Although I lived in Kent for a few years, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t explore the county very much. A dismal failure on my part. I completely missed Upnor castle.
Upnor is a late entry to the castle collection – 1559. Built on the banks of the Medway river, its location was strategic to England’s defences and it was designed to be an artillery fort. The Medway estuary is a tributary of the River Thames and the banks are home to the Medway towns: Rochester, Gillingham and Chatham. The latter includes Chatham Docks, a naval dockyard. Two castles – Rochester and Queensborough – provide the inland defences, but didn’t protect the docks against coastal attacks, hence the building of Upnor to protect the English fleet at anchor.
During the Anglo-Spanish war of 1585-1604 (remember the Spanish Armada?) Spain had acquired a chunk of The Netherlands. Fear of attack led to further strengthening of the castle. Armed to the teeth with canon, Upnor proved especially useless. It fell without a fight to the Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War. As it was a coastal castle, rather than slight it, General Fairfax repaired it.
The only battle the castle engaged in was during the Anglo-Dutch was of 1667. The Dutch fleet withstood the bombardment and burnt a large number of English ships in the ‘worst naval defeat’ in memory – a dismal failure.
Superseded by other forts built along the coast, Upnor, although largely unaffected by the Dutch invasion, was converted into a munitions store and became England’s biggest magazine until 1827. During World War II the castle functioned as a magazine once again and was damaged by bombs in 1941. When it wasn’t holding munitions, it operated as a museum.
Perhaps, given it’s still part of the Crown Estate, maybe it has a secret store?
“Welcome to Upnor and the first day of your new job.” Brian shot out his hand and shook mine vigorously. “Just a few health and safety things before you start work in this magnificent historical site.”
“Sure.” An old castle was bound to have a few loose steps.
“It’s mainly about the door marked strictly no entry.”
I’d seen the big red sign painted on the door. The multitude of bolts drawn across it. “Right. The one to the lower floor.”
“Yes. By strictly, I mean under no circumstances attempt to open that door.”
I wriggled my nose. “Rats is it? Or the damp a little unpleasant.”
Brian grimaced. “Not really. More explosive than that.”
“I see.” Something wasn’t quite right.
“If the visitors ask, just say it’s dark down there. No lights.”
“Who has the key?”
He cleared his throat. “Not entirely sure. Not us.”
The mystery deepened. “So what happens if there is a fire?”
Brian’s eyes widened. “A fire? Run for it and don’t look back.”