Blog – Camber Castle: Combre Castle: Chambre Castle: Camber-before-Rye: Winchelsea Castle.


  • Kevill Point, Rye, East Sussex.
  • OSGB – TQ 92186 18457.
  • English Heritage.
  • Grade I Listed Building.


A castle stands, enduring flaws,

Gusts, tempests, storms, and time’s devouring jaws:

In twice twelve hours, ‘tis twice embraced round

In th’arms of Neptune, seeming to be drowned:

And when the floods are eb’d into the main,

Three miles in sands ‘tis compast round again.

(John Taylor – The Certain Travels of an Uncertain Journey, 1653).


Device Fort built to protect Rye Harbour against the threat of a French invasion. The castle measures 20m across and the walls stand to 9m in height.

Standing hauntingly isolated within an area of sand and vegetation, it is easy for the passer by to think “Why did they build that there!”. It is common for the public to wonder why certain places were built in what appears to them, totally out of place, but we must remember that the coast of Britain is constantly changing through erosion and silting up of areas, that what is mapped one year will be different to the next. A cartographers nightmare!


The Camber in the late medieval period. Key: A – Rye; B – the Camber anchorage: C – Camber Castle on Kevill Point; D – Winchelsea; dotted areas – sand dunes and banks.
By Hchc2009 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


And that holds true for this mighty castle. Once surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Rivers Rother, Tillingham and Bede, Camber still stands as a beacon in the landscape.

It is indeed recorded there was a Beacon kept here in the fourteenth century which acted as a lighthouse. The local people had to keep it lit so as to direct any passing ships into the safe harbour to ride out storms. And for this they had to pay a ‘fire-pence’. The greatest ship to possibly be moored here was the Great Harry, the largest in Henry VIII’s Navy.


Illustration of the carrack Henry Grace a Dieu, also known as Great Harry.


Rye and Winchelsea are Cinque Ports, and as such held an important role in the Defence of the Realm. They also required further protection and initially a small artillery tower was built onto the site where Camber Castle now stands. Following Henry VIII’s split with Rome, a new castle was built – it was concentric in shape and had a small keep – the original artillery tower strengthened – a circular gatehouse, stirrup-shaped bastions, underground passages for the garrison to move around if the site was taken, and an outer wall which also included bastions. It was designed to hold a maximum garrison on 28 men and 28 guns.

When the site was renovated only a couple of years after it was built, the walls were raised and strengthened, the bastions were removed from the wall and four larger ones constructed, more room for the garrison, and the height of the keep was raised. The commissioners of the building works are recorded as being Philip Chute, John Fletcher, and William Oxenbridge.


Plan of the castle: A – entrance basion; B – bastion; C – stirrup tower; D – keep; E – courtyard; F – gallery and octagonal wall; G – vaulted ring passage. Black – initial 1512–14 work; grey – 1539–40 extensions; light grey – 1543–44 redevelopment


The stone for the building works came from the destruction of some of the monastic buildings in Winchelsea, the quarries at Fairlight and Hastings, Mersham quarry in Hampshire and from Normandy. The timber was supplied from Udimore, Appledore and Knell, and the chalk for the mortar came from Dover.

The armoury initially included 140 longbows, 560 sheaves of arrows and polearms. The artillery included, over its short military career, demi-cannons, culverins, demi-culverins, a falconet, port pieces, and slings.


A replica 16th-century English bronze culverin (near) and an iron portpiece


Unfortunately, due to the changing coastline, the castle was practically obsolete by the time it was completed as it stood so far from the coast.

It was recommended at one point that the castle be demolished, and its materials used for the repairs to Deal and Walmer castles – thankfully this never happened.

Other uses for the site were put forward as a Clubhouse for a local golf course, and to be used as a Martello Tower.

Although it had a short life due to the changing coastline, this little castle is standing the tests of time. People have picnicked here over the past couple of centuries and it still draws people to its walls, to tell its story.


Camber Castle and the dry landscape of summer 2018.
By Mervyn Rands – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Here is the timeline for the site.


1486                 Small artillery tower built on the site built by Sir Richard Guldeford, Master of the Ordnance.

1512-1514          Small artillery tower on the site and maintained by Edward Guldeford. However, it had no artillery.

1533                 A series of blockhouses were being planned for along the southern coast.

1536                 Serpentine Guns provided for the site.

1538                 Henry VIII planned his gardens at Nonsuch Palace, Surrey, on the designs of Camber Castle.

1539                 Larger castle built on the site incorporating the previous tower, which acted as the central keep. A Moravian engineer named Stefan von Haschenperg was bought in to undertake the design and construction.

