walmer in 1890 - WalmerWeb

The Community Website for Walmer, Kent
The Community Website for Walmer
Go to content
Walmer's Past
Walmer Parish in 1890
The following description of points of interest in Walmer Parish was published in a book “Records of Walmer” compiled by Mr Charles R. S. Elvin in 1890. (NB: We have included any footnotes as indented blue text and placed them closer to the items to which they refer.)

In a Preface to his book, Mr Elvin explains that when he came to Walmer seven years previously members of the British Archaeological Association had visited Walmer Castle and been disappointed at a lack of records. That encouraged him to start researching the castle and this developed into a wider study of the history of the parish.


Taking the beach to the north-east of Deal Castle as the most convenient starting-point, let us suppose ourselves at the extreme northern apex of the triangular area which forms the parish of Walmer. Turning our backs to the south, we are facing the town of Deal; having Castle Road on our left; and, immediately in front of us, the Prince of Wales's Terrace and the Queen's Hotel, with the Victoria Parade between them and the sea: all which objects occupy the site of the Naval Yard, that existed here at Deal from the time of Elizabeth, or as some say from Stuart times, down to the year 1864. Somewhere hereabouts, or perhaps a little further northward, was the scene of Perkin Warbeck's landing in 1495; when the trained bands of Sandwich, in their warlike loyalty, proved too much for him.*

* " And where also that the seid Pers Warbeck of late from the pties of beyonde the See with gret multitude of people of the Kinges rebellis ennemyes and traytours, in shippes with all abiliments of Werre necessarie for the same, into this his realme of England entendyng to aryve at Deale in the Countie of Kent and then and there grete ptie of the Kingis seid enemeys Rebelles and traitours with him then acccmpanied, that is to sey the iiide day of July the xth yere of the reign of our seid Sovereign Lord, entred and landed at Deele aforseid, and there and then traiterously reared and levied batell and werre in plegne feld agaynst our seid Sovereign Lord, with baners displayed and with Armours Defensives etc.5' — Statutes of the Realm, [no Hen. VII, c. 64. Conviction and Attainder for treason of P. Warbeck and his followers.]

Here, also, in Deal, Anne of Cleves, and, nearer our own times, another royal personage, Adelaide of Saxe Meiningen, William the Fourth's Queen, first set foot on British soil. And hence it was that the Lord Digby escaped in 1641, "carried from Deal by one of the whelps of the King." Further still to the northward, beyond the blocks of houses which hide the Royal Signal Tower with its Time Ball — boon to sailors; beyond the sloping shingle, with its luggers, its galleys, its fishing craft, and its pleasure boats; beyond the iron Pier, 367 feet in length, that runs out to sea some four or five hundred yards in front of us : are the narrow waters of the Small Downs, and, stretching out eastwards, some six or seven miles away, the white cliffs of the Isle of Thanet.

Now, facing about, and looking southward, we are gazing on a long stretch of coast, low and open to Walmer Castle, but then gradually rising to St. Margaret's, with the village of Kingsdown, peering and escaping from an intervening gap, about two and a half miles off.

With these few preliminary remarks, let us start on our peregrination through the parish of Walmer. But which way shall we go? We cannot follow the boundary, for that runs right across the moat; with the paradoxical result of cutting off Deal Castle (all but a piece of the porter's lodge and the northern parts of the ramparts) from the town after which it is named, and including it in Walmer. And though it may be all very well for parish officials to descend into that moat, and to clamber up the ramparts, and for little boys to be made to scramble through the porter's window, once in a decade during Rogation week, we are not now beating the bounds; no, we are merely taking a tour through the parish, to learn a few preliminary details with regard to it. Well then, we will pass round the front of the castle!

These galleys and small boats on your left belong to the Marines; and those low buildings in front of us, about one hundred and thirty yards away, are the Clanwilliam Baths, built in 1878, and named after a former Captain of Deal Castle.

Turning now at right angles to the beach, and leaving that building with the balcony on our left (the Union Club), we get into the Dover Road, of which this portion in front of the sea is called the Strand. Just up here towards Deal the Gladstone Road branches off to the left; and immediately beyond, toward Deal Castle, is the spot where the Toll Gate used to be.

We have now a choice of two ways : either to follow the Dover Road past the Royal Marine Infirmary and Hospital Barracks — that block of houses just beyond, known as Royal Buildings, is also government property, and affords a home for the Commandant, the second Colonel, and the Doctor; while on the opposite or seaward side are the Local Board and Leith Estate Offices — or to take the Gladstone Road. This time we decide to follow the boundary, as there are no walls to scale, and take the latter. Back in a garden on our left is Beachlands,* the residence now of Capt. Jermain, R.N., but formerly the property of Admiral Henderson.

* The original house built in 1830 was known as "The Cottage on the Beach," and was the residence of Captain Andrew Atkins Vincent, R.N., Knight of the Hanoverian Guelphic Order, and a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Her Majesty Queen Adelaide. [Greenwood's Kent, 1838.]

A few yards further on we pass a disused Rope-walk: and, if we could peer over that high brick wall still further to the left, we should see a very dismal, neglected-looking, and disused Burial Ground; where such patients as died in what was once the Royal Naval Hospital (now the R.M. Infirmary), formerly found interment. This road to the right is Blenheim Road; and we are now on what is said to have been a Roman road, connecting Deal with Richborough in one direction, and Dover in the other; Pritchard calls it, " the ancient Roman Road that led to the celebrated Abbey of West Langdon and Dover."

