Cooling Castle and its associated landscaped setting


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Cooling Castle and its associated landscaped setting
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Medway (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 75368 75968

Reasons for Designation

A quadrangular castle is a strongly fortified residence built of stone, or sometimes brick, around a square or rectangular courtyard. The outer walls formed a defensive line, frequently with towers sited on the corners and occasionally in intermediate positions as well. Some of the very strongly defended examples have additional external walls. Ditches, normally wet but sometimes dry, were also found outside the walls. Two main types of quadrangular castle have been identified. In the southern type, the angle and intermediate mural towers were most often round in plan and projected markedly from the enclosing wall. In the northern type, square angle towers, often of massive proportions, were constructed, these projecting only slightly from the main wall. Within the castle, accommodation was provided in the towers or in buildings set against the walls which opened onto the central courtyard. An important feature of quadrangular castles was that they were planned and built to an integrated, often symmetrical, design. Once built, therefore, they did not lend themselves easily to modification. The earliest and finest examples of this class of castle are found in Wales, dating from 1277, but they also began to appear in England at the same time. Most examples were built in the 14th century but the tradition extended into the 15th century. Later examples demonstrate an increasing emphasis on domestic comfort to the detriment of defence and, indeed, some late examples are virtually defenceless. They provided residences for the king or leading families and occur in both rural and urban situations. Quadrangular castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex protecting a vulnerable coastline and routes to London. Other concentrations are found in the north near the Scottish border and also in the west on the Welsh border. They are rare nationally with only 64 recorded examples of which 44 are of southern type and 20 are of northern type. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other types of castle, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be of national importance.

Cooling Castle is an unusual form of quadrangular castle; most were constructed on a single, moated island. Despite some disturbance caused by subsequent gardening, landscaping and building, the castle survives well and contains standing remains, buried archaeological features and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed. The waterfilled portion of the moat will provide ideal conditions for the survival of organic remains. Gardens have been a feature of important houses since at least Roman times, if not earlier, but in the 16th century gardens became larger and more formal. Recurring features were terraces, ponds and canals, and in the design of these was a continuous interplay between social aspirations, artistic aims and changing fashions. The earthwork remains of such gardens are important archaeological features illustrating their recreational and ornamental function and of course, the scale of investment in time and money. The landscaped water garden to the north and west of Cooling Castle survives well and provides evidence for the later elaboration of the original castle defences for ornamental purposes. The transformation of the medieval remains into a picturesque ruin within the landscaped garden of a 19th century house illustrates the phenomenon of Romantic Antiquarianism, the creation of an attractively informal garden around the focus of a ruined building.


