Deal and Deal Castle, Kent, England

Our second day in Deal was a much better day.  For starters, we only moved the car once from one parking place to another in a different lot.  The lots are hourly and you can’t just purchase more time.  You have to move.  The good news is that we only ran over the curb at low speed.

pier sunrise

This morning began with a sunrise over the pier outside our window.  Later in the day, we actually did see France about 20 miles across the channel and also a windmill farm north of Deal in the sