The rich history and culture of this region, as well as the many aristocratic families inhabiting it throughout the centuries, have left behind a large number of castles, palaces and mansions which stand as testimonies of past ways of life and notable events. They are all worth visiting in order to achieve a deeper acquaintance with the past as well as the characters that influenced the country's evolution. Below are some of the most notable castles which have resisted to this day.
Hever Castle and Gardens
Known as the childhood home of Ann Boleyn and preserving a noteworthy amount of Henry the VIII memorabilia, Hever Castle is situated in the village of Hever, in West Kent, about 30 miles from London. Its construction was started back in 1270, and since it has suffered many structural modifications, until its completion in 1903, by William Waldorf Astor, who added many features to it, including the gardens, lake and Tudor Village. Besides its vast picturesque grounds, visitors can indulge in a large collection of medieval furniture, tapestries, art (predominantly paintings) and books.
Built over many decades during the 13th century, this imposing castle is located in the town of Tonbridge and is adjoined by a mansion which was built in 1793. Although out the whole construction only parts remain standing today, namely the gatehouse and motte, they tell a captivating story of endurance. The castle has been owned by a number of families over the centuries and left unoccupied for long periods of time as well. It is currently owned by the council and open to the public.
Situated just outside Maidstone, Leeds Castle has stood through 900 years of reconstructions, dating back to Norman times, more precisely the year 1119. It has been the temporary residence of royal figures such as Edward I, Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII's first wife) and Queen Elizabeth I. It was then used as a prison and arsenal during the civil war, escaping the destruction many castles faced at the time. It was last privately owned by Lady Olive Baillie, who carried out a complex redecoration process and purchased many of the artefacts adorning the castle in present times. During her ownership, the castle was also used as a hospital for WWII soldiers. It is now managed by a charitable organisation and open to the public.
Set on splendid grounds on the valley of the river Medway, Chiddingstone Castle was built in the early 1600s and underwent a few restorations until reaching its present structure. For centuries it has been passed down through generations of the Streatfield family, and was then sold in 1938, following which, during WWII, it served as an army base. It was also used for educational purposes for a number of years, until 1954. The castle is renowned for its many collections of exotic works of art, many originating from Japan and Egypt.
Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens
Situated near Carnbrook, Sissinghurst Castle is a medieval mansion surrounded by a three-armed moat and featuring a gatehouse which was built in the 1530s. Today, the property is famous particularly for its impressive gardens, which were created in the 1930s. The garden is described as inventively structured and containing an impressive number of floral arrangements.
Known as the most expansive castle in England and a construction with a crucial strategic importance throughout history, this castle takes its name from the town it is located in. It dates all the way back to the 12th century and was initially built out of clay. As the clay structure collapsed, a stone one was erected on its foundation and took many years to fortify. Over the centuries, the castle was sieged and severely damaged many times, and then reconstructed to a higher level of security. During the Napoleonic Wars, underground barracks were built and offered protection to a remarkable number of soldiers. The tunnels were then reused during wartime for rescue operations. It is regarded as one of England's most important constructions in existence.
Located in Deal, this uniquely shaped construction was built during Henry VIII's reign, between 1539 and 1540, for defensive purposes, as he feared attacks from overseas. Its rose shape consists of a central part known as a keep, surrounded by six semi-circular formations known as bastions and another set of larger bastions surrounding them. A moat was also dug around it and was heavily armed with cannons; overall, it is considered one of the best structures of this kind in the whole country.