Home   Kent   News   Article

Staplehurst, Leybourne, Stowting and Sutton Valence: Just some of the castles in Kent you might not have heard of


More news, no ads

LEARN MORE

If someone says 'name a Kent castle' it's likely spectacular beasts such as Leeds, Hever and Dover will spring to mind, not to mention Rochester, Scotney, Walmer and Deal.

But there are a number of others dotted around the county that share the same grand title but are somewhat smaller – and in some cases hard to spot at all. Here we take a look at some of Kent's less well-known fortresses.

Leeds Castle may be Kent's best known but it is certainly not the county's only fortress Picture: www.matthewwalkerphotography.com
Leeds Castle may be Kent's best known but it is certainly not the county's only fortress Picture: www.matthewwalkerphotography.com

Staplehurst Castle – off Cranbrook Road, near Knox Bridge

Ask anyone in Staplehurst where the village's castle is and you will probably be met with a blank face – or an attempt at directions to Sissinghurst, home to the popular National Trust-run property five miles up the road.

Truth is, there is very little evidence of anything like a castle. It's just a circle of trees in the middle of a field to the south of the village, near Knox Bridge.

But historians say that this was once the site of a Saxon moot – somewhere people gathered to dish out justice in about the 7th Century.

There is some doubt about what kind of structure there would have been – it's likely the circular mound, surrounded by a ditch, would have been an open-air arena.

The existing entrance alongside the Knoxbridge Cafe
The existing entrance alongside the Knoxbridge Cafe

People would have met in the large bowl-shaped space on top of the mound.

The site is said to have played a role as an administrative centre, being positioned near the parish boundaries of Staplehurst, Frittenden and Cranbrook, once known as the Hundred of Cranbrooke.

Its use is likely to have come to an abrupt end following the Norman conquest.

But anyone doubting its castle status should think again. Gatehouse, the gazetteer of all things fortified, says it was also known as Knocks Bridge Castle and Nocks Bridge Castle.

Nowadays, Knox Bridge is much more well-known for a cafe, pub and garden centre.

Sutton Valence Castle
Sutton Valence Castle
A view from inside the ruined walls of Sutton Valence Castle
A view from inside the ruined walls of Sutton Valence Castle

Sutton Valence Castle – Rectory Lane, Sutton Valence

As castles go, this one might be small but it had a big impact on its surroundings that long outlasted most of the crumbling masonry.

The stone keep perched on the hillside just outside the village centre is all that remains of the main structure, built in the 12th Century.

Its location was handy for keeping an eye on the strategically important route between Maidstone and Winchelsea in East Sussex – between Hastings and Dungeness.

It was owned by lots of important medieval folk, not least Simon de Montfort, who led the baronial rebellion against Henry III.

The view across the Weald of Kent from Sutton Valence Castle
The view across the Weald of Kent from Sutton Valence Castle

When he was killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, Henry III confiscated his estates and gave the castle to his half-brother William de Valence, as a reward for his loyalty.

Such was the clout of the de Valences, the village of Sutton went on to become known as Sutton Valence.

Sadly, little is known of what happened to the castle from the 1300s onwards.

It remains open to visitors who want to tackle the 35 steps that lead up from the road.

The reward is a view of the Weald of Kent and East Sussex beyond.

Grass mounds are all that is left of Stockbury Castle
Grass mounds are all that is left of Stockbury Castle

Stockbury Castle – Church Hill, Stockbury

Found on top of the hill, near Stockbury Church, there is little evidence of what most people would recognise as a castle.

Grass-covered mounds that can be seen from the graveyard are all that remains.

It is marked on Ordnance Survey maps simply as 'Motte & Bailey' – the former being a raised area of ground, with the latter being an outer wall.

It was one of three built by the Normans to defend the valley, the others being at Binbury, denoted with just 'Motte' on maps, and Thurnham.

Leybourne Castle pictured in August, 1984
Leybourne Castle pictured in August, 1984

Leybourne Castle – Castle Way, Leybourne

The village of Leybourne, to the west of Maidstone, is probably best known to visitors for having a country park, or perhaps for being the home of an RSPCA centre.

But in medieval times, it was more likely it was its castle that was putting it on the map.

Historic England says its ruins are an example of what was an 'enclosure castle' where the walls and towers around the site are all that defends the property.

They are considered rare, with 126 across the UK.

The ruins of Leybourne Castle in September 1976
The ruins of Leybourne Castle in September 1976

Previous owners include William the Conqueror's half brother Odo the Bishop, aka the Earl of Kent.

It is thought the first stone castle was built in 1260 by Sir Roger de Leybourne.

Nowadays, it is a private residence that's not open to the public.

The walls, a round tower and a gatehouse are incorporated into a house.

It's understood the home was built in the 16th Century before being rebuilt in the 1920s and 30s.

