The ruins of a substantial artillery fort. Public footpaths allow access to the exterior at any reasonable time however the interior of the fort is only opened on designated days (normally only once a week in Summer).
The Camber (Sixteenth Century). Camber Castle stood on a shingle spit guarding access to Rye, the Camber anchorages and Winchelsea - although access to the later was already silting up by the time the fortification was built. Today the castle is found far inland. The plan of the castle shows the various building phases; the Round Tower of 1512 (red), the work of 1539 under Stefan von Haschenperg (blue) and the 1542 rebuild (purple).
Notes: On-road parking is possible but the car parks (pay and display) in Rye are normally a better option - the nearest is detailed above. Robust footwear is recommended and bear in mind livestock occupies the adjacent fields so dogs should be kept on a lead.
Camber Castle. An aerial shot of the castle where the design phases detailed above can easily be seen. Note the foundations of the stirrup (D-shaped) towers with each of the semi-circular 1542 bastions. The earth filled bastion was a modification of 1612 to reduce maintenance costs.
Keep. The round Keep was actually the earliest part of the castle - built in 1512. It remained unarmed for the first twenty years of its life and was extensively modified during the 1539 building programme.
Today situated far inland, Camber Castle once stood on the shoreline of an important estuary guarding access to the major Cinque Port of Rye and the primary anchorage for shipping in the eastern English Channel. Built in 1539 on the orders of Henry VIII to a design by Stefan von Haschenperg, it was shortly after totally reconfigured at huge expense.
HISTORY OF CAMBER CASTLE
Today Camber Castle is found a little under 1 mile from the shoreline but, in the sixteenth century, it was a coastal fortification overlooking an important estuary at the mouth of the Rivers Brede, Rother and Tillingham. Known as the Camber, two major Cinque ports - Rye and Winchelsea - operated from these sheltered waters and, with the proximity to the continent, they had flourished. By the early sixteenth century silting waters and ever larger ships plus a general shift towards ports in the west had seen the decline of Winchelsea. Nevertheless Rye continued to thrive whilst the Camber itself was used as a major anchorage that served as a refuge for shipping in the eastern English Channel.
The construction of what would later evolve into Camber Castle started in 1512 with the building of a round tower for artillery. The construction was ordered by Henry VIII who had entered into the anti-French Holy League increasingly the likelihood of attacks and raiding along the South Coast. The tower was constructed on the King’s behalf by Edward Guildford and was positioned on a shingle spit jutting out into the Camber; ships approaching Rye, the Camber anchorage or Winchelsea all had to pass under its guns. This, however, was the problem for no ordnance was initially released for use in the new tower. Only in the 1530s, after extensive lobbying of the King's Council, were any sent.
In 1539 Henry VIII embarked on the largest coastal defence programme since the Roman era. His Act of Supremacy (1534) had made the King, rather than the Pope, "supreme head" of the English church prompting condemnation from both France and Spain. This was compounded by peace between those two powers potentially giving either the capacity to mount an invasion. A Device (Act) was issued commencing a fort building programme to provide defences at vulnerable points along the coast and, despite its existing round tower, Camber was identified as a potential target.
Work started on the upgraded fortification in 1539 and was complete by Autumn 1540 at the cost of £5,660. The work was overseen by Stefan von Haschenperg, a land surveyor by trade and who had overseen a number of the earthwork bulwarks that were erected on the Downs prior to Deal and her sister castles. Perhaps due to his exposure of the latest continental theories on castle building, he implemented a markedly different configuration at Camber than for the other forts of the 1539 building programme. The existing round tower was rebuilt to take heavier artillery and was surrounded by a new octagonal curtain wall backed by four 'D' shaped towers (which became known as stirrup towers due to the aerial appearance). These in turn were set within four bastions. A rectangular gatehouse was added and the whole site was enclosed by an earthwork glacis.
The new fortification presented a very low profile and a difficult target to attack due to the substantial earthworks that surrounded it. Many of its design features were imported from the continent and would later be seen in many other fortifications across the country.
Stefan von Haschenperg seems to have left the King's service around the end of 1540. Some evidence suggests his background in land surveying left him ill-equipped for castle building - in September 1539 he proposed a canvas roof for Sandgate Castle vice lead - and perhaps this led to his dismissal. Alternatively maybe the King simply dispensed with his services once the bulk of the 1539 building programme had been completed. Either way, the different configuration of the fortification at Camber seems not to have been appreciated by Henry VIII. Between 1542 and 1543 the fort received extensive Royal funding - somewhere in the region of £10,000 - to rebuild the structure into something more akin to the other castles of the 1539 building programme. The outer bastions were demolished and replaced with four larger semi-circular bastions similar to that seen on Henry VIII's other coastal forts (such as Walmer). The entrance was also converted into a semi-circular bastion in its own right (as seen at Deal).
Whilst it may not have appeared to be so in the court of Henry VIII in 1543, the new design was actually more archaic than the original design - Henry VIII's circular bastions proved a blind alley in castle design and, even in the second wave of Henrician forts, started to be replaced by angled fortifications (the first being Yarmouth Castle).
The invasion fears of Henry's reign passed without incident as did those of Elizabeth I's reign. By the early seventeenth century the castle was in a poor state of repair. The north and south bastions were filled with earth in 1613 in an attempt to make the structure cheaper to maintain. However the changing shape of the Camber, which was silting up quickly by this time, had made the castle obsolete - it was simply too far inland to be effective. In 1623 a report recommended the decommissioning of the fort.
Alienated by Charles I's Ship Tax, both Rye and Winchelsea supported Parliament when the Civil War started in 1642. Although Camber remained a Crown owned castle, its tiny garrison was recruited locally and surrendered the stores held within. The castle was then partially demolished to prevent any military use. It was never restored.
Camber Castle with Rye in the background. In the sixteenth century a large anchorage existed between the two.