Just beyond the Blenheim Road we come to the Drill Ground, bounded on the west by the Railway Embankment, which, further on, approaches the road we are traversing and crosses over the boundary (the road has there been diverted from its ancient course to obviate the necessity of a very oblique arch) into Lower Walmer.

We will stay a moment, if you like, at this Drill Ground, and watch the busy scene there, this bright autumnal morning. You want to know about the grave enclosed within the iron railing over there? It is merely the burial-place of a favourite horse of a former Commandant. But look at these twelve or fourteen squads of recruits, in various stages of efficiency, going through their morning's drill: these " with intervals " are in the initial stages; some standing at ease, or " going through the turnings"; others learning the mysteries of the Physical Drill, such as Swinging the Arms, Bending the Body, Stretching the Arms, Lunging, and so on; and others, again, learning to march to the beat of the drum and the measure of the pace-stick; stepping out or stepping short, marking time or changing step, or doing the high step at the double : those in single or double rank are more advanced and are practising, it may be, the diagonal march, changing front, wheeling, or a number of other movements : while over there a squad of Blue Marines, alias Artillerymen, are preparing for cavalry. It is such a scene as can be witnessed in few places, but we must stay no longer : in the afternoon, perhaps we may return to a parade of the Bicycle Corps, recently started here, the first of its kind in England; their wonderful gyrations are worth our while to witness.

We will now proceed to the Strand by the North Barrack Road, noticing, at the right-hand corner as we turn into the latter, another disused cemetery, the Military Burial Ground; a very sombre-looking place, enclosed within brick walls and darkened by the stunted trees with which it is thickly studded : there, just inside, not far from the north-west corner, is the grave of Algernon Stephens, "late lieutenant" of the 1st Royals, who carried the colours of that regiment at Waterloo, and died here in 1865. Walking on, we pass on the left Court's Mineral-Water Works, while on the opposite side of us we have the North Barracks, which we presently leave in our rear, as we pass the Foresters' Hall and approach the Strand : here, perhaps, we .encounter the Drum and Fife Band of the Royal Marines; they usually parade the street between 10.30 and 11 o'clock in the morning, from the South Barracks to the Commandant's house and back.

On our left as we turn is the beach (there are only three luggers properly so called belonging here now, their business is dying out, ruined by steam, chain cables — and free trade), and a walk of about two hundred yards, takes us past the Boatmen's Reading Rooms (at the corner of Wollaston Road), founded in 1873 by the late Mrs. Wollaston, and brings us to the Lifeboat House, erected about twenty years ago; it occupies the spot where formerly the Little or White Bulwarke defended the shore; and its neat, well-cared-for appearance, presents a strange contrast to St. Saviour's Chapel-of-Ease on the opposite side of the road, which, though only forty years old, looks weather-worn enough to have been founded in the fourteenth century : between the two is a Drinking-Fountain of grey granite whose inscription tells its own tale :- “ The gift of Catherine Brooke, 1882."

Less than one hundred yards further on, beyond these store-houses and opposite the triangular space recently enclosed by the Local Board (the Walmer-Road Post Office is now on our right), we notice on the beach a small brick building; close by it stand a little company of Coastguards, who appear to be in full force this morning : look ! they are swinging open those doors on which you see in large letters, " Board of Trade Rocket Life-Saving Apparatus"; they drag out the heavy-looking cart painted blue and red; and are clearly preparing for one of their quarterly practices : but, ha! what is going on now? the bluejacket on duty has sighted a man-of-war; see him peering through his spy-glass rested on a comrade's shoulder! now they approach the flag-staff, where the white ensign floats at the peak, and soon, it may be, the signal halliards will be busy.

Here from the top of the shingle, now the tide is low, is the best point from which to view the beach: how picturesque it is !— and here, is the traditional landing-place of the great Julius Caesar: how different now !—mark, low down upon the beach, those busy groups of men, around their fishing boats, fresh from their dark night's work upon the bleak November waves; and see, how the silvery sprats sparkle in the sun, as they toss them from the fatal meshes ! look at that lugger now launching from the beach; how she rushes madly down the steep incline with the noise of a rocket, and away to sea! the crew haul up the sails in eager haste; and soon they will be far away on their cruise of a month, or, it may be, six long anxious weeks in the heavy channel seas. But look again landward! there, hauled high and dry on the top of the shingle, close to those queer-looking capstans, are a number of boats, whose dingy sails are spread to catch the drying breeze : and by and by, another feature will be added to the scene; those bare poles that slant this way and that, and look so odd to a stranger's eyes, will be bedecked with the sprat-nets, already nearly emptied, which will float gracefully between them, or hang in loose folds about a single pole. But we must leave this interesting scene, for a considerable walk is still before us.

We have now a choice of four routes:
either to turn down Canada Road, where we shall see on our left the Cavalry Barracks; and on the opposite side, a hundred and fifty yards down, beyond York Street and Campbell Street and immediately in front of the entrance to the Barracks, the Walmer National Schools, with the Garrison Chapel and Schools and the North Barracks a little further on:
or, to take the Dover Road, which, after passing under the South Barracks wall, runs bleak, dreary, and uninteresting, for half a mile across the open fields, to Upper Walmer:
or, to proceed down Liverpool Road, named after a former Lord Warden :
or, choosing what looks most attractive, to walk by the Beach Esplanade.

We select the Dover Road, and thus secure a closer view of these pretty Queen Anne Houses, whose name of Delta Villas scarcely does them justice; though it defines correctly their situation on the triangular plot, which formerly existed here as an open space. Further on, we get a peep through the large doors, dosed at the stroke of ten o'clock at night, amid a flourish of bugles, or rather, as their echo dies away, into the South Barracks Parade. There, perhaps, we see the first squad of recruits undergoing the Colonel's inspection before their departure for headquarters; or, going through the Physical Drill, as we saw their younger comrades on the Drill Ground, and roaring out, in time with their movements, the words of some jovial song, such as "Sailing" or "The Old Brigade" \ or a company at Skirmishing Drill, extending or closing, advancing or retiring, inclining or changing front, to the call of the bugle; when suddenly the Alert is sounded, and the men halt, till the word is given " form rallying squares ! " and fine bugle blurts " prepare for cavalry " : or perhaps we may witness a charge in line delivered with terrific shouts, like the memorable charge that won Tel-el-Kebir.

And having satisfied ourselves that the Royal Marines are capable of thrashing any foe who shall dare to arouse the British Lion, we pass through Cambridge Road, immediately opposite, to find ourselves once more upon the Beach Esplanade; but not without having noticed on our left, as we crossed the Liverpool Road, Mr. Tod's model cottages and stables.

We have now extending north and south on either side of us some of the finest houses in Walmer, though, alas ! at this time of the year many of them are empty. The second house northward, Seafield, is the residence of a distinguished naval officer, Admiral Douglas; and the second house past that, belongs to an equally distinguished military officer, General Hughes, C.B.

Turning southward, we reach the corner, where, until recently, stood the low wooden erection, which once served the purpose of a Reading Room, but latterly was known as Sharpe's Bathing Establishment. It, like its poor old master — he left the oddest will you ever heard — has been gone these three years past; and if you want a dip now you must take it from a boat, or, in primitive fashion, before your neighbours are awake, from the shore.

Away down this turning to the right, Clarence Road, is the Lawn Tennis Ground or Subscription Garden — it is either or both to you according to arrangement with the Secretary —and if this had been the season, which extends from May 1st to October 31st, you would have seen the club-colours floating gracefully if not beautifully — they are blue, red, and white, like the tri-color gone wrong — from that little flagstaff over the railing.

The next house we pass is Park House, the residence of Mr. Frank May, the lessee of the ground just mentioned; who, with much foresight and liberality, secured a lease of what was then known as the Archery Ground, when bricks-and mortar were threatened some five years ago.

Just beyond the next turning, which is important as leading to the only public gangway down to the beach between the Strand and Walmer Castle, is The Lodge, the residence of Mr. Tod, to whose enterprise is due the existence of many of the best houses in Lower Walmer. His large mansion occupies the site of a small Inn, where an old inhabitant remembers soldiers of the " King's German Legion " to have been billeted. It has undergone many changes since that time, and was once the property of the Countess Stanhope*, who lived here at the time when the Duke of Wellington was Lord Warden: she was a great friend of the Duke, and her son mentions, in his " Conversations" a present made to her by his Grace, in the autumn of 1836, of the telescope he used at Waterloo.

* The mother of the fifth Earl Stanhope, and grandmother of the present Earl.

It was here that the Great or Blacke Bulwarke used once to be; but there are no traces of it now. In the State Papers of the time of Charles I., a trench is mentioned as existing from this point to Walmer Castle: its exact whereabouts is very difficult to determine at the present time, but possibly the high bank of shingle between the low ground known as the Lees and the shore, may have caused the term trench to be applied to what is now the Wellington Road; which would certainly have afforded a sheltered communication, 750 yards in length, between castle and bulwark, even with a hostile fleet right close inshore. The tall belt of trees fringing the Liverpool Road at the back of the Lodge (would that we had more of them!) were planted by Admiral Sir John Hill, who formerly owned this property, and resided here for many years.

Turning now past Beach House to the back of Walmer Lodge, we gain the old coach-road; — not the road known as the Dover Road which is comparatively new, but that which passes through Upper Walmer by way of Liverpool Road and Castle Street: and here, just beyond the pretty building called Lees Cottage, we cross the conventional boundary between Upper and Lower Walmer. A walk of about 250 yards brings us to the new road leading to the beach; — the road in question was made some four or five years ago, in lieu of a footpath, which till then ran diagonally from this point to the opposite angle of the meadow: and its continuation on our right past the Cricket Ground to the Dover Road, was carried out shortly afterwards.

In the low ground just traversed cannon balls have occasionally been found at no great depth (one weighing six pounds is at this moment in my possession); and a perusal of Clarke Russell's "Betwixt the Forelands" chapter xi, shows that these may very probably have found their way there, during the great sea-fight, between Van Tromp and the Spaniards, in 1693 : the latter, we are told, crept close inshore, under the protection, as they hoped, of the castles; but, during the engagement, in which the castles appear to have taken no part, twenty-three of their vessels were driven ashore by the Dutch, whose cannon-balls " flew in hail-storms towards and over the land."

Passing the belt of trees which extends from this point nearly to the beach (alas, how the storms have thinned them within the last few years ! though the tar burnt here when these asphalt paths were made had certainly a hand in it), we have, between us and the sea, the Castle meadows purchased by the Earl of Liverpool during his tenure of office : they have been much improved by the present Lord Warden, who planted those clumps of evergreen-oaks and shrubs on either side of the otherwise bare-looking drive.

Just before we turn up Castle Street we pass on our left Liverpool House, the residence of Mrs. Leith, widow of the late Lord of the Manor, George Leith, Esq., and we come now to as pretty a piece of scenery of its kind as any to be found within a good many miles. Here on our right, rising in verdant terraces, is the park-like meadow which faces Liverpool House : a little further on, winding upwards beneath the overhanging trees, is Castle Street, whose houses, hidden by the foliage in summer, are now indistinctly seen through the bare branches; before us are the grassy slopes of Constitution Hill, crowned by the New Parish Church, to the southward of which runs the new road (it has supplanted a footpath over the hill into Love Lane), that curves from where we stand to emerge in Gram's Lane, close to St. Clare College; — the latter we can clearly see, or at least its pedimented front, about a quarter of a mile away as the crow flies, standing out from the fine trees which almost enclose it. Another road, to the left of the last, but visible here only for a few yards of its course, winds past the base of Glen Hill to Kingsdown by way of Knight's Bottom : and yet another, though this (except that it affords a right of way to Hawkes Hill beyond) is little more than a carriage drive to a few private residences, ascends Glen Hill itself; whence some most charming views may be obtained both seaward and landward. The Glen from which the hill derives its name is a perfect marvel of beauty, thanks in the first place to Lady Hester Stanhope, who, as narrated in the history of the Castle, found here nothing but a chalk pit, and "a frightful barren bit of ground." From a seat above the Glen (you should visit the spot some fine May evening and hear the nightingales), looking over the tree-tops below and the house which belonged to the late Admiral Cannon, you get a most lovely view, extending across Lower Walmer and Deal right away to Ramsgate; the trees that rise from the hill on either side fringing the whole with a perfect framework of foliage.

Continuing our way up Castle Street, as we ascend the hill, we pass on our right the grounds attached to The Lawn, formerly the abode of Admiral Montresor. On the opposite side is the Chalet; and, just beyond, St. Mildred's, whose happy owner is much to be envied for the magnificent view which the tower of his house commands. In those grounds a quantity of Roman remains have been unearthed : the soil is full of them; — pottery, cinerary urns, bones of animals, and the like : pointing to the conclusion that there must have been a considerable settlement not far off, during some period of the Roman occupation.

Immediately beyond St. Mildred's, on the same side of the way, there is another new road leading to the church : and fifty yards further on — it is the second * house on that side — is Wellesley House, or, as it is often called, "the Duke's House"; which owes its title to the fact that the great Duke of Wellington, at that time Sir Arthur Wellesley and a General of Division, resided in it shortly before his departure for the Peninsula. Leelands, the property of Capt. Bushe, R.N., which takes its name from its former owner, Admiral Sir Richard Lee, is on the opposite side, but the house is some thirty or forty yards up the street.

* The first house, which has recently undergone a complete metamorphosis, was once the residence of Admiral Sir Thomas Harvey.

We come now once more to the Dover Road, from which we deviated in Lower Walmer: it is straight according to the modern fashion, therefore convenient, but decidedly open and breezy (try it in a gale in March with snow and hail from the north-east!) and commands a fine panoramic view of Lower Walmer, Deal, the Downs, and the country between this and Thanet; the high chalk-ridge of the " Island " stands out sharp and clear against the northern sky.

The rising ground on which we stand is known as Drum Hill, but whether it derives its name from the Drum Inn close by, or vice versa, it is hard to say.

* This Inn is probably by far the oldest in Walmer.

Holly Cottage, which you see a little way down the hill, was once the residence of Admiral William Boys, well-remembered by his sobriquet of " Buffalo" Boys (Mr. Coleman, the sexton, lives there now); the next house " Cotmanton" was that of Admiral Sir Edward Harvey; the vicarage is a hundred yards further; just past the latter is Sunnyside, associated in my mind with very pleasant recollections of its late owner, Admiral Henry Harvey; and the large red house immediately beyond that, is The Downs Ladies' School.

Turning round we resume our peregrination, which now takes us up Walmer Street past Hill House (Dr. Davey's) and several other good houses; one of the principal of which is The Shrubbery — the red brick Elizabethan-looking mansion just past Glebe House on the left — which though a new building has many interesting associations. For the old mansion, of which the present house has taken the place, belonged once to the Princess Amelia, daughter of King George III, and Her Royal Highness is said to have resided here for many years; later on, about 1780, it passed into the hands of the Marquis of Lothian*, sometime Captain of Sandown Castle (Hasted says he was appointed in 1779); and it was pulled down by a subsequent owner, General Smith, at whose death the property passed into the hands of Admiral Sir Thomas Baker. But besides royal, military, and naval associations, the place has a literary fame, Mr. G. P. R. James, the novelist, having also been its owner; and some of his later works were written during his residence here. The late owner, Mr. Arthur Smith, was one of the original promoters of the New Parish Church; and its eventual completion, which however he did not live to see, was largely due to his earlier efforts. At the present time the place belongs to Mrs. Bannister.

* This was William John Ker, 5th Marquis of Lothian, K.T., General in the army, Colonel 11th Dragoons and 1st Life Guards, a representative peer 1778, 1780 and 1784; born I3th March, 1737, died 4th Jan., 1815. Foster's Peerage.

We come now to the National Infant Schools, leaving behind us on the opposite side to the Shrubbery, Gothic House, the residence of Capt Leicester Keppel, R.N.**

** The next house on the same side, known as St. Clare Cottage, is said to have been the residence of a former Lord Chancellor; and for some considerable time it served as the Vicarage, as did also Glebe House above mentioned.

The narrow walk between the high walls on our left, Love Lane, leads to the New Church, from which it takes its new name of Church Path : the Shrubbery grounds are to the northward and the Convent grounds to the southward of this path. Shall we keep to the main street, or turn westward up Church Street to the Old Church? As we wish to pass by nothing of importance, we will go, if you please, a few yards up the former, in order to see the Harriet Cooke Almshouses, pretty little red brick dwellings with stone dressings, here on our right (the Post-Office is just beyond), and the Convent buildings, with their little Decorated Chapel erected in 1881, across the road.

Retracing our steps as far as Church Street (there used to be a Toll Bar at the corner), we pass on to Walmer Court and the Old Church, noticing en route the old house (Falkland House) that projects on the left about midway down the street: it has queer little bay-windows and slated gables; and was formerly occupied by Admiral Walpole Browne. Opposite the churchyard gates, which are on our left, the road winds in semicircular fashion to the Railway Station, named after this parish, but really, like the cottages near the arch beyond, in Great Mongeham. The narrow road here at the back of Walmer Court forms the boundary, and is itself the continuation of the Roman road we noticed in Lower Walmer, in which direction it may still be traced as a cart-road beyond the cutting and embankment; though here again the requirements of the railway have caused the introduction of a sharp bend in what was originally a tolerably straight road. The meadow just passed is traversed by two footpaths, and commands another grand view northward and eastward, more extensive than any that our walk has hitherto afforded.

Proceeding for about a hundred yards down the ancient road just mentioned we will now, with Mr. Page's leave, take the nearer cut back to Walmer Court through the farm-yard, and examine the ivy-clad ruins just to the north-east of the church : they form all that is left of a Norman mansion or castle, built here by a member of the illustrious family of Auberville, who held this manor by knight-service of the Lord of Folkestone. The principal ruin here in front of us seems to have been the Keep: there, built into the eastward wall, is apparently the slab of an old altar-tomb; it has traces of an artistic cross upon its upper part, but no sign of an inscription : and over there, a little further eastward, is a depression, which represents the moat, that once no doubt enclosed within its circuit both castle and church.* The history of church and manor are alike full of interest, but these topics will engage us later on.

* Hasted speaks of a ''deep single fosse" round Walmer Church; which fosse Mr. Flinders Petrie in his Notes on Kentish Earthworks, states he failed to see when a few years since he examined this spot (Arch. Cant, xiii, p. 13). The reason this fosse escaped Mr. Petrie's observation is because it was filled in when the churchyard was enlarged; but if he had secured the services of a competent local guide, he could not have missed, as he seems to have done, the remains of the moat in the grounds of Walmer Court just over the churchyard wall.

Our route now lies, for sixty yards, down Church Street, till we turn into the footpath, which, after several diversions, has at last found an abiding-place to the southward of the churchyard, for half the length of the latter; whence it turns across the middle of Pond Pasture (so called from Wigmore Pond, now dry, here on our left) to Station Road. There are signs of entrenchments in this meadow, as you see; but what warriors made them, or when, who shall say?

Christopher Packe, the author of the Ancographia, who, with other authors, believed that the sea, at the time of the Roman Invasion, covered all the low ground between Upper Walmer and Thanet, imagined Caesar's first battle on the shore to have been fought near this spot: indeed; he appears to have associated the moat already mentioned, and which Hasted describes as "a deep single fosse," with that event too; though the moat is undoubtedly of Norman, and the earthworks in this meadow probably of still more recent origin. It is worth mentioning that Hasted considered Caesar's Landing to have been effected somewhere between the spots now occupied by Upper Deal Mill and Walmer Castle.

You will hardly find a better spot than this, unless it be from Station Road, from which to view the Old Church, which, standing over there, some eighty yards to the north west, under the shadow of its venerable yews, served as the parish church for close upon eight centuries. There it rose almost before Walmer was a parish : and now it is closed with its monuments and memories, and seems almost ashamed of itself, as it nestles beneath the trees of Walmer Court. But its associations will never die, linked as they are with the great men of the past; — the Aubervilles and Criols of the Norman and Plantagenet periods; — the Fogges of the Middle Ages; — the Lisles and Boys's of Stewart times; — and, more recently still, with Pitt and Wellington and Palmerston, and many another noble name.

Turning away, we pass along by the Station Road (just down here to the right is the little Wesleyan Chapel, an iron building opened in January, 1888) to gain once more the main street, where again we have a choice of routes. If you wish for one of the most extensive views in Kent, we will turn to the right and go up the Dover Road, past the Workmen's Club (whose closed doors, alas! appear to say " tarn mortuus quam uncus"), to the top of the hill beyond Messrs. Thompson & Son's Brewery; but we must not forget to notice, on Messrs. W. and T. Denne's premises here to the right of us, the site of the old building where, many years ago, soldiers of the King's German Legion were quartered.

Exactly five hundred yards from Station Road we cross the boundary, and proceed about three hundred yards beyond that; passing as we go the site of the old Toll-gate, and the reservoir that supplies the parish with water. We are in Ripple parish now and have a grand prospect .

* On a very clear day no fewer than twenty-one churches can be seen from this spot, namely, Broadstairs, St. George's at Ramsgate, St. Laurence, Minster, St. Clement's and St. Peter's at Sandwich, Worth, Monkton, St. Nicholas, Wodnesborough, Ash, Great Mongeham, Northbourne, Ripple, the three churches in Deal, Sutton, Ringwould, St. Margaret's, and Kingsdown; and very nearly the same number of windmills may also be counted.

Down the road before us beyond Ripple Mill, a landmark well known to sailors, lies the village of Ringwould; — we see the Rectory and Ringwould House peeping through the trees, which, now the leaves are off, only partially conceal the church; a little to the left, beyond the valley that stretches away westward over there to Oxney Woods, rises the lofty ridge of Freedown, terminating eastward in the copse called Kingsdown Wood, and remarkable for its Celtic tumuli, its orchids, and its heather : to the southward, some four or five miles off, where you see the summits of four lighthouses standing out against the clear blue sky like sentinels, is the South Foreland, close upon 400 feet above the sea : (you should have been here on a pitch-dark night about five years since, when experiments were being tried at those lighthouses with various kinds of burners, electric, oil, and gas, each versus each; and watched the brilliant flashes of the first, which lighted up the sky and country-side in its revolutions, so that, even at this distance, you could tell the time by your watch): a little nearer, and just to the right of the lighthouses, is the massive Norman church of St. Margaret's, anciently an appendage to the priory of St. Martin : to the left looking over Clayton Hill and the hill beyond (Knight's Hill), we see nestling in the valley to the southward of Clim Down, and to the left of the spot called the Butts, where Kentish archers kept their hand in with the long bow, the little fishing village of Kingsdown, an offshoot from Ringwould, with its memories of the old judge Sir John Mellor, of Tichborne-trial renown; — he lived at Kingsdown House, and lies buried in the little churchyard on the cliff there: beyond, stretch the silvery waters of the Downs and the Dover Strait (you can see the South Sand Head Light-ship and the breakers on the Goodwin Sands), bounded, some three or four and twenty miles away, by the white cliffs of the French coast: and about north-east of us are the plantations of Walmer Castle.

Now turning our faces rather more to the northward, we see Walmer and Deal stretched at our feet; and, a few miles further off, due north of us, the Sandhills, famous for their Golf-ground, one of the finest in England; Pegwell Bay of crustacean celebrity; and the Isle of Thanet terminating eastward in the bluff point of the North Foreland: (you can distinctly see the houses of Ramsgate; and the position of the harbour is clearly shewn by the stone pier, which lies on the water like a faint white line) : a little more landward, rising, some six miles off, from the marshes, where by the way is the detached portion of the parish of Walmer already mentioned, and just beyond the little village of Worth, is the ancient Cinque-Port town of Sandwich; — you can see the square tower of St. Clement's, and St. Peter's with its bulb-like cupola, while Richborough and Ebbsfleet appear beyond : nor-nor-west of us, the high ground of Ash and Woodnesborough with its Pagan associations, bounds our view : further west still, we see the ivy-mantled tower of Great Mongeham church; and, beyond that, the plantations and church at Northbourne: here, about a mile away, the little spire of Ripple church appears above the trees, nearly in a line with the woods beyond at Betteshanger and Tilmanstone : and right away over there to the westward, beyond Sutton, and Waldershare Park with its far-famed tower, are Coldred and Shepherd's Well; the latter marked by the windmill which appears on the horizon.

There is but one thing more to notice before we resume our walk, namely, the Dane Pits, or rather their remains, which can only be distinguished by the lighter colour of the soil, in the field down the turning to the right; — the road bisects them obliquely, a little more than two hundred yards from its junction with the main road : Hasted describes the spot as " an oblong square entrenchment, comprehending about half an acre, with various little eminences in it"; but it has been ploughed up these fifty years, and, whatever purpose it served originally, it contributes now to the annual yield of farm produce, and will soon have disappeared altogether. Now, if you please, we will retrace our steps through Walmer Street, and take the first turn to the right (Gram's Lane), where we see again the Roman Catholic Chapel already noticed; and, passing on, have the Convent grounds* on our left, and on the opposite side those of St. Clare: both are enclosed by high walls.

* Within these grounds is the house known formerly as " Roselands," the quondam abode of Admiral Sir Henry Harvey; indeed he built the place, and his son Sir Thomas Harvey lived there after him.

St. Clare is a fine mansion as you see: it has extensive grounds, well wooded; and commands pretty views. It was originally built about eighty years ago by Mr. Andrew Gram, a native of Drontheim in Norway, and a very successful merchant: lately, it was the residence of Lord Conyers, the twelfth baron of that name, who died here in 1888 : and it is now a College for boys. At the foot of the hill we are now descending (here where Gram's Lane unites with the road to Kingsdown), an old inhabitant remembers a felo-de-se to have been boned; — poor wretch ! long may his bones lie undisturbed! The part of the valley where we now stand receives the name of Rays Bottom, but half a mile further to the south-west it is known by the more suggestive title of Knight's Bottom; — recalling to the imagination past scenes of jousts or tournaments, which in the days of the Aubervilles and Criols were perhaps not unfrequent here. The hill before us (Hawkes Hill), which we now proceed to climb, bears evident traces of earthworks, ** but again we have no clue to their date; and from its summit we obtain a very pretty view of the winding valley just left behind.

** Mr. Flinders Petrie remarks concerning these works as follows: " The faint banks at Hawkshill close joining the south side of the Castle grounds at Walmer, seem decidedly not for defensive works, but rather like the ancient field boundaries so common on the Wiltshire Downs, and only known in Kent at Hayes." (Arch. Cant, xiii, p. 13.)

Passing on by the footpath which skirts the Castle plantations from the Glen to the beach (there is another footpath southward over Hawkes Down to Kingsdown), we have once more the sea in view as we leave Hawkes Hill. It may appear idle to speculate on the origin of this name, but it happens that a certain William Hawkes. was captain of the Castle in 1576. It is curious, too, that in a document amongst the State Papers of that year, dated April 29th, mention is made of a "controversy" between him and Mr. Henry Isham, the Lord of the manor; though what it was all about appears not. A good deal of the land around the Castle has been in dispute at one time or another; and supposing the controversy in question to have had reference to .this hill, it might easily, and whichever way it terminated, have suggested the name that has come down to us.

It should be mentioned that quite recently an unsuccessful claim was made to Hawkes Hill as Common ground; the principal argument, apparently, on behalf of the people, having been the custom of holding a fair there on Good Friday. The trees on our left as we descend to the beach, are those planted by the soldiers, whom Lady Hester Stanhope brought over from Dover in 1805, during Pitt's absence in town.

We stand now once again upon the " low open shore " which gladdened Caesar's legions in the year 55 B.C.; — yes, low and open still, in spite of that pretty passage in Black's Guide to Kent, which tells us of the " glittering perpendicular wall of cliff" between this spot and Deal. You never heard the passage? then let me give it you in full : — " One mile's breezy walk along the cliffs (from this very spot) and we reach Deal. But it should be noted that the tourist may also proceed by the sea shore. He must, however, be careful to ascertain the hour of high water, as if overtaken by the tide, he would find no safety in the glittering perpendicular wall of cliff that here defends the sea-girt Albion." The author of that passage is to be congratulated on his inventive genius; or did his notes get somehow muddled up? But others have erred besides Black's Guide; for Leigh's Road Book, published in 1831, speaks of Martello Towers at Deal, though certainly there were never any on this side of Dover.

There was once a "jetty or head of tymber", a sort of groyn in fact, extending into the sea here in front of the moat wall of the Castle, " in length 8 rodde", which was intended to " staye the foote of the beach upp against the saide walle." That was more than two centuries ago, though a passage in Professor Burrows's recently published book (Cinque Ports, p. 19), reads as though " barriers running out into the sea," both at Walmer and Deal, were still necessary (they are at the north end of the latter where the sea-wall has just been made), "in order to prevent absolute denudation": the wide extent of shingle, heaped up all along the shore at Walmer, and stretching away out there beyond the rifle-butts at Kingsdown, points to a very different conclusion, at least as far as this parish is concerned.

The parish of Walmer terminates in the direction we are now looking, that is towards Kingsdown, just beyond that house in the first gap in the cliff, that rises gradually to the southward of the Castle : a Bridle Road across to Knight's Bottom forms the boundary. On the shingle a road was made, from the point where we stand, seventy years ago, of which circumstance the history is recorded in the parish books in the following words: — "Oct. 28th, 1819. Proposed by Mr. G. U. Leith on behalf of the Earl of Liverpool that the Parish should in consideration of the Sum of Eighty Pounds (given by his Lordship for the purpose) make a Road on the Beach from Walmer Castle towards Kingsdown, as now marked out, in the course of the ensuing Winter or at the leisure of the Parish." This road has recently been made into an asphalt walk for foot passengers only, as far as the Bungalows, and other houses, erected some five or six hundred yards away; though further on it still exists as a cart-road to the Parish boundary, along which it passes to join the Cliff Road. About midway between us and the Bungalows (notice what vast quantities of shingle have been of late removed for building and other purposes!) you see a pole with footholds, rising from the shingle; — it is used by the Coastguards at their quarterly practices with the Rocket Apparatus, and an interesting sight it is to watch them. You see the rocket whizzing seaward with a roar, and carrying a line with it to an imaginary wreck, of which that pole is supposed to be the mast; the line is made fast at some height from the ground; and two or three sturdy coastguardsmen rehearse the process of being saved. This is effected by means of the sling life-buoy, which is rapidly hauled out to the mast, and back again to the foot of the cliff; each return journey being made with a man in it.

Now let us turn our attention to the Castle, whose history will by and by occupy a chapter or two of its own; — how picturesque it looks, its ivy-covered walls nestling there among the trees! the guns upon its ramparts are ever silent now, though once they used to honour the Queen's Birthday with their old-fashioned thunder : why have they become dumb? There is a tale about those guns (there are eight smooth-bore Armstrongs, 32 pounders, on the Upper, and six of a similar description, 6 pounders, on the Lower Ramparts), that they are some of those taken by Earl Howe from the French, in his great victory of the "glorious first of June" (1794): the Illustrated News gave currency to this story on the occasion of Her Majesty's visit in 1842; but (unfortunately shall we say?) all the guns on Upper and Lower Ramparts alike, are marked with the royal initials G. R. 3. (Georgius iii. Rex.). When the lower ramparts were added is not quite clear; but I have seen an engraving, the date of which is fixed approximately by the semaphore that appears on the cliff towards St. Margaret's, in which a low cliff is shewn in the place they now occupy : probably Pitt added them when he put the castle into a state of defence at the commencement of the French Revolutionary War. The footpath through the meadows used once to pass, it is said, in front of the castle by way of those ramparts; but it has long been diverted, and now joins the road behind the northernmost clump of shrubs there on the beach.

This green in front of the Castle (a sloop or brig-of-war used, according to Ireland's Kent, to be stationed off here in wartime) is, like the Castle itself, the property of the Lord Warden for the time being of the Cinque Ports; though there still appears to be some doubt as to the actual boundary on either side : the stones you see not far away from us, were put down a few years ago by the War Office, during the absence of Earl Granville and without his 'knowledge or concurrence: if correctly placed, they limit the Lord Warden's ownership over the beach, to the portion, a little more than ninety yards wide, immediately in front of the Castle itself; though the part claimed is much wider. The clumps of trees and shrubs on the beach north and south were planted by Earl Granville.

Are visitors allowed to inspect the Castle, do you say? Yes, when the Lord Warden and his family are not in residence; — and there is a good deal that is interesting about the old place too. It was Pitt's residence during the French Revolutionary War; and he worked himself nearly to death organizing and drilling his famous Cinque Ports Volunteers, when an invasion from Bonaparte's forces, then concentrated at Boulogue, seemed imminent: here too, in a narrow little room which now forms a sort of alcove to the Drawing Room, Nelson is said many a time to have conferred with Pitt, while his flagship lay in the Downs : and here also the Iron Duke passed in happy retirement the last days of an event-full life; — and here he breathed his last on September 14th, 1852. Some of the articles of furniture used by the Great Duke are still shewn at the Castle, in the room that was his bedroom, though some have been removed to Apsley House. The present Lord Warden has endeavoured to preserve everything of historical value about the place; and some plates with an inscription, on the chairs in the Drawing Room that once were Pitt's, are due to his conservatism. There is a handsome old bell here which is worthy of inspection; — it used to be in the tower, but now you get at it from the upper ramparts to the northward: it has the initials C. R. (for Carolus Rex) upon it, and Stahlschmidt says (Bells of Kent, p. 432), though I think erroneously, the date 1662. It is twenty-two inches in diameter, and has around its upper part an ornamental double band of foliage. Originally an Alarm Bell, it now serves the more peaceable purpose of summoning the inmates of the castle to dinner.

It now remains for us but to proceed as far as Walmer Lodge, and we shall have completed our circuit of the parish. We have a choice of ways, however; either the Wellington Road, or the path on the shingle : the latter, which we choose, was originally known as the Liverpool Walk from its having been constructed at his Lordship's expense; later on, it was called the Wellington Beach, but the Local Board have recently (1887) made it an asphalted path, and renamed it the Marina. If you come here in the morning you will probably find Marines at drill; — distance judging and the like: at the present moment some boatmen are spreading out their newly-oiled nets to dry. You ask about that line of verdure on the shingle a dozen yards or so on our seaward side? It has a history of its own, for it marks the line of a path made by the Coast Blockade-men, sixty or more years ago, when the Government made a vigorous effort to repress the smuggling, or, as it was once called in these parts by an appropriate euphuism, the Owling Trade [State Papers, Domestic, William and Mary, Ixix. 3: June 1700]: every inch of coast along here was closely patrolled both night and day, to the great loss, Pritchard says, "of the inhabitants generally of the town (Deal)," and no doubt of the poorer classes of Walmer too. The truth is the Smugglers had long had by far too much their own way, and every one was afraid of them. An old lady well known in Walmer, and still living here, remembers being at an evening party at Beach House — the next house past Walmer Lodge — somewhere about the time in question, when a gang of these gentry suddenly appeared on the scene, and having taken possession of the house, ordered all lights to be immediately extinguished; — an order which the host dared not disobey.

Among the sights of Walmer not the least interesting, particularly during long-continued south-westerly winds, is that wonderful anchorage the Downs, eight miles in extent from north to south, and about five miles wide : in the good old days before the introduction of steam, it was by no means uncommon to see four or five hundred vessels of all sorts, outward bound, detained here windbound at a time; and even now when such a large proportion of all the vessels that pass through are propelled by steam, two hundred may often be seen at anchor in the winter months. Then is the time to see the Downs at night, the countless lights at sea giving the appearance of a vast town out there a mile or two away. But if even there are no ships, the Downs at night are by no means devoid of interest; — mapped out as they are by flashes of light from all the most important headlands, and from the light-ships that guard the shoals and channels of this dangerously narrow sea. On the land are the lights of the North and South Forelands : thirty miles away to the southward across the Straits, and looking sometimes not a tenth of the distance, the white and red flashes from Cape Grisnez (Grinny the sailors call it), sparkle on clear nights with marvellous brilliancy : Calais though low down is nearer, and its four-fold flash lights up the sky in the offing. Then there are the light-ships; three guarding, the Goodwin Sands, namely, the North Sand Head, the South Sand Head, and the East Goodwin; (the green light of the last is just about nine miles away); and another, the Gull, marking the fairway through the Gull Stream. An eighth light is said to be occasionally visible, namely that on the French coast at Dunkirk, but, as it can scarcely be less than five and forty miles away, you can believe it or not as you please. And booming across the sea from the North-East Goodwin come the weird groans of the mis-named " whistling " buoy.

November, 1889.

The text of this extract from "Records of Walmer" is available as a PDF file. To download, CLICK HERE

This page was updated on October 6, 2018

WalmerWeb ©2004-2024 NorthDowns Web
Back to content