Westenhanger Castle

Has been described as a Possible Masonry Castle, and also as a Possible Palace (Royal), and also as a Certain Fortified Manor House

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameWestenhanger Castle
Alternative NamesOstenhanger; Westyngehangre; Kiriel Castle; le Hangre
Historic CountryKent
Modern AuthorityKent
1974 AuthorityKent
Civil ParishStanford

Westenhanger Castle survives well in the form of both standing and buried remains. In addition to the substantial earthwork and structural remains of the moated inner court, the survival of a complete 16th century barn and stable of the outer court is particularly rare. Buried remains of other features in the area of the outer court, including the church, cemetery, medieval hall and walled garden, have been overlain rather than cut into by later structures, and archaeological deposits will therefore survive largely intact. As a result of extensive archaeological work and historical research, these remains are quite well understood. The association of the fortified house with contemporary features, including a deer park and water-control system, provide evidence for the way in which these features functioned as high status components of the medieval and later landscape. The monument includes Westenhanger Castle, a medieval and later fortified manor house situated on the southern edge of the floodplain of the River East Stour. The inner court of the castle, and its outer court adjacent to the west, are built on the site of two earlier manors, Westenhanger and Ostenhanger, into which the parish of Le Hangre had been divided at the end of the 12th century. A medieval church and cemetery also occupied the site, going out of use in the 16th century when the parish was merged with that of Stanford. Also in the 16th century the two manors were reunited, subsequently passing to the crown and being greatly enhanced for royal use. At this time the outer court was established, formal gardens were laid out and a deer park was created. From the late 16th century the castle was again in private hands, and in 1701 the property was sold and most of the buildings were subsequently taken down

