Tower keep castle at West Malling


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Tower keep castle at West Malling
© 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.

Tonbridge and Malling (District Authority)
West Malling
National Grid Reference:
TQ 67606 57081

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 tower keep castle at West Malling survives comparatively well as a ruined structure and in the form of associated buried and earthwork remains. It is an early example of this type of castle, providing evidence for Early Norman architectural fashions and construction techniques. The castle is relatively unusual in that its defences remained largely undeveloped during the later medieval period, thereby better preserving its rare, early features. The proximity of the monument to the nearby, associated contemporary nunnery, the subject of a separate scheduling, provides evidence for West Malling's role as a religious and administrative centre during the Norman period.


The monument includes a tower keep castle, known as St Leonard's Tower, situated on a natural sandstone ledge near the head of a narrow valley on the south western edge of the village of West Malling. The castle was built between 1077-1108 by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, who also founded St Mary's Abbey situated around 700m to the north east. The castle survives as a ruin and in the form of associated earthworks and buried remains. Its most prominent feature is the tall, square ruined keep, constructed of coursed Kentish ragstone rubble, in which some herringbone work is visible, with tufa ashlar dressings. The walls are c.2m thick, with each face measuring around 9.75m in length at the base. Additional support is provided by corner pilaster buttresses and a central buttress on the south eastern face. The keep survives to a height of up to 20m and originally contained a basement and three floors, although only the outer walls are extant. The original entrance was through the north eastern face at first floor level around 3m above the ground and was reached by a wooden staircase which does not survive. This has been blocked and a new round-headed archway pierced through the south western face at ground level. The upper floors of the keep provided accommodation for the bishop whilst his servants would have been housed on the first floor. Battlements and a fighting platform originally topped the keep, although these have been destroyed. Access to the upper floors was provided by a spiral staircase housed in an external angled turret pierced by arrow loops attached to the north western corner. The keep is lit by round-headed windows. The north eastern face is the most ornate with five round-headed arches at second floor level, of which the outer four are blind, headed at third floor level by two further windows. This arrangement is continued on the south eastern face with a blind arcade of four arched openings with one window over. Associated with the keep are two low stretches of medieval walling incorporated within a later, post-medieval garden boundary wall running for c.39m towards the north east from the north eastern corner of the keep. The first stretch of medieval walling forms the first few courses of the garden wall and runs for around 23m from the keep. Traces of herringbone work indicate an 11th or 12th century date. The second stretch is shorter and lies around 5m to the north east. Both will date to the period in which the castle was occupied and have been interpreted as forming part of an enclosure attached to the castle or a forebuilding designed to protect the original entrance to the keep. Surrounding the keep to the east, south and west is a roughly rectangular area of undulating ground which will contain traces of buried structures, including timber service buildings, artefacts and environmental evidence associated with the castle. The monument is in the care of the Secretary of State and open to the public. The castle keep is Listed Grade I. Excluded from the scheduling are the modern concrete steps which lead up to the keep entrance, the modern concrete path, the modern information board and the modern wooden door to the keep, 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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


HPG IAM file, St Leonard's Tower, Davison, B K, EH memo B K Davison IAM to Mr Fidler, St Leonard's Tower, (1989)
ref 10, RCHME, TQ 65 NE 3,


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.

End of official listing

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