Nothing remains of either Henry VIII’s castle nor the seventeenth century replacement although an information panel marks the latter. The exterior of the Victorian Battery can still be viewed as the frontage to the Isle of Wight Zoo.
Second Castle. The second castle at Sandown was commissioned in 1631 and was built with four angled bastions.This castle was demolished in 1901.
1. Henry VIII built two ‘Sandown Castles’ - one defended the Downs in Kent (click here for more details) and the other was here on the Isle of Wight. Both were undermined by the sea.
Vulnerable Area. Sandown is the only place on the southern side of the Isle of Wight suitable for landing large numbers of troops hence the multiple fortifications that have been built to guard the location.
Site of 1547 / 1631 Castles
Notes: All three locations are situated on Culver Parade with easy parking both onroad and outside the zoo (pay and display). There is no access to battery ramparts.
Guarding a vulnerable beach on the South East coast of the Isle of Wight, the first Sandown Castle was the only one of Henry VIII’s Device forts to see action when the French landed troops there as part of the Battle of the Solent (1545). Undermined by the sea the castle was replaced by Charles I and later by a Victorian Battery.
HISTORY OF SANDOWN CASTLES AND BATTERY
Sandown is the only place on the Southern coast of the Isle of Wight suitable for landing invading troops. The sandy beach was noted as a vulnerable area by Tudor surveyors and was fortified until the mid-twentieth century.
The First Castle
Not to be confused with Sandown Castle in Deal, the Isle of Wight fortification of the same name was part of Henry VIII's extensive chain of castles built to guard against a potential French or Spanish invasion. Both countries had strongly opposed the Act of Supremacy (1534) - a legal provision which had made the King, rather than the Pope, "supreme head" of the English church – and further concern had been caused by the peace between France and the Holy Roman Empire giving the former the capacity to mount an invasion. Sandown was part of the second batch of castles commissioned in mid 1540s to guard against this threat.
Construction started in 1544 and, whilst relatively small, it adopted the very latest in castle design; rather than the circular, concentric layout that defined the 1539 forts, it had two rectangular bastions on the landward side although the traditional semi-circular bastion was retained for seaward. Sandown Castle therefore marked a step change in castle design which would be taken further a few years later with the construction of Yarmouth Castle.
Out of all of Henry’s fortifications, Sandown Castle was the only one that saw action during his lifetime. In July 1545, due to his new alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor, a French fleet sailed into the Solent. The subsequent Battle of the Solent is infamous for the capsizing and loss of the warship Mary Rose but also resulted in an extended action across the eastern Isle of Wight. Around 2,000 French troops were landed around the unfinished Sandown Castle but were ultimately repulsed by forces under the Captain of the Island, Richard Worsley.
The Second Castle
By the seventeenth century the Tudor fortification had been undermined by encroachment of the sea. In 1631, after half the castle had been washed away, it was demolished and a new fortification built. The new castle, which was completed in 1636, was state of the art; the semi-circular bastion of the earlier castle had been replaced by four angled bastions each enabling covering fire across the entire parameter wall. Located within the site occupied by the current park, it lasted longer than its predecessor but unfortunately also suffered from the elements; it was demolished in 1901 after having been classified as dilapidated.
The Victorian Battery
The fortification visible today dates from the 1859/60 Royal Commission report into coastal defence. By the mid-nineteenth century extended peace with France, coupled with a Royal Navy larger than the combined might of the next two biggest navies, had meant the neglect of coastal defence. However this strategy was thrown into turmoil with the accession of Napoleon III in 1852. The new emperor commenced an arms race with Britain by development of the first Ironclad warship ('La Gloire'; the Glory); this armoured vessel outclassed anything in the Royal Navy threatening their maritime superiority. The British, whose prosperity depended upon the Royal Navy’s ability to protect both the homeland and the increasing number of colonies and possessions overseas, panicked and initiated a huge fort building programme. A new fortification at Sandown, in the form of a casemated battery, was commenced in 1861 with work ongoing to 1866. Under the control of Bembridge Fort, which sits atop of the high ground over-looking the bay, it remained in use until WWII and today hosts a zoo.
Sandown Battery is today the frontage for the Isle of Wight Zoo but many of the features expected of a nineteenth century fortification are still visible.