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                                         A Brief History of Saltwood by the late Hon. Alan Clark, M.P.  

 

 

 

 

 

In Roman Times when the sea covered a great part of Romney Marsh, tides still flowed to the foot of the bluff where Saltwood Castle now occupies a promontary between two streams. The high ground below the Downs was virgin forest    to the beaches and, the high tides then flowing some distance up the valley, the lower trees dipped their branches in the mingled waters of sea and stream. Thus the name Saltwood, whose origin stretches back at least to the year 488 when Aesc the son of Hengist and King of Kent, built a castle on the site.

In 833 Saltwood appears on a charter of King Egbert, and from that time the names of its owners are, with a few gaps, recorded in ancient documents. In 1026 a deed (now in the British Museum) signed by Canute and a number of archbishops and noblemen, including Earl Godwin, conveyed Saltwood to the church, and from that time on the castle seems to have enjoyed an uneasy dual occupation between priests and prelates on the one side, and the noblemen or garrison commanders on the other.

The Barbican Gate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 833 Saltwood appears on a charter of King Egbert, and from that time the names of its owners are, with a few gaps, recorded in ancient documents. In 1026 a deed (now in the British Museum) signed by Canute and a number of archbishops and noblemen, including Earl Godwin, conveyed Saltwood to the church, and from that time on the castle seems to have enjoyed an uneasy dual occupation between priests and prelates on the one side, and the noblemen or garrison commanders on the other.

During the three or four hundred years when Saltwood was at the height of its power and importance, its strength and the strength of its garrison of soldiers, dominated that part of Kent that stretches as far as Canterbury to the west. In the north its fief ran up to the edge of the Capel escarpment where lay the uneasy frontier between the lands owing allegiance to the feudal See of Dover.

In times of trouble the people of the neighbourhood would seek refuge within the walls of the Castle, sleeping in shanties of wood and animal skins set up in the Outer Bailey. Such livestock as they were permitted to save would be driven in through the Barbican Gate and tethered in stalls along the north wall. The existing Kitchen Garden is situated here, and in the course of excavation a number of early animal teeth, boars' tusks and stags' heads have been found together with horseshoes of every period. The main Gate House and the Barbican Tower were occupied by soldiers of the garrison. When he was in residence the Archbishop of Canterbury also had a suite of rooms in the main Gate House, but the priests who lived permanently at Saltwood were lodged on the south and west side where the existing Great Hall and Library, and the Secret Garden are now situated.

Sentries would be posted on the summit of Thorpe's Tower, on the West Tower (above the dungeon) and on the high southern tower looking over the lake. If the alarm was sounded by beating a gong the garrison could quickly man the walls by issuing from the Gate House through the doors that lead directly on to the Battlement Walk from the first floor. There was also a Battlement Walk along the walls of the Outer Bailey, which could be reached by the small posse of men which was permanently stationed in the Barbican Gate.