Tower keep castle at Chilham


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011802

Date first listed: 06-Jun-1995


Ordnance survey map of Tower keep castle at Chilham
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Kent

District: Ashford (District Authority)

Parish: Chilham

National Grid Reference: TR 06627 53466


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the principal defensive feature. The keep may be free-standing or surrounded by a defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops, may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid- 15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, 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 nationally important.

The Norman keep together with its associated features survives well, despite being partly restored in the 20th century. Partial excavation has confirmed that the site contains archaeological remains, including evidence for both pre- and post-Conquest activity.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the buried and earthwork remains and the unoccupied upstanding sections of an 11th to 12th century tower keep castle constructed on an earthen mound surrounded by a ditch and outer bank. The castle buildings have undergone alterations in more recent times and some are occupied. These are Listed Grade I and are not included in the scheduling. The site stands on level ground above and to the south west of the village of Chilham. The remains include a mound on which stands an octagonal keep with a forebuilding, a small building designed to protect the castle entrance, surrounded by a roughly rectangular curtain wall which survives to a height of c.3m. It is possible that this mound was originally a motte which pre-dates the Norman castle. Excavations in 1926 confirmed earlier observations of a southern bay to the forebuilding which pre-dated the castle and was unfortified. This has been dated to the 11th century. Beyond the curtain wall are the remains of a ditch and outer bank which have been disturbed and partly obscured by modern development. The ditch is approximately 10m wide and varies in depth around the castle from c.0.5m on the north to 2m on the south below the level of the surrounding gardens and road. Further evidence relating to external earthworks may survive in the grounds surrounding the castle and the mansion house. Identification of these earthworks is complicated by landscaping of the mansion garden. To the west and north, however, some indications of an external bank are visible. From 1066 Chilham was the seat of the barony of Fulbert of Dover. The surviving structures date from 1171-1174, when Henry II spent over 400 pounds on building an octagonal keep of three floors built of coursed ragstone rubble, with mid-wall buttresses and a rectangular stair turret on the north east side. There is evidence that there was a garderobe to the south east. The curtain wall was built at the same time. The castle again came into royal control during the reign of Richard I, when various repairs are recorded as being made to the structure. In 1214, seisin was granted to John of Dover's illegitimate son, Richard, and the castle finally passed out of royal control. A mansion was built to the east of the castle by Sir Dudley Digges - the master of the Rolls for James I - in red brick on a polygonal plan in 1616. It is recorded by antiquaries such as Hasted that Sir Dudley also pulled down the ancient mansion which had stood on the site, before building his new manor house. The castle was restored early in the 20th century, and now provides domestic accommodation. The castle keep and curtain wall are Listed at Grade I, as is the donkey wheel and its building. The forebuilding is also Listed Grade I. The forebuilding, curtain wall and the earthen mound on which the castle stands are all included in the scheduling. Excluded are the castle keep, since it is an inhabited and roofed building, all modern fittings, wooden and wire fences, the small wooden shed to the south west of the castle mound, the timber shed and donkey wheel within it, and the statue and modern features associated with the pond in the garden to the west of the mansion house; the ground beneath all these features is, however, 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.

Legacy System number: 24360

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Newman, J, The Buildings of England: Kent: North East and East, (1983), 273-274
Renn, D F, Norman Castles in Britain, (1968), 142
Colvin, H M, 'The History of the King's Work' in Chilham Castle, , Vol. II, (1963), 613

End of official listing