The monument includes a quadrangular castle and an associated landscaped area situated on the north Kent marshes, on the southern bank of the River Thames, around 3.2km south of the present course of the river. The manor of Cooling was acquired by the de Cobham family by the middle of the 13th century and John de Cobham, the 3rd Baron Cobham, used the French raid on the Thames estuary in 1379, part of the hostilities of the 100 Years War between England and France, to justify the need for a castle to protect northern Kent and the seaward approach to London. He received Royal licence to fortify his manor on 2nd February 1380-1, and building work was completed by the end of 1385. The castle buildings occupy two islands divided by the now dry, eastern arm of the moat surrounding the western island. The remains of the inner ward on the western island are Listed Grade I. The defensive curtain walls of the western island form an almost complete circuit around the sub-square, inner courtyard, although a short section of the northern wall near the north eastern corner has been dismantled. The island covers an area of c.0.24ha and takes the form of a raised platform 1.8m above the surrounding ground. The curtain walls are c.1.2m thick and are faced mainly with ragstone ashlar and some roughly- knapped grey flint, with a chalk rubble core. These have become partially ruined, surviving to a height of between 4.5m and 9m. At each of the four corners are the remains of a circular tower, the south eastern and north western of which survive almost to their full height and are pierced by gunloops. The south eastern corner tower has an inserted, four-light, hollow chamfered, mullioned and transomed window at first floor level. The original entrance to the interior of the western island lies toward the northern end of the eastern curtain wall and is a gateway with a central, four-centred arch flanked by two semicircular towers pierced by gunloops. This entrance is now blocked by a modern wall. Steps leading up to a gunloop survive inside the northern gate tower. Access to the gateway would have been by way of a drawbridge from the eastern island over the moat, although this has not survived. A further simple entrance survives at the northern end of the western curtain wall and may have provided access to the island for water-borne traffic. A former owner of the castle is known to have unearthed the remains of a small wooden boat near the water gate during the 19th century. Within the north eastern corner of the inner courtyard is the great hall, of which one bay of the three-bayed undercroft survives intact. The ceiling has quadripartite vaults with chamfered ribs resting on short columns built into the walls. The floor is paved with modern stone flags. A piscina, or alcove containing a water basin, which would originally have been situated within the castle's chapel, has been resited on the eastern wall. On the outer side of the eastern wall is a central, rectangular projection which may have contained the fireplace and chimney of the hall. The great hall is faced with ragstone and finely-knapped flint arranged in a chess-board pattern and the room is lit by small lancet windows. In the south eastern corner of the courtyard, adjacent to the corner tower, are the remains of a further chamber, now below ground level and reached by way of a newel staircase. The south eastern corner tower was built after this chamber, obscuring a window opening on its southern wall, and this, along with a slight change in the alignment of the northern curtain wall near its eastern end, suggests that the eastern wall was a later addition to a slightly earlier castle plan. Further domestic buildings which ranged around the central courtyard survive as buried features. The eastern island is a substantially raised, sub-rectangular platform and is the larger of the two islands, covering an area of c.1.1ha. The island was also, originally, fully enclosed by a curtain wall, although only the western portion of the wall survives as a standing feature. This has been the subject of partial rebuilding and alteration over the years. There are ruined, horseshoe-shaped towers at the north western, north eastern and south eastern corners. The original buildings of the interior survive mainly as buried foundations, and a 19th century farmhouse and farm buildings, including a Grade II Listed, timber-framed barn dating from the 16th century, have been built within the interior. A small building, now an outhouse, situated on the western side of the farmhouse and adjoining the western curtain wall, is constructed of medieval masonry, some reused from dismantled portions of the castle. The building has a curved southern wall which suggests that it contains the remains of a circular mural tower, part of the original accommodation of the castle's interior. In the south western corner of the eastern island is the main gatehouse, a Grade I Listed Building, which provided overland access to the castle complex. The gatehouse survives almost intact and has two, semicircular flanking towers capped by boldly projecting rings of machicolations and crenellations. The towers are open on the inside. Between them is a four-centred arch with crenellations on either side, set above a moulded, round-arched gateway. Gunloops pierce the southern faces of the towers at first floor level. High on the southern face of the eastern tower is an enamelled copper plaque inscribed in gothic lettering with the following rhyme:- `Knoweth that beth and schul be That I am mad in help of the cuntre In knowing of whyche thyng Thys is chartre and wytnessyng'. The eastern island is surrounded by a substantial, V-shaped dry ditch c.20m wide and up to 6m deep on the eastern and part of the southern and northern sides. The ditch is interrupted by a causeway which gives access to the main gateway to the south and, on the northern side, by a dam which, despite some modern reinforcement, is an original feature separating the wet moat to the west from the dry ditch to the east. The moat surrounding the western island is fed by natural springs and remains waterfilled on the northern, southern and western sides, although the level of the water is now lower than it would have been when the castle was in use. To the north and west of the western island is an elaborate and largely decorative landscaped area which may have been created in the 18th or 19th centuries as part of a landscaped garden incorporating the castle ruins. This area is bounded by, and incorporates, water channels flowing into the castle moat. A small circular island lies to the west of the castle's western island and is connected to a further, larger island to the north by a modern footbridge. A narrow causeway gives access from the larger island to the castle. Some 10m north of the northern arm of the moat is a low, north west-south east orientated linear bank c.46m long, perhaps forming part of the outer defences of the castle. Cooling Castle remained in the ownership of the descendants of Sir John de Cobham until the 18th century, although it is believed to have gone out of use as a manorial residence after 1554, when the castle was attacked by the forces of Sir Thomas Wyatt during his rebellion against Queen Mary's impending marriage to Philip of Spain. A former owner of the castle found fallen masonry and iron and stone cannon balls in the eastern arm of the moat during the 19th century. The farmhouse, all farm buildings, including the Grade II Listed barn which is considered to be more appropriately protected by its listed status, and other outbuildings situated on the eastern island, all modern walls and fences, the modern reinforcement of the dam on the northern arm of the castle ditch, the modern footbridge within the landscaped area to the west of the castle and the modern wall which blocks the original entrance through the gatehouse on the eastern curtain wall of the western island are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Robertson, W A S, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Coulyng Castle, (1877), 128-144
Robertson, W A S, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Coulyng Castle, (1877), 128-144


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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