Last week, the sun was shining brightly and it was warm ! – What is so unusual about that you might ask ? Well, after a very long and somewhat chilly winter, and ‘reluctant’ spring, we had begun to forget what a sunny day looked like ! However, this was the perfect spring day, looking exactly as a 5 year old might capture it on paper, clear blue sky, and the sun a splendid round golden spider-like orb beaming down to the earth.
Just right, then, to head off to the coast ( to swim? certainly not) – this was the chance to recce Walmer and Deal castles, and, camera in hand, check out what spring was bringing to East Kent
Both Walmer and Deal Castles were built by King Henry VIII in the 16th Century as part of his coastal defences against a threat of invasion by the Catholic Powers of Europe. Originally, designed to guard the Kent coast and The Downs anchorage, Deal was the largest of the three ‘Tudor Rose’ style castles built along this section of the coast.
is one of the most fascinating visitor attractions in Kent. Over the centuries it evolved into the official residence of the Lord Warden of The Cinque Ports. These busy little coastal towns defend the coast and country before the advent of King Henry VIII’s Royal Navy. The Duke of Wellington held the post for 23 years and enjoyed his time spent at the castle and in more recent years Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother made regular visits to the castle.
The armchair in which Wellington died and an original pair of ‘Wellington boots’ along with some of the rooms used by the Queen Mother, and her much beloved gardens are among the highlights to explore.
During its active life as a fortress, neighbouring Deal Castle had between sixteen and eighteen gunners. They earned about 6d (two and a half pence) a day during the Tudor period and lived on the ground floor of the castle in chilly, spartan and shared accommodation. It is likely that quite a few of them were married, so imagine the life of these men with their wives and children in tow!
It was positively chilly on this warm April day as we ventured down below sea-level. What must it have been like on a 16th century January day ! However, we did remark upon the fact that the wine store would have been very effective !
A Century later when the Royalist garrison of 224 surrendered to Parliamentary forces during the Kentish Uprising of1648, the following items of food were discovered in the castle:
10.5 ‘hogsheads’ (huge barrels) of wheat,
10 Holland cheeses and 10 Suffolk Cheeses
12 firkins of butter,
2 hogsheads of beef and 8 pieces of beef in water !
20 pieces of pork in salt, and 17 Norsea Codd in water.
This would have been a typical basic diet for garrison troops and sailors for centuries until the invention of canning and refrigeration in the 19th century. The food would have been preserved in salt and packed firmly into large barrels.
All this talk of food made us feel hungry, so we decided to venture inland to the small market town of Sandwich. A favourite little town of mine, with some delightful, independent shops selling antiques, books, curios, furniture, arts and craft, jewellery (and yes money hadto be spent!)
The first recorded mention of Sandwich was around 664 AD but there was probably some kind of settlement in Roman times as the site is very close to Richborough Roman Fort (Rutupiae).
The name of the town is, most likely, Saxon in origin, and probably meant ‘ a settlement on the sand ‘ Once a ‘Head Port’ in the Confederation of the Cinque Ports and the original ‘Gateway to England’ – a thriving, important port. Over the years with the silting up of the waterways, the town of Sandwich is now a few miles inland. Looking out over the River Stour it is difficult to imagine, Richared The Lionheart departing on a Crusade, or Queen Elizabeth the first surveying the English fleet at sea from the quayside.
Today, the quiet narrow backstreets are home to boutiques, quaint houses, little alleys and a wealth of timber-framed houses and churches with great stories to tell. Street names also have their stories: No-name Street,
Short Street, and Holy Ghost Alley.
You can find a great choice of restaurants, tea rooms and traditional pubs, with food ranging from Thai through to fish and chips!
Some day, I hope you may visit Sandwich with me, and hear how, but for a quirk of history, your lunchtime snack might have had a very different name. However, in the meantime, let me introduce you to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich !
Now whether he was a very busy working statesman or whether he was equally busy playing cards and gambling, it is said that he didn’t want to pause to eat. He would ask for his meat to be brought to his table/desk in between two pieces of bread. Others would ask for ‘ the same as Sandwich’! – so the sandwich was born. I wonder what John would have made of tachos, tortillas, wraps, pitta, bridge rolls, panini and BLT Clubs?! or ordering take-away on his mobile phone? We shall never know, but can enjoy his legacy.
Well, having reluctantly left a great little shop where we got tempted into buying some ‘new’ dining-room furniture (a bargain)! We found ourselves enjoying smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches
and a glass of locally produced ‘English Wine’ (Cheers! 4th Earl) and wondering how to re-arrange the house to accommodate our find !
Walmer, Deal and Sandwich are all within a 20 minute drive of the Port of Dover and individually or separately make a great day out.