Cooling Castle - Cliffe History

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Cooling Castle
Today, just laying to the east of Cliffe, is the parish   of Cooling whose boundary has fluctuated over time and was   once very much part of the landscape of Cliffe and the   fields and marshes. At Cooling, since the late 14th century,   stands the impressive site of Cooling Castle: a Grade I   listed building.

Cooling Castle is quite unusual in form as it was not   constructed on a single moated island as was the case for   most quadrangular castles. It preserves one of the finest   gatehouses of any castle in Kent, its twin towers top-heavy   with their machicolated parapets. There are considerable   remains of the rest of the castle too, which was built in   the 1380s in response to the French threat of invasion.   Roman and Saxon settlements have been located near the   castle site, and a manor house has stood there at least   since Norman times.

The manor of Cooling was acquired by the de Cobham   family by the middle of the 13th century and John de Cobham,   the 3rd Baron Cobham, used the French raid on the Thames   estuary in 1379, part of the hostilities of the 100 Years   War between England and France, to justify the need for a   castle to protect northern Kent, the port at Cliffe and the   seaward approach to London.

He received Royal licence from Richard II to fortify   his manor on 2nd February 1380-1, and building work was   completed by the end of 1385.

The inner ward was built   first and was occupied throughout the building operations.   The castle seems to have been largely complete by as early   as 1385, and the building accounts survive almost in their   entirety. Within thirteen years however, Sir John de Cobham   was banished to Guernsey because of his part in a baronial   dispute with the King. When Richard II died a few years   later, his successor, Henry IV, allowed Sir John to reclaim   his estates. Sir John died in 1408.

Plan of Cooling Castle   (not based on an original survey but is compiled from a   variety of published sources) courtesy of Stephen Wass

Sir John’s only child, a daughter, had died before   him, so Cooling passed to his grand-daughter, Joan. She   married four times, on the fourth occasion to Sir John   Oldcastle, but he was killed before she herself died.   Although the title Lord Cobham remained, the estates passed   to other families through the female line.
The most famous event to take place at the castle was the   siege of 1554. It lasted for one day - the 30th January. The   then Lord Cobham was George Brooke, whose sister was married   to Sir Thomas Wyatt, of nearby Allington Castle. Wyatt led a   rebellion in Kent to protest at the proposed marriage   between Queen Mary and Philip of Spain.

On 28th January, Lord Cobham went to Gravesend to   meet with other Royalist nobles and the Duke of Norfolk. The   Duke had brought an army of six hundred Whitecoats and six   guns from London to crush Wyatt’s rebellion, but was   defeated at Strood the following day. Many of the Whitecoats   deserted the Duke and joined Wyatt, who then marched with   his newly captured guns, against his brother-in-law, Lord   Cobham, at Cooling Castle.

Cobham had only a handful of   men (some reports say as few as eight) and virtually no arms   with which to defend his castle. When Wyatt arrived at   Cooling on the 30th January he trained two of his cannons on   the main gate and four against the curtain wall. Within a   very short space of time he succeeded in taking the outer   ward and then set his guns against the inner gatehouse. A   few hours later Cobham surrendered. The siege, which had   begun at 11am, was all over by 5pm the same day.

Some of Cobham’s men were dead, most were wounded,   and the castle was badly damaged. He wrote a letter to Queen   Mary explaining what had happened and that he had been   unable to stop Wyatt. Later, when the rebellion had been   squashed, Mary had Lord Cobham and his sons imprisoned in   the Tower of London. Thomas Cobham, the youngest son, carved   his name on the wall of their prison in the Beauchamp Tower,   which can still be seen today. The Cobham family were   restored to their estates, however, by the 24th March of the   same year.
In the supplementary notes to ‘The Historical Archaeology   of England’ we read that, ‘Matthew Johnson uses Cooling as   the first example in his 2002 book 'Behind the Castle Gate:   Medieval to Renaissance' to critique the simplistic military   interpretation of medieval castle architecture’(HAE 2011).   Indeed he does and in some respects Cooling seems an easy   target with its exaggerated profiles and flimsy walls (Fig.   11). Most telling is its apparent vulnerability to a brief   attack with the defenders capitulating after a few hours   thus destroying any military credibility. A closer   examination of the events of 1554 may give us pause for   thought:

'Wyatt’s force, 2,000 strong, came before   the castle at eleven o’clock A.M. and battered the great   entrance of the outer ward with two great guns, while the   other four were laid against another side of the castle.   Lord Cobham defended his house with his three sons and a   handful of men till five o’clock in the evening, having no   weapons but four or five handguns; several of his men had   then been killed, the ammunition was nearly expended, and   the gates and drawbridge so injured that his men began to   murmur and mutiny. So he was obliged to yield' (Mackenzie   1896: 11).

However unconvincing we may feel Cooling Castle is as a military structure it enabled Cobham to mount   a sufficiently effective defence by a small household against a much larger attacking force. When he was later   arrested by Elizabeth the simple fact of his stout   resistance may have been enough to save his life.

After the siege, Cooling Castle was never fully   repaired and the Cobham family never again lived there.   Their other property, Cobham Hall, became their chief   residence, and Cooling Castle was allowed to gently fall   into disrepair. The castle estates soon reverted to their   original use of farmland, and in the 19th century tenant   farmers erected a number of agricultural buildings in the   outer ward. A former owner of the castle found fallen   masonry and iron and stone cannon balls in the eastern arm   of the moat during the 19th century.

The castle was acquired by the Knight’s, a local   shipping family, who were responsible for much of the   restoration work at the castle. There are considerable   remains, especially in the inner ward, and in fairly good   condition. The castle is now owned by the musician, Jools   Holland who too works towards the upkeep and restoration of   the castle.

The castle consists of two rectangular wards,  separated from one another and surrounded by a figure of   eight moat. The larger, outer enclosure contained the   principle gatehouse and was connected to the mainland by a   drawbridge. The inner ward however, stood on an island in   the moat and was only accessible from the outer ward. The   castle buildings themselves occupy approximately three-and-a-half acres, but including the water defences,   this area extends to double that.

Henry Yevelle is known to have been at the site   during building operations and is reputed to be the   designer. In order to speed up the building, John de Cobham   employed the services of a number of different masons,   allotting each one a specific section of the castle to   build. Both William Sharnall and Thomas Crump, a Maidstone   man, have at various times been credited with the design and   construction of the outer gatehouse. It is coursed ragstone   with some knapped flint. 2 semi-circular towers with boldly   projecting rings of machicolations and crenellations.   Four-centred arch between with crenellations above and   moulded round-arched gateway below and behind. Single   loopholes on front faces of towers at half height. The   gatehouse is open on the inside and originally admitted to   the extreme south-west corner of the outer ward.  The   building accounts show that it was completed by 23rd July   1382 and cost £456.

The gunloops in the outer gatehouse, similar ones of   which are to be found elsewhere at the castle, would appear   to have been provided from the start. They are of two types   - keyhole shape loops for small handguns, and larger plain   circular porthole type openings. In the latter examples,   guns were mounted in the internal embrasures behind the   openings, and trained onto certain fixed spots on the ground   outside the castle. They could not be elevated and   consequently could only be fired when an attacking force   were within its limited range.

The inner ward at Cooling was much higher than the   outer one so as to overlook and command it. Being in a rural   position there was rarely sufficient manpower available to   effectively defend the castle. The idea was that a small   number of men could man the inner ward and to some extent   protect the outer ward. Because the inner ward could not be   reached from the mainland, the outer ward had first to be   taken by an attacker seeking entry. The main gatehouse and   corner towers were back-less so that if it were captured it   would afford no protective cover to an assailant, who would   also be exposed to fire from the walls of the inner ward.

All of the residential apartments were confined to   the inner ward, the buildings being arranged around its four   sides in the typical fashion of a courtyard castle. The   outer ward was reserved for outbuildings, livestock, and the   local inhabitants in times of trouble. The gatehouse in the   south-west corner was the only substantial building in the   outer ward. It stands virtually complete to a height of   about 40ft (12.2m). It was 50ft (15.2m) wide overall and   about 25ft (7.6m) deep including its D-shaped towers. The   actual gateway was 9ft (2.7m) wide by 15ft (4.6m) high and   was protected by a drawbridge, a pair of folding doors and   machicolations, but there was no portcullis.

The gate passage originally had a vaulted roof. There   are twelve machicolations encicling the west tower and   eleven on the eastern tower, with a long slot divided into   three similar openings above the gateway itself. Attached to   the side of the eastern tower is an inscription by Sir John   de Cobham, giving his reasons for erecting the castle. It is   written in English, which was rare for the time, and in   rhyme, and reads:
“Knouwyth that beth and schul   be
That I am mad in help of the cuntre
In knowyng of   whyche thyng
Thys is chartre and wytnessyng.”

It is possible, however, that the inscription was put   up after the siege of 1554 by Lord Cobham, to please Queen   Mary. Considerable portions of the curtain wall and corner   towers remain from the outer ward. Remains of the inner ward   are even more substantial. Of the four corner towers, one   survives almost in its entirety, one is half ruined, one is   reduced to its lower levels only, and one has been   demolished, although its internal features can be seen on   the curtain wall. On the western side is a postern, near to   the north-west tower and protected by a row of   machicolations. A row of exotic palm trees also line this   wall. Not only are the walls of the inner court higher than   those of the outer, the ground level is also higher, perhaps   embodying an earlier mound.

The inner gatehouse is much smaller than the outer   one, but is almost as well preserved. A bridge is connected   to the outer ward, with a drawbridge at its inner end. The   inner gatehouse was also provisioned with keyhole shaped   gunloops and a portcullis. The drawbridge was of the type   where two timbers passed out horizontally through slots   which, when drawn in, pulled up the drawbridge.

The north-east corner of the inner ward is a   delightful room which was either the undercroft for the hall   above, or a chapel. It is a highly decorative room and may   have been either. It outer walls are decorated with a   chequer pattern, an effect created by the alternating use of   flint and stone in rectangular blocks. The room originally   connected to one of the corner towers, but this has now   gone. There are niches in the outer wall, possibly for holy   vessels if the room was a chapel, which would originally   have been inside the tower. The walls of the inner court are   built from Kentish ragstone with ashlar dressings, but with   a chalk core. Part of the vaulting in the chequered room   survives revealing the squared, chalk blocks.

The south-east tower, the most complete one, has a   basement with loops in the wall to protect the moat and area   between the two wards. Unfortunately, none of the other   buildings of the inner ward have survived, but corbels   jutting out from the wall faces show where they were   positioned. Part of the outer moat still survives, and is   now frequented by herons from a nearby nature reserve. The   remainder of the moat has been partly filled in and laid to   lawn. The castle stands on private land and is not open to   the public, but much of the castle can be clearly seen from   the road, particularly the outer gatehouse and inner ward.
Below is a timeline showing the development of Medieval   Courtyard Castles, courtesy of Mr Stephen Waas. For more   information please see Stephen's site on:

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