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TICKETS & PRICES

Adults: £7.20
Children 5-17 Years: £3.10
Families (2 adults, up to 3 Children): £17.50

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Visiting Upnor Castle

Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Upnor Castle as an artillery fort on the River Medway in 1559. The castle played a role in protecting the docks and the Royal Navy vessels anchored in the river. Today, visitors may access the site and explore the military monument, which now offers wedding facilities.

Parking

Visitors will find a small parking area with space for around 20 vehicles approximately 200 m (656.17 ft) from the site entrance. 

Access to the High street is via a quiet village road, followed by a cobbled street. 

The castle parking is free of charge and accommodates coaches and minibuses, and there’s additional parking in lower Upnor. 

Please keep in mind that the castle now offers wedding facilities. Therefore, visitors can expect traffic to be congested and parking to be limited in the instance of a wedding event.

 

Price

English Heritage Society members

Free entry with membership card

Adults

£7.20

Children (age 5-17)

£3.10

Concession 

£5.15

Family (2 adults and up to 3 children)

£17.50

Family (1 adult and up to 3 children)

No information available

 

Opening

Upnor Castle is usually open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm, with the last admission at 4.15 pm. The castle is closed every Monday except Bank Holidays. 

English Heritage encourages visitors to book before visiting on their official website, which also offers weekly opening schedules. 

Note: Due to the Covid Pandemic, the English Heritage released an update informing travellers that all staffed heritage sites are closed under government advisement from 18 March to 1 May. 

Visitors should refer to the Heritage website for further updates and opening times for Upnor Castle.

Location and Access

You may access the Upnor Castle site via an unclassified road of the A228. However, visitors should be aware that the castle is offered as a wedding venue so that parking may be congested at times. 

Upnor Castle is around 2 mi (3.22 km) from Snood train station. 

The address of Upnor Castle is:

Upnor Road

Upper Upnor

Rochester

Kent

ME2 4XG

 

Access to the castle is down three large steps, and visitors may access the upper floors via a spiral staircase.

The gravel path leads to a picnic area with seating and tables that accommodate wheelchairs. The courtyard and gatehouse are on the same level, and the surface is a mixture of grass and stone slabs which may be uneven in certain places.

There’s a drop-off point outside the parking gates for visitors with mobility impairments. However, drivers should be aware that there’s no space to turn their vehicles around in High Street, so they’ll need to reverse after their drop-off.

Located in the parking area are two disabled parking bays. These bays are accessible to disabled visitors, but any disabled guests should phone ahead to reserve them in advance, as space is limited. You may reserve the bays by dialling 0370 333 1181.

Disabled visitors may only access the castle grounds via a ramp leading into the Lower Magazine. They will not be able to access the castle’s upper floors, as access is only available via a spiral staircase.

English Heritage invites couples to enjoy their wedding ceremony in the Upper Magazine area, as long as they don’t exceed 30 minutes duration. 

The hire duration is 3 ½ hours without public restriction to the castle site. 

Heritage also offers guests free audio tours an hour before the ceremony starts. However, keep in mind that parking space is limited, so plan accordingly when hosting a wedding.

Know Before You Go

  • English Heritage offers a small shop in the ticket office where visitors may buy a selection of gifts and themed souvenirs, as well as snacks, drinks, and ice cream. 
  • The shop entrance is via a small number of stairs so not accessible by wheelchair. 
  • You have the option of Heritage-guided audio tours in English, French and Dutch for an additional £1.
  • Heritage welcomes children to play in the grassed areas around the castle; however, they don’t permit kite flying or ball games on the sensitive heritage site.
  • Families will enjoy activities on the castle site such as coin rubbing, dressing up, and cannon firing.
  • Toilets with baby changing facilities are on the castle site.
  • English Heritage only allows assistance dogs on the castle site. Pets are not permitted.

Places To Stay Nearby

Premier Inn Chatham/Gillingham (Victory Pier) Hotel

Premier Inn Chatham/Gillingham offers competitively priced accommodation with wifi, flatscreen TV, and ensuite bathroom facilities.

Book

King Charles Hotel 

King Charles Hotel offers 97 en suite rooms, including luxury bridal suites and family suites. The hotel also presents itself as a wedding venue that can host up to 70 guests in their delightful garden. 

Each room comes with wifi and Freeview TV. Prices range from £34 for a standard room to £79 for a family room.

Book

The Ship and Trades Chatham Maritime

The Ship and Trades Chatham Maritime offers 15 ensuite rooms, some with waterfront balconies and marina views. They offer all the frills such as wifi and flatscreen TVs and an in-house restaurant specialising in grills. 

Rates per night range from £115 for a Standard Double to £155 for a Featured Room.

Book

History of Upnor Castle

Built as an artillery fort in 1559, Upnor played a role in the humiliating English defeat during the Dutch invasion in 1667. The artillery fort with extensive weaponry proved ill-equipped to deflect the Dutch attack and soon lost its military importance to improved military facilities in the area.

Time Line


-1559–1567

In the mid-1500s, the Royal Navy started choosing the River Medway as their preferred port of rest. The river was rock-free, and the sheltered position made a perfect location for the royal ships to spend their time at anchorage or for repairs. 

In fact, 23 of the royal ships were eventually harboured there, of a fleet that only numbered 26 ships. 

Due to such a concentration of the Royal Navy assets, Queen Elizabeth commissioned a coastal defence fortification to protect the ships and potential sea attacks to the area. The decision was somewhat reflective of the political tensions at the time with Spain and other European powers.

Sir Richard lee undertook the design of the fortress but designated Sir Humphrey Locke and Richard Watts to supervise the build. 

The castle comprised a two-storey main structure with a protective curtain wall and towers and a triangular gun platform projecting into the river. The curtain walls had a surrounding ditch to protect the landward side of the castle further. 

The Water Bastion was the principal artillery platform that lay at the river’s lower reaches on the high water line to effectively hit the hulls of enemy ships both advancing and retreating in the channel. 

-1599–1601 (Rebuild)

The Crown commissioned a substantial rebuild of Upnor Castle between 1599-1601. Builders modified the Water Bastion to hold heavier weapons and installed a timber palisade to repel enemy landing parties and the approach of ships at high tide. 

They also added two earthwork forts, Bay Sconce and Warham Sconce. 

-1642 (Castle Seized)

Parliament held Upnor Castle from 1642 until a Royalist rebellion in 1648 seized control. The Royalists returned the castle to Parliament, and repairs were planned while at the time, the castle functioned as a prison for Royalist supporters. 

-1666

Charles II fell into some complacency due to the Dutch failing in the St James Day Battle in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Not expecting an attack, he delayed peace negotiations while gathering money to set out his royal fleet. 

In a surprise attack, a Dutch fleet under Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter sailed up the Thames in Gravesend, then turned towards Chatham after slighting the fort at Sheerness.

-12 June 1667 (Dutch Attack)

The Dutch breached the defensive chain held by two batteries across the Medway between Hoo Ness and Gillingham. Historians are uncertain whether the Dutch ships broke through the chain or troops on the shore cast the defensive chain loose. 

Historians suggest that the Dutch had English help to navigate the channel, including the Dutch Captain of the Marines. Regardless, the English gave little resistance from Chatham or the dockyard as the workers had not received pay for over two years.

The Dutch forces breached the defences and seized the Royal Charles, the much-coveted flagship on the English fleet. They then set to burning the other English ships anchored in their reach. 

However, the turning tide offered the English a respite, and the Dutch had to anchor until the following day.

The Duke of Ablemale, in charge of the castle defences, quickly built Middleton Battery next to Upnor Castle. The following day, the Dutch renewed their attack and pushed further up the river. They met increased artillery resistance from Upnor castle and the Middleton Battery, garrisoned with additional troops from Monck. 

Unfortunately, the Dutch destroyed a large number of English vessels before they withdrew to Queensborough, after one of the most decisive and humiliating English defeats in maritime history. 

-Post Dutch Attack

The humiliation suffered at their defeat prompted the English to upgrade their coastal defences substantially. They built a new bastion called Garrison Point Fort to protect the guns at Sheerness, Cockham Wood Fort, and Gillingham Fort further upstream. 

Further gun batteries followed at Hoo Ness and the Isle of Grain. 