The present house on the site, Westenhanger Manor, was constructed in the 18th century from the remains of a 16th century cross-wing of the main hall; it is a Grade I Listed building in residential use. During the 14th and 15th centuries the manors of Westenhanger and Ostenhanger were held by the de Criol and Poynings families. In 1343 John de Criol was granted licence to crenellate, and to this period is attributed the construction around an earlier moated site of curtain walls, which also served as internal retaining walls for the moat. Until this date the principal buildings of the moated enclosure are believed to have been a hall and gatehouse. With the construction of the curtain walls the gatehouse on the west side of the enclosure was rebuilt, and seven further mural towers were added: four corner towers (ovoid in plan on the north west and south west, round on the north east and rectangular on the south east), and an interval tower in each of the other three walls (all rectangular). The principal building was the hall, which stood on a north-south alignment against the eastern interval tower. Standing and buried remains of all of these features survive, standing to the greatest height on the north side of the enclosure where the wall and towers have been restored. The buried remains of the hall are located adjacent to the south of the present house. The walled enclosure is trapezoidal in plan, occupying an area of approximately 60m square and surrounded by a moat which varies in width between 10m and 14m. The moat is still partly water-filled on the south and south west sides, but has been infilled on the north west; the northern and eastern arms are now generally dry. On the northern, downhill, side the moat is retained externally by a substantial earthen bank, at the eastern end of which are the remains of an inlet leat which entered the moat from the north east. At the western end of the bank is the site of a watermill, referred to in documentary sources of the 16th century but possibly earlier in origin. No remains of the watermill are now evident above ground. Significant alterations to the fortified manor were begun in the early 16th century by Edward Poynings, who unified the two manors; at the south end of the medieval hall he added a cross-wing which contained a first floor chapel. This building was taken down in the early 19th century, but buried remains will survive. Further works were carried out after Poynings' death in 1552-53, when the property passed to the Crown. To this period is attributed the construction of the present dovecote in the high upper storey of the north east corner tower, which contains over 400 nesting boxes of brick; beneath it was a bakehouse. The conical tiled roof of the tower, at the centre of which is a louvred flight-hole, is a modern reconstruction overlying an earlier timber roof; the whole of the tower which, with the Manor is a Listed Building Grade I, is included in the scheduling. Other alterations of the 16th century included the rebuilding of the kitchens, which formerly stood adjacent to the west of the tower, and the construction of a west range, which partly survives in the form of standing ruins. To the north end of the medieval hall was added another cross-wing, out of which the present house was later constructed. Adaptation of the fortified manor for royal use included the enhancement of the private apartments which stood to the south of the main hall, and the layout of associated gardens to the south and west. Adjacent to the buried remains of the south range is a linear terrace, extending alongside and within the line of the moat; opposite it is another linear terrace, raised above the south side of the moat and separated from it by a retaining wall. Adjacent to the south western arm of the moat a rectangular walled garden or orchard was established, also above a retaining wall; this enclosure was visible until the 20th century and is now believed to survive as buried remains beneath the modern stabling block. Along the south side of this garden, also surviving as a buried feature, a leat connected the moat to a pond adjacent to the west, which still survives. The gardens, orchards and ponds at the manor are documented in a survey of 1559. The walled garden and pond lie within the area of the castle's outer court, which was also established in the 16th century. To the north of the garden stood the medieval parish church, referred to in documentary sources, which went out of use in 1542 as the outer court was being laid out. The church building may have remained standing as late as the 18th century. Buried remains of the church and its associated cemetery, within which human remains have been identified, were overlain in the 20th century by timber stabling. The principal buildings of the outer court still survive as complete standing structures. At the north western end of the outer court are a stable range and barn dated to the early and late 16th century respectively. Both buildings are Listed Grade I and are also included in the scheduling. The barn is approximately 34.5m long and 9.5m wide, aligned north-south, extending at its north end over the River East Stour where it incorporates a barrel-vaulted culvert. It is divided into three three-bay crop storage areas by two pairs of projecting wagon porches. Walls of coursed ragstone support an intact hammer-beam roof of late 16th or early 17th century date. The stable building is a two-storeyed range approximately 42.5m long and up to 7.25m-7.75m wide, aligned east-west, constructed of roughly dressed and coursed ragstone with a single buttress in the west gable wall. The roof was substantially rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries, but fragments of the 16th century roof structure survive at the eastern end. In its original layout there were three internal rooms of equal size, divided by timber partitions; the present layout dates to the 18th century, when a small central room was created around the principal doorway. Most of the building's original openings are in the south wall, indicating its symbolic importance as a high status structure situated on the approach to the inner court. Architectural details in the south wall of the stable building demonstrate that it was built against the north wall of a pre-existing structure, shown on a 17th century plan extending north-south and measuring approximately 20m x 5.5m. An inventory of 1635 suggests that this range contained domestic accommodation (the 'little hall' or 'maids hall') and as such it may represent the reuse for service accommodation of an earlier domestic building, possibly the hall of the second medieval manor at Westenhanger. The remains of this hall are now partly overlain by modern structures. The presence of other buildings in the outer court is indicated by the same 17th century inventory, which lists a brewhouse, faulkeners hall, lime house, workshops, coal house and milk house. The remains of these features are believed to lie beneath modern stable buildings which are largely constructed on raised platforms overlying earlier deposits. To the west and north of the outer court are the remains of the castle's water-control system, possibly the 'waters' referred to in the 1559 survey. Here the natural floodplain of the River East Stour was employed to create an expanse of shallow water around the site, forming an impressive symbolic defence around the castle's principal western approach which was in keeping with its role as a high status residence. Separately from the inlet leat to the moat, which runs south eastwards from the eastern end of the monument, the river is channelled through the floodplain to the site of the watermill and then passes through the culvert at the north end of the 16th century barn. In the western part of the monument a series of channels drain the floodplain to the west of the outer court; two transverse channels with adjacent banks and trackways may indicate the points at which the floodplain was crossed in dry periods. On the higher ground in the northern part of the monument is a series of linear ditches and banks which partly delineate platforms and enclosures; these may include features such as paddocks and animal shelters associated with the castle. This area lay within the deer park, laid out in 1542, which also had a symbolic value as viewed from the castle. The deer park is described in 1559 as being about 400 acres (approximately 162ha) in extent. The best surviving remains of the park pale are situated to the north east of the moated site, where a substantial earthen bank is constructed along the north side of the moat's inlet leat. (Scheduling Report)