Allington Castle is largely obscured from public view. Picture: John Westhrop
Allington Castle is largely obscured from public view. Picture: John Westhrop

Allington Castle – Castle Road, Maidstone

Possibly Maidstone's best-kept secret, this wonderful example of a castle has been guarding the River Medway since the 12th Century.

Buried in the valley on the riverbank, it spends the majority of the year largely out of sight, cloaked from view by huge trees.

The thousands of people who walk along the footpath on the opposite bank could be forgiven for not noticing it at all.

But this is a spectacular building, complete with a moat, and it once hosted Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn who were invited there by owner Sir Thomas Wyatt in about 1530.

The view of Allington Castle from the river is shielded by trees. Picture: Maureen Furlong
The view of Allington Castle from the river is shielded by trees. Picture: Maureen Furlong
Allington Castle from the opposite river bank. Picture: Maureen Furlong
Allington Castle from the opposite river bank. Picture: Maureen Furlong

It was ravaged by a fire in the late 16th century and abandoned until 1905.

The castle was then purchased and partly restored by Sir Martin Conway. Between 1951 and 1999 it was home to a convent of the Order of Carmelites.

In more recent times, it was used for the filming of the 1975 children's film Robin Hood Junior starring Keith Chegwin as the fresh-faced Robin.

It was also in the 1965 episode "Castle De'ath" of The Avengers TV series and welcomed children's TV favourites Dick and Dom in 2008.

Now a private residence, as well as being a filming location it is used for weddings and holds occasional open days, so keep an eye out for the next chance to have a look.

A circle of trees marks the spot where Stowting Castle once stood. Picture: Google
A circle of trees marks the spot where Stowting Castle once stood. Picture: Google

Stowting Castle – off Stowting Hill, Stowting

Another motte and bailey castle that bucks the trend, in that it is not on top of a hill.

This one is found towards the foot of the North Downs, between Ashford and Folkestone, not far from the village school.

A river once fed water into not just one but two moats that acted as a double line of defence.

As castles go, there is not much left of this one aside from the odd tile or piece of flint.

Thurnham Castle on top of the North Downs near Maidstone. Picture: Brian Henman
Thurnham Castle on top of the North Downs near Maidstone. Picture: Brian Henman

Thurnham Castle – Castle Hill, Thurnham

Perched on top of the North Downs, peering over Bearsted, Maidstone and beyond, this plot has been home to some sort of structure for donkeys years.

It can be accessed either from White Horse Wood Country Park off the A249 or from Thurnham itself, where the road heads steeply uphill from the Black Horse Inn.

The Romans are thought to have had a watchtower there, while the Saxons built what was known as Godard Castle.

During the 12th century, it belonged to the de Say family and then the de Thurnhams.

Like a sentinel, a goat peers through the broken wall of Thurnham Castle. Picture: John Westhrop
Like a sentinel, a goat peers through the broken wall of Thurnham Castle. Picture: John Westhrop

Stephen and Robert de Thurnham went on the crusades with Richard the Lionheart.

Robert was clearly well-respected in high circles, as he was given command of the English fleet and later became governor of Cyprus.

There is, however, a suggestion that he never returned from the crusades and the castle was left to decay.

It's certainly been a ruin for hundreds of years, possibly since the 1500s, and maybe even before that.

The presence of 19 reviews on Tripadvisor suggests news of the castle's existence could be spreading.

In 2012 Bryan Wilding said he believed Walmer Court could be described as a "proto-keep" type of castle
In 2012 Bryan Wilding said he believed Walmer Court could be described as a "proto-keep" type of castle

Walmer Court - Church Street, Walmer

Half manor house, half castle, the ruined remains of Walmer Court are semi-fortified.

The site, which today is nestled along a small driveway off Church Street, Walmer, was built by the d’Auberville family in 1120 during the reign of Henry I and is surrounded by a wide dry moat.

Next to Walmer Court is the the Blessed Mary of Walmer church where The Duke of Wellington worshipped whilst staying at Walmer Castle as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in the 19th Century.

Also built in 1120 the church is thought to have also been built by the d’Aubervilles as a chapel to their home.

It is believed Walmer Court was a fortified manor house - possibly the village's first castle
It is believed Walmer Court was a fortified manor house - possibly the village's first castle

Walmerweb says: “The original manor building is thought to have been a square-shaped two-storey hall house, flanked by turrets on the corners. On the west side, an external stair led into a forebuilding at first floor level. Some historians believe that the north-east and north-west towers were added later in the 12th century using Caen stone imported from Normandy.”

In March 2012, Bryan Wilding who owned the site with John Kirkbride, said he considered that the ancient remains could officially be described as a "proto-keep" type of castle, as they had been created with a dry moat and no outer wall.

It was built in the same century as Dover Castle, believed to have been started after the Norman conquest at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

If Walmer Court was a castle, it predates the immediate area’s most famous, the better-known Walmer Castle, built along with Deal and Sandown forts in the shape of a Tudor rose by Henry VIII in 1539.

To read more of our in-depth features click here.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More