All these upgraded defences made Upnor Castle superfluous by the 17th century, and instead, the castle became an ammunition store and magazine. The military removed the gun platforms on the roof, and the castle continued to function as storage for an extensive period.

-1718

The castle functioned as a barracks at this time, garrisoned by two officers and 64 soldiers who were undoubtedly rather starved for any military action. The magazine closed in 1827.

-1827

The castle transformed into an Ordnance laboratory which is a facility that filled shells with gunpowder. 

-Post-WWI

Aer the First World War, Upnor became a Royal Naval Armaments Depot and a proof yard for firearms testing and explosives. The castle remained a military facility until the 1920s where it became more of a military museum. 

-1941

Upnor Castle briefly fell into service in WW2 as part of the Magazine Establishment when two enemy bombs damaged the castle in 1941. The bombing dislodged plaster in the south tower and Gatehouse, exposing historical graffiti that dates back to the 1700s. 

-1945

In 1945 the Admiralty approved that the castle be officially declared a Departmental Museum and open to the public. As a result, the restoration took place to improve its condition.

-1960

Although still part of the Crown Estate, the English Heritage oversees the castle, which was scheduled as an Ancient Monument in 1960. 

Today, the Medway Council runs the site and events at the castle.

Upnor Castle Occupants

Upnor Castle was a military fort rather than a residence and was occupied by a series of officers and soldiers in the English Navy. However, it was host to famous personages which follow below. 

  • 1559 - Sir Richard Lee delegated Sir Humphrey Locke and Richard Watts to supervise the building of Upnor Castle. 
  • 1606 - King James, Anne of Denmark and Christian V of Denmark, and Prince Henry visited the castle by barge from Rochester.
  • 1667 - Duke of Albemarle came to the support of Sir Edward Scott, commander of the castle defences during the Dutch attack.

Images of Upnor Castle

Upnor Castle
Upnor Castle

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

What Kind of Castle Was Upnor Castle?

Upnor is not a castle in the strict sense in terms of a fortified residence of a lord or noble. The castle was instead an Elizabethan artillery fort built primarily as a military defence of the warships moored at Chatham Dockyard during the reign of Elizabeth I in 1559. 

How Old Is Upnor Castle?

Queen Elizabeth I commissioned the building of Upnor Castle, built between 1559 and 1567, making the castle around 462 years old. It was extensively modified between 1599 and 1601, including the gatehouse, the ditch and the north and south tower increased in height.

Location of Upnor Castle

Upnor Castle remains on the northwestern bank of the River Medway and includes standing buildings, ruined structures and earthworks. The castle building ran mostly over two phases between 1559 and 1567, following the designs of Sir Richard lee. 

The second phase of construction dates between 1599 and 1601.

The site remained little changed in terms of its initial positioning, beyond expanding outward in the second phase of the building, which focussed on the landward defences and the remodelling of the front of the bastion.

Other Places To Visit Near Upnor Castle

Rochester Cathedral 

Rochester Cathedral is the second oldest church in England and dates back to 604 AD. King Ethelbert of Kent originally founded the first church, of which recent excavations revealed a 70 cm (27.56 in) stretch of the 7th-century wall in the foundations. 

St. Augustine personally consecrated the site, and historians suggest that Rochester cathedral was the site of Henry VIII meeting Anne of Cleves. The cathedral is beautifully designed with stained glass windows and carvings. 

Rochester Castle

William of Corbell built the first Norman castle in 1127 to guard the important River Medway crossing. Rochester Castle has a long history of destruction and rebuilding as it played out its role in the politics of the time.

The castle was the scene of an epic siege by King John in 1215. The siege lasted for two months before the rebel barons finally surrendered. King John used the fat of forty pigs to set a mined fire that brought down the southern corner. Henry III and Edward I rebuilt the castle, which served as a military fortress until the 16th century.

Temple Manor

Temple Manor stands amidst the urban swell of Rochester but originally stood in an area of substantial farmland. King HenryII granted the estates to The Knights Templar in 1159, and they built the manor house to accommodate visiting dignitaries that passed through the area.

The manor stands two stories high, with an undercroft supporting the first-floor hall. The Templars used the hall as a living space as well as for business purposes.

The most interesting feature is the traces of medieval wall paintings in the hall and intricately carved moulding and marble shafts. 

Sources