drawbridge is a restoration. Timber-framed ranges occupy three sides of the tiny courtyard, early Tudor in origin but heavily restored by Viscount Astor. They recall the castle’s famous association with the Bullen family.

It was here that Henry VIII came to court Anne Bullen, who changed her name to Boleyn. Her life as queen was cut short by the executioner’s sword and her dynasty-making fater, Sir Thomas, died soon after.

Hurst Castle

Its nucleus is one of the coastal forts of Henry VIII, expanded as a result of another invasion scare in Victorian times. The original castle was built in 1539-44 and the master mason, Thomas Bertie, later became captain of the garrison here, a curious but not uncommon reward for a castle builder.

Like Calshot, it lies at the end of a spit of shingle, well over a mile long and projecting into the middle of the Solent. The Isle of Wight is little more than a mile away and, along with its counterpart at Yarmouth, the castle’s guns could effectively command the western entrance to the Solent.

Hurst was garrisoned almost continuously until the Second World War. Its situation also made a secure prison, used mainly for the incarceration of Catholics though its most famous inmate was Charles I en route to his trial and execution. The Henrician fort is now flanked by two long batteries added in 1861-73, when the fear of a resurgent France under Napoleon III led to that vast array of defensive works known as “Palmerston’s Follies’.

Henry’s castle is made up of a central tower, polygonal outside but circular within, surrounded by a thick curtain with three semi-circular projecting bastions. Large gun ports in the beginning pierced the curtain and further cannon could have been mounted on the parapets of the curtain and the higher central tower. Later modifications have obscured much of the original layout.

The central tower has a spiral stair turret at its nucleus, probably an original feature though it was rebuilt in the Napoleonic period when the tower’s brick vault was inserted. Only the northwest bastion, which is higher than the others, preserves its original appearance. Beside it is the entrance gateway, retaining its portcullis groove and slots for the drawbridge chains.