Castle or fortified house, now partly ruinous. C14, early and late C16, and late C18 or early C19, restored in 1980s. C14 walls of coursed ragstone. Front elevation of house red brick in Flemish bond, left gable end and rear elevation red brick, largely in header bond. Plain tile roof. Rectangular plan (courtyard 130 feet across), with circular bastions to west and north- east corners, and rectangular bastion to south-east. Rectangular tower to centre of each side to north, south and east. Gateway to centre of west side. Formerly continuous range of buildings to each side of courtyard; C16 fragments remain to north-west corner. Early C16 L-plan house to north- east corner, (probably for Sir Edward Poynings before 1521) with east curtain wall as its long right wall; main range at right-angles to wall, rear range parallel to it between main range and north-east bastion. Part of house, including front elevation, rebuilt in late C18. House: front (south) elevation: 2 storeys and attics on chamfered rock-faced ashlar plinth. Plat band, not extending to corners. Dentilled brick eaves cornice. Right gable end formerly with crow-stepped gable (shown in a print). Hipped roof, right hip returning. Rear stack to right, to junction of main range and wing. 2 hipped dormers. Regular 7-window front of recessed 24-pane sashes with splayed brick voussoirs. Panelled door under third window from right. Late C20 porch. Rear (north) elevation of main range: chamfered stone plinth. Early C16 first floor window of two round-headed chamfered brick lights. Broad blocked early C16 rectangular ground-floor window with chamfered brick architrave and moulded brick cornice. Moulded stone plinth continues along west elevation of rear wing (with C19 red brick in Flemish bond above) returning to west at north end along base of a short section rebuilt in late C20. Right return elevation (east): battered stone plinth. Eaves of rear wing slightly lower than mainrange. Narrow 2-storey brick section towards centre of rear wing, probably in place of a removed garderobe shute. Partly blocked rectangular early C16 six-light stone mullion window to first floor of main range, with hollow-chamfered mullions and round-headed lights. Single cinquefoil-headed light with square hoodmould towards north end of first floor of rear wing. Later one, two and three-light leaded casements to both floors. North-east bastion: converted to davecote, probably in early C16. Conical plain-tiled roof. Chamfered 2-light first- floor window to south-west. Three small casement windows to moat side of ground floor. Ruins: Largely C14. Curtain wall continues south from east end of main range of house, with north jamb of doubly-chamfered splayed first-floor window belonging to range considerably taller than present house, and jamb of another to ground floor morticed for bars. Base of stone tower projecting east:from centre of east curtain wall. South end of wall non- extant. Base of rectangular south-east corner bastion set at angle to corner. South wall and south range of courtyard non-extant. East half of south-west corner bastion remains to height of about 2 metres;, with base of blocked plain-chamfered north-east doorway. West wall continuous between south-west bastion and west gateway. North and south walls of west gateway, with 4 pairs of attached semi-octagonal stone shafts with moulded capitals and evidence for ribbed tunnel vault above them. Base of portcullis groove to west. Hollow-chamfered round-headed doorway with broach stops to west end of north wall, between gateway and north half of west range. West curtain wall continues north from gateway, standing to height of about 4 metres with recess, possibly for brick fireplace about 3 metres from gateway. Adjacent to north (formerly separated by wall of room) a small 4-centred-arched moulded brick fireplace with herringboned brick back- plate. North-west bastion with deeply-splayed west window or loop-light and pointed-arched doorway to east. Break in north wall to east of bastion. North end of stone east wall of west range remains, with base of hollow- chamfered brick window and with 4-centred arched hollow-chamfered stone doorway with broach stops. Chamfered stone plinth descends each side of doorway. East wall continues to south at height of about 1 metre, joining east end of west gateway. West end of north curtain wall non-extant. Wall resumes to west of central north tower and continues, at varied height, to north-east bastion. North tower of 3 low storeys with ledges in wall marking floors. Loop lights to north, east and west of each floor and larger opening to south. Garderobe shute within east wall. Doorway to south, now with brick jambs. Interior of house: C15 chamfered brick fireplace with four-centred arched wooden bressumer with carved spandrels to east end first-floor room of main range. Staircase, possibly C16, to rear of rear wing. C18 open-well staircase with turned balusters, moulded handrail and shaped cheeks, to main range. Corridor to ground floor of rear range with 3 rectangular wooden doorways with rectangular leaded lights to rooms. Staggered butt purlin roof to rear wing. Dovecote (first floor of north-east bastion) entered from first floor of rear wing by 4-centred arched brick doorway. Room encircled by 15 tiers of ledged plastered brick nesting boxes. Licence to crenellate granted 1343 to John de Kiriel. Extensive work by Sir Edward Poynings before 1521 and by Sir Thomas Smythe 1585-91 (little of Smith's work remains). Castle largely demolished in 1701 for building materials. Moated site. Scheduled Ancient Monument (uninhabited parts) (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Licence to crenellate granted 1343 to John de Kiriel. Attacked in 1381 by Sir John Cornwall, an aggressive burglary. Extensive work by Sir Edward Poynings before 1521 and by Sir Thomas Smythe 1585-91 (little of Smith's work remains). Obtained by Henry VIII in 1540. Castle largely demolished in 1701 for building materials. There is a tradition that this was site of a palace of the Anglo-Saxon Kentish kings.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTR123371
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  • Coulson, Charles, 2007-8, 'On Crenellating, in Kent and Beyond - A Retrospection' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 21 p. 189-201 esp p. 196
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Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1902, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1343-45) Vol. 6 p. 106 online copy
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 279


  • English Heritage, 2009, Heritage at Risk Register 2009 South East (London: English Heritage) p. 54 online copy
  • Archaeology South East, 2001, report on Westenhanger Castle, Stanford, Kent