History of Walmer

kindly provided by Jon Peters Drone Media

The original village of Walmer, grew up around an estate established after the French invasion of 1066. Old St. Mary’s Church (circa 1120 AD) and cottages for workers and tradesmen soon followed. By Victorian times this small agricultural community, now known as Upper Walmer had become a thriving village. Over the centuries Lower Walmer, due to the proximity of the sea, castle and barracks also became a prosperous and flourishing area.

Walmer was not always successful against invasion and on August 27th 55 BC Julius Caesar and his legions landed at Walmer. Channel storms had damaged his ships, and he had lost both soldiers and supplies resulting in the planned invasion being little more than a reconnaissance mission lasting a few weeks. He returned one year later landing a few miles north, due almost certainly to tides and suitable landing places. But it was another 88 years before Emperor Claudius made Britain part of the Holy Roman Empire.

Tall ships at harbour

Entrance to Walmer - 1842
Entrance to Walmer - 1842

When France and the Holy Roman Empire became allies in 1538, Henry VIII knew that England was under threat from the combined might of Europe's foremost military powers. To counter that threat Henry built three castles, at Deal, Sandown and Walmer. Walmer Castle built in 1539, is the most southerly of the three and along with the others guaranteed a safe anchorage for ships during the 16th, 17th,18th and 19th centuries.

Walmer Castle houses a collection of memorabilia to our most famous soldier, the Duke of Wellington (of the Battle of Waterloo and the defeat of Napoleon fame). He lived at the Castle for 23 years as Lord Warden until his death in 1852. In military use until the 19th Century the Castle has beautiful formal gardens open to the public. It is the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Walmer has a long history of fishing, smuggling and rescuing sailors and in 1856 a lifeboat station was built on Walmer Green. Up to the present day 28 gallantry medals have been awarded to Walmer R.N.L.I. crews. In May 1940 the Walmer lifeboat, was one of 19 lifeboats in the flotilla of little ships which took part in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk.

Just off Walmer is the Goodwin Sands a notorious 10 mile sandbank that has claimed many ships. In November 1703 one storm alone claimed over 1000 lives. Between the shore and the Goodwin Sands is ‘The Downs Anchorage’ a deep water, safe haven for ships in times of inclement weather. It was not unusual to have hundreds of ships at anchor off Walmer during storms.

In 1665 a company of the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot was established in Walmer. In 1861 the Royal Marines - the elite commando force which is equally at home at sea and on land - took up residence and by 1869, the Admiralty had acquired all the military sites in Walmer. The Royal Naval School of Music was located within the barracks from 1930 and in 1950 was renamed the Royal Marines School of Music. A terrorist attack by the IRA in 1989 left 11 musicians dead and seven years later the barracks closed ending over 300 hundred years of continuous military use.

The Duke of York

Hawkshill Freedown

Row of Bi Planes

Hawkshill Freedown situated on top of a hill behind the Castle is owned by Walmer Town Council. It is an area of rare chalk grassland and is a site of Nature Conservation Interest. In 1917 Walmer Aerodrome was opened on this site and RAF Walmer stayed operational until 1919. It reopened during WW2, but no planes used the old airfield, instead some of the most sophisticated radar systems deployed in WW2 were located there along with M balloon unit of the RAF.

A short history of Walmer Aerodrome is available in a brochure from the Town Office.