The History of Westenhanger Castle
The Castle Westenhanger is a Scheduled Ancient Monument with a Grade 1 listed house, reflecting both its national and historic importance. It belongs to a group of early quadrangular castles and manor houses that were strengthened in response to threats of attack from France during the 14th Century.
If we go further back in time, it is possible that Saxon kings once inhabited the area and evidence of Roman occupation has been discovered on the site adjoining the racecourse. The Castle is situated conveniently at the junction of the Roman-built Stone Street from Canterbury to Port Lympne and the main route to London. It is close to the stone quarry of Otterpool and a water supply from the East Stour headwater.
Despite the site's undoubted Norman origins, there is no evidence to suggest any serious fortifications were actually built until the license to crenellate was granted to Sir John de Criol by Edward III in 1343. Before this date, there probably stood a large hall or palace with perhaps a surrounding moat and possibly a wood pallisade. What is certain is that the defensive towers and high curtain wall were not built until around 1400.
In 1509 the two manors of Ostenhanger and Westenhanger which stood here were merged into one ownership by Sir Edward Poynings and we know from historic papers that he began to build magnificently. Unfortunately, he died with the work incomplete in 1522 but his son, Sir Thomas Poynings, went on with the building, later exchanging Westenhanger with King Henry VIII for other lands.
By 1544 we know that the house was extensive and incorporated separate suites of rooms for the use of royalty. Later Queen Elizabeth I visited 'her house at Westenhanger'. Soon after Westenhanger became home to Thomas Smythe and his descendants, the Lords Strangford, who further enlarged it. By the mid 17th Century it was one of the largest houses in Kent. However, in 1701 much of it was taken down and the history since has been a sad tale of depredation and neglect, but as we progress in the 21st Century, you can see the efforts now being made to save what remains for future generations.