Westenhanger Castle in Kent

A most unusual Kentish Castle

Westenhanger Castle, near Folkestone, is a most unusual castle in Kent with its fairy tale like appearance of high turreted towers, wide green lawns and enchanting ruined areas. Today the castle is much in demand for expensive weddings and as a television and film backdrop, but its history dates back to the early middle ages. But the castle today is the history of two separate manor houses, Westhanger and Ostenhanger that would eventually combine into one impressive building.

The origins of the castle can be traced back to 1035 when it was the property of King Canute. Osentenhanger’s history can be traced back to the de Criol family who took possession in 1035 and held the house until 1307. That year it passed to Agnes de Rokesle. It is unclear how long Agnes held the property but it had passed over to Thomas de Poynings soon thereafter. Upon his death in 1340 Ostenhanger remained with his descendants until 1509.

Westenhanger, meanwhile, was first established under the ownership of William de Auberville before passing to the de Criol family between 1272 and 1461. That year Westenhanger was handed over to Sir John Fogge who kept the manor house for the next twenty nine years. His son Thomas inherited the house and kept it until 1509.

In 1509 Thomas Fogge sold Westenhanger to Sir Edward Poynings and the two manor houses became one much larger building called Westenhanger. Sir Edward Poynings held title until 1523 when King Henry VIII took possession. Westenhanger would remain with the crown through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I and only returned to private ownership in 1585 when Thomas Smythe bought Westenhanger Castle. Smythe’s descendants inherited the castle until the 19th Century when the Champneis family took over. After passing through a number of owners in 1898 Folkestone Racecourse, which borders the castle, took on the property and kept it until selling it on in 1996 to the Forge family.

The castle was commissioned by John de Kiriel who ordered that a rectangular walled enclosure and machiolated corner towers be built. He was much enamoured by the design of Scotney Castle and he endeavoured to recreate it at Lympne. Over successive generations the original house was extensively extended particularly during the reign of King Henry VIII by owner Sir Edward Peynings. Eventually there were an almost unbelievable 126 rooms, nine towers and a moat encircling the castle. Royal patronage was given by Queen Elizabeth I who stayed at Westenhanger whilst travelling through Kent. During her journey she also stayed at Sissinghurst Castle, Boughton Malherbe and Hothfield outside of Ashford.

Much of the splendour and outlandishness of Westenhanger was demolished in 1701 with the intricately carved masonry pieces being ripped up and sold on. Much of these materials were discovered in 1848 incorporated in the construction of Queen Anne House of Bourne Park.

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