Upnor Castle

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Upnor Castle


Medway Upnor KC 7789 (Modified).JPG
Location: 51°24’25"N, 0°31’38"E
Village: Upnor
Owned by: English Heritage

Upnor Castle is an Elizabethan artillery fort in the village of Upnor in Kent. Its purpose was to defend ships moored "in ordinary" on the River Medway outside Chatham Dockyard.

The property is owned by English Heritage and managed by the local council.


The entrance to Upnor Castle

Due to its sheltered position, close to London, the River Medway was used to build and repair warships, and to moor them in ordinary, that is with the rigging sails removed. To protect this fleet, Queen Elizabeth and her Privy Council ordered in 1559, that a bulwark be built on the river at "Upnor in the parish of Frindsbury for the protection of our navy".[1] Six 'indifferent persons' selected a site opposite St Mary's Creek and 6 acres of land was purchased for £25 from Mr Thomas Devinisshe of Frindsbury. The bulwark was designed by Sir Richard Lee, but the building was supervised by Humphrey Locke and Richard Watts.[2] The building cost £3,621. Stage one was finished in 1564. A further £728 was immediately spent on lead for the roof. In 1564 twenty three ships of the Queen largest ships were moored in Bridge Reach.[3]

In 1582, the Queen held a review of ships at Upnor, in honour of the Duke of Anjou.[1]

In 1585, at the instigation of William Bourne the Master Gunner, a chain was laid across the river, as this was more effective than gunfire in sinking enemy ships. The castle however was inadequately manned, and further modifications were planned.[3]

In October 1599, Sir John Leveson's estimate for new works was accepted. A timber palisade was placed in the river, the water bastion was raised to a greater height "with a parapet of good height" and an enclosing ditch 18 feet deep and 32 feet wide dug to protect the castle from the landward side. This was costed at £761 9s 10d. 612 tons of rag-stone and 223 tons of ashlar was removed from Rochester Castle. The project overspent by £488.[3]

Upnor Castle from the river

The 1599/1601 modifications were extensive; the plans show that only the central tower was in the original build. The North and South Tower (the flankers) and the gatehouse and the wall that connected them, forming the courtyard were from 1599, as was the well.

Much of this was altered in 1625, and again in 1653. In 1623, Upnor had 18 guns of various sizes.

The Civil War

The castle was surrendered to the Parliament in 1642. A Royalist rebellion in 1648 seized the castle. It was returned to the Parliament, and following a visit by General Fairfax (Parliament) further repairs were planned. It was used as a prison.

The Second Dutch War

The Dutch Republic during the Second Anglo-Dutch War had suffered a severe setback in the St James's Day Battle in August 1666. Believing the Dutch would therefore be more inclined to remain inactive, King Charles II delayed the peace negotiations at Breda though he lacked the money in 1667 to put out a fleet. To the surprise of the Admiralty, in June of that year, a Dutch fleet, under Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, sailed up the Thames to Gravesend. It turned towards Chatham and burnt down the fort at Sheerness. The chain was in place between Hoo Ness and Gillingham.[3] On 12 June 1667 either a Dutch ship broke the chain or a landing party cast it loose. The Dutch had been piloted up the channel by disaffected English sailors, and the Dutch Captain of the Marines, Colonel Dolman, was also English. There was limited resistance from Chatham or the dockyard as the workers had not been paid for two years.[1]

Mr Wilson reported to Pepys that there were many Englishmen on board the Dutch ships speaking English to one another.[4]

HMS Royal Charles was taken to be carried to the Republic and many ships that were lying along the dockyard wall were destroyed, such as the HMS Royal Oak. The Dutch anchored when the tide turned and did not resume the attack until the next day. The Duke of Albemarle arrived and put an eight gun battery (Middleton's Battery) alongside the castle.[3]

Pepys wrote "I do not see that Upnor Castle hath received any hurt by them though they played long against it: and they themselves shot till they had hardly a gun left upon the carriages, so badly provided they were." So lack of munitions was Upnor's failing.[1][3][4]

On 24 July 1667 a Royal Warrant ordered that Upnor be strengthened. On 14 August 1667 terms were ratified at the Peace of Breda; hostilities ended 26 August 1667.

Pepys, who knew all the principal players wrote a contemporary diary, reading it allows one to feel his frustration at the incompetencies of others and his own ability to ascertain the truth. The King was bankrupt. He was related to the French King. He had opened secret negotiations with France in 1666. He thus issued instructions to lay up his big ships. The Royal Charles was unmanned and the dockyard didn't even have boats to reach her.[4]

With that Upnor's career as a castle finished.

Upnor Castle on the River Medway

The Magazine

In 1668 the defences of Chatham were revised. New batteries were built at Cockham Wood a mlie seaward of Upnor and at Gillingham. The chain was no longer used. In 1668 it was converted into a place of stores. Hundreds of barrels of gunpowder were shipped here from Tower of London Wharf, later there is mention of barrels of cornpowder being taken from Upnor to the fleet anchored at the Nore. In 1691, Upnor stored 5,206 barrels of cornpowder.[3] Modifications were made to the Castle to take the great weight.

In 1718 barracks were built. Life followed a regular uneventful pattern for the two officers and 64 soldiers. The Magazine closed in 1827 and by 1840 there was no gunpowder left. It became an Ordnance Laboratory. New magazines were built at Chattenden away from the river, and in 1872 a Military railway was laid connecting Chattenden and the river.[3]

In 1891 the Castle was transferred from the War Office to the Admiralty. It continued in service until 1945 when it was declared a museum.[3]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Upnor Castle)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Barnard, Derek (post 1994). Merrily to Frendsbury-A History of the Parish of Frindsbury.. Private Pub. City of Rochester Society.. 
  2. Colvin, Howard, ed., The History of the King's Works, vol. 4 part 2, HMSO (1982), 478.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Saunders MA FSA FRHist, A.D. (1967). Upnor Castle Kent.. English Heritage. ISBN 1-85074-039-9. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Downton, Peter; Samuel Pepys (1998). The Dutch Raid.. Private Pub. City of Rochester Society..