1540                 Captain Philip Chute headed a garrison of between 17-24 men.

1541                 Camber Castle, and the others along the coast were all placed under the Command of Sir Thomas Cheyney, Constable of Dover Castle, and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

1542-1543          Further works were undertaken as the original ones were not considered to have to the standard that Henry VIII expected. The garrison was made up of 28 men.

1543                 Until: William Oxenbrigge was responsible for the finances of the new building works.

1544                 Captain Philip Chute, Captain of Camber Castle, and Keeper of the Waters of Camber and the Puddle held the site.

1545                 The French Fleet attacked the coast and nearby Seaford.

1548                 Complaints were made to Parliament about the silting up of the Camber area.

1550                 The garrison was enlarged.

1553                 Onwards: Held a garrison of between 26-27 men, which included 17 gunners.

1568                 The armoury included 140 longbows, 560 sheaves of arrows and polearms.

1568                 Gun platforms in need of repair.

1568                 After: Held only 9-10 artillery guns.

1570                 Thomas Wilford was Captain

1573                 The local authorities in Rye stated that Camber was not able to be used as an anchorage anymore.

1584                 Repairs undertaken at the castle.

1588                 A spy was supposed to hand over the castle to the Spanish, but he was thwarted, and it never happened!

1593                 The brass artillery was removed from the castle.

1594                 Surveyed – found that it was in need of repairs.

1610                 Peter Temple was Captain.

1610-1614          The garrison was reduced, which included only 4 gunners.

1611                 Peter Temple was Captain.

1613-1615          The north and south bastions were filled in, which cut down the amount of living area for the garrison.

1614                 46 muskets were kept in the armoury.

1615                 John Temple was Captain.

1615                 September: The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was asked to undertake repairs at the castle. An inventory was made of the munitions stored there.

1616                 March: Robert Butler was accused of embezzling the Kings store and munitions (Public Records Office, 1858).

1616                 May: A survey of the repairs needed to be undertaken was completed. (Public Records Office, 1858).

1616                 July: A petition of John Greenfield, Purveyor of Fish to Lord Zouche, asked to be appointed Gunner at Camber Castle. (Public Records Office, 1858). There was a Muster Roll at the castle.

1617                 Robert Boteler was Lieutenant of Camber Castle.

1618                 Robert Bacon was Captain.

1623                 Parliament considered abandoning the castle as it now sat so far away from the coast.

1627                 10 March: At Dover Castle “The materials of Camber Castle would not yield above 1,200l, and Winchelsea and Rye think themselves quite undone if the castle be taken down….”  However, “Against the demolition of Camber Castle, built by Henry VIII, for the protection of the two former towns, and merely needing repair of the platforms.” (Public Records Office, 1858).

1627                 24 April: “Petition of William Byng and Edmund Lisle to the High and Mighty Prince, George Duke of Buckingham. Refer to former petitions for the reparation of Deal and Walmer Castles. The Duke procured and order for Camber Castle to be demolished for their repair, but that resolution had been changed….” (Public Records Office, 1858).

1636                 Charles I ordered that the castle be demolished.

1636                 Thomas Parker was Captain.

1637                 The garrison and artillery were removed from the site. Charles I shut down the site and removed the garrison.

1642                 Partially dismantled by Parliamentarians to stop it falling into Royalist hands and being used against them. Still used as a Royalist munitions store. The artillery was taken and installed at Rye.

1643                 Mayor and Jurats of Rye to the Committee for Sussex – “we have thought good to let you know that the Castle, called Camber Castle, neere to our towne is soe greatlie ruinated and broken that nay man may goe in there and purloigne and take from thence the tymber and leade; and therefore it will be verie fit (as we conceive) that some course may be taken that the leade and such tymber as may be easily embeazeled be taken away from thence and put in safe custodie where you shall thinke fit to appoint”. (Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts 1892).

1660                 The ruins were surveyed.

1664                 Captain Willian Carr asked Charles II to lease the castle and land for 31 years.

1785                 Antiquarian Francis Grose recorded the site.

18th C                The castle was a popular picnic site.

1804                 Surveyed by Lt. Col. John Brown.

1805-1807          Painted by J. M. W. Turner.

19th                   The castle was a popular picnic site. Also used as a base for smugglers.

1931                 A proposal to turn the castle into a Golf Clubhouse was rejected.

1935                 Surveyed.

WWII                Used for training and included the digging of trenches.

1946                 Aerial Photograph.

1951                 Included in the research into Device Forts by the Ministry of Works.

1961                 Grade I Listed Building recognition.

1962                 Surveyed.

1963                 Excavated,

1967                 Taken into the care of English Heritage.

1968                 Conservation programme developed for the site.

1970’s               Excavated.

1972                 Surveyed. Field Investigation.

1977                 The site was purchased by the Department of National Heritage.

1980’s               Excavated.

1984                 Handed to English Heritage.

1994                 Conservation programme developed for the site. The site opened to the public.

1996                 Scheduled Monument Notification. Aerial Photograph.

2015                 Guided tours of the Castle commenced.


Although Camber Castle never saw the military action it was constructed for, it is still a stunning piece of architecture and well worth a visit.



References & Bibliography.

Bayliss. A., Ramsey. C. B., Cook. G., McCormac. G., & Marshall. P. 2015. Radio Carbon Dates from samples funded by English Heritage between 1993 and 1998. English Heritage.

Bendall. S. 1995. Enquire ‘When the Same Platte Was Made and by Whome and to What Intent’: Sixteenth-Century Maps of Romney Marsh. Imago Mundi, 47, 34-48. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from

Biddle. M. 1999. The Gardens of Nonsuch: Sources and Dating. Garden History, 27(1), 145-183. doi:10.2307/1587178.

Biddle. M., Hiller. J., & Scott. I. 2014. Henry VIII’s Coastal Artillery Fort at Camber Castle, Rye, East Sussex. English Heritage Publishing.

Boswell. H. 1795. The Antiquities of England and Wales. Alex. Hogg.

Elvin. C. R. S. 1894. The History of Walmer and Walmer Castle. Cross & Jackman.

Gay. E. 1939. The Temples of Stowe and Their Debts: Sir Thomas Temple and Sir Peter Temple, 1603-1653. Huntington Library Quarterly, 2(4), 399-438. doi:10.2307/3816084.

Grehan. J. 2012. Battleground Sussex: A Military History of Sussex From the Iron Age to the Present Day. Casemate Publishers.

Harrington. P. 2013. The Castles of Henry VIII. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Hepworth. T. C. 1891. Camber Castle. The Photographic Journal, Vol. 35, No 1715, p. 513.

Historic England. 2021. Camber Castle. Available at

Johnson. M. 2013. Behind the Castle Gate: From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Routledge.

Lewis. W. 1932. The Formation of Dungeness Foreland. The Geographical Journal, 80(4), 309-324. doi:10.2307/1784606.

Lovegrove. H. 1953. Old Shore Lines near Camber Castle. The Geographical Journal, 119(2), 200-207. doi:10.2307/1791203.

Mackenzie. J.D. 1896. Castles of England; their story and structure. Vol. 1. MacMillan.

Pearman. A. J. 1889. The Chutes of Bethersden, Appledore and Hinxhill. Archaeologia Cantiana, Volume 18, pp. 55-71.

Public Records Office. 1858. Calendar of State Papers: Of the Reigns of Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth and James I. 1547-[1625] Preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office. Domestic series, Volume 9.

Public Records Office. 1858. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles I, Volume 2. Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts.

Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. 1892. The Manuscripts of Rye and Hereford Corporations. H.M. Stationery Office.

Sussex Archaeological Society. 1857. Sussex Archaeological Collections, Illustrating The History And Antiquities of The County: Published by the Sussex Archaeological Society, Volume 9

Sussex Archaeological Society. 1874. Sussex Archaeological Collections, Illustrating the History and Antiquities of the County, Volumes 1-25.

The Royal Engineers. 1887. Professional Papers by the Corps of Royal Engineers … Royal Engineers Institute: Occasional papers, Volume 12. Royal Engineer Institute.

Topley. W. 1875. The Geology of the Weald: Parts of the Counties of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Hants). H.M. Stationery Office.

Turner. T. H. 1859. Some Account of Domestic Architecture in England: From Richard II to Henry VIII. Parker.

Van Zandt. D. 1993. The Lessons of the Lighthouse: “Government” or “Private” Provision of Goods. The Journal of Legal Studies, 22(1), 47-72. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from

Williamson. J. 192). The Geographical History of The Cinque Ports. History, 11(42), new series, 97-115. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from


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