Yarmouth Castle in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight isn’t your traditional Norman castle with a motte and bailey, stone tower keep, etc. It is in fact an artillery or devices fort built on the orders of Henry VIII that was completed in 1547 after Henry’s death. Its design reflects the evolution through the medieval period of the design and construction of fortifications.
The development of the castle at Yarmouth and other Herician castles was a direct result of England’s political isolation at the time and the threat of possible French invasion. Other devices or Henrician castles built during this time include Calshot Castle, Hurst Castle, Deal Castle, Sandown Castle and East Cowes Castle.
The castle at Yarmouth was initially square in shape, measuring roughly 30 metres across arranged around a central courtyard. Unlike earlier devices forts which had circular bastions, Yarmouth Castle was constructed with an Italianate ‘arrowhead’ bastion on its south-east corner to protect it from attack on land. The castle was equipped with 15 different types of size of gun and cannon which fired from embrasures along the seaward side of the castle. A moat protected the castle on the landward side.
The castle was constructed under the oversight of Richard Worsley, the captain of the island, by George Mills. Upon completion completion of the castle, George Mills was paid £1,000 for his work and to discharge soldiers that had been guarding the site. It has been suggested the castle was constructed from stone taken from nearby Quarr Abbey.
It was initially manned by a small team of soldiers under the command of Richard Udall, who lived at the castle. In 1558, Elizabeth I acceded the English throne. She made peace with France and and thus the threat of invasion by France diminished. Instead the threat of invasion by Spain loomed large. Richard Worsley was reappointed as captain of the island, having been removed from his position by Queen Mary I when she came to the thrown in 1553.
Worsley undertook extensive alterations to the castle. The courtyard was half-filled in to make a platform capable of holding eight guns. The master gunner’s house is also thought to have been constructed at this time. In 1586 the castle was said to be in poor condition. Repairs were made to the castle in 1587, with £50 being spent on these. Other repairs were made the following year after the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada had passed.
Yarmouth Castle would undergo several phases of redevelopment and repair between the reign of Elizabeth I and the English Civil War. Two corner buttresses were added along the seaward side of the castle in 1609, in 1632 the parapet was raised in height and a store was added to serve the gun platform.
During the English Civil War, the castle was initially held by the Royalists but soon passed into the control of Parliament who maintained control of the castle for the rest of the Civil War. In 1660, the monarchy was restored in England, with Charles II acceding to the throne. Upon his accession, Charles demobilised most of the army and in 1661 ordered the garrison at Yarmouth to quit the castle with four days notice. Charles did offer the townspeople of Yarmouth the option of covering the costs of the castle themselves, though at this time they declined, with the artillery being sent to Cowes Castle. In 1666, Charles suggested this again, the townspeople changed their minds and a small garrison was appointed to the castle, paid for by the people of Yarmouth.
In 1670, the crown took back control of the castle under the oversight of Sir Robert Holmes, captain of the island. Some of the guns were returned to the castle from Cowes and works were undertaken to improve the castle, such as a new battery being added on the nearby quay and the moat and other earthworks being removed.
The castle continued to be in use during the 18th Century. In the early part of the 19th Century, toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1813, alterations were made to the layout of the parapet and rails were laid down for four naval guns.
In 1855, during the Crimean War, the threat of invasion returned. Due to this renewed threat, extensive repairs were made to Yarmouth Castle. New guns were installed at the castle and a regular army unit garrisoned it.
In 1885, the decision was taken to withdraw the guns and the garrison from the castle. The castle would continued to be used by the authorities with its management passing to the Office of Works in 1913, when substantial repairs were made. The castle would see service during both world wars and was used by the military up until 1950 when its military use ceased.
Today, the castle is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public.