In my ignorance we visited Upnor Castle in our “usual mode” of being interested in the building and it’s purpose, but unusually for us, without any research into its history or related events. Because of this a bit of a shock was delivered within a few minutes of our arrival! (This is a follow up post to my more extensive one Chatham Royal Naval Dockyard).
Upnor Castle is an Elizabethan artillery fort on Kent’s River Medway, opposite and down river from the magnificent Chatham Dockyard. It is in the care of English Heritage, we are members, so didn’t have to pay the entrance fee of £6.40. It’s a small building as “castles” go, but it was never a home for an aristocrat nor a “royal squat” for when the monarch visited the area. The description Artillery Fort says it all, built in 1559 to protect the Royal Naval Dockyard upstream at Chatham.
The Reformation had soured relations between England and our nearest seafaring nations, France and Spain. These two catholic countries were hell bent on taking advantage of our political and civil turmoil, even increasing it via espionage and trade shenanigans, and were a threat to our security as well as trade via the open seas. (They probably wanted our fish too!) So good old King Henry VIII decided to expand and sharpen up our navy, God bless his majesty, and this ultimately led to the creation of Chatham Docks and Upnor Castle/Fort.
Over time, the threat from these two European Countries diminished or was extinguished and the maintenance and discipline at Upnor receded. But in 1667 such folly was exposed as a fleet of the Dutch Republic brazenly sailed up the River Medway and basically kicked the shit out of the Royal Navy! It took a couple of days for the defences to recover and force a Dutch retreat, but not before they had captured two warships and burned several others.
This was the end for Upnor Castle as a primary means of defending Chatham Dockyard and led to bigger and more heavily fortified defences being built further down river at Hoo, Garrison Point, and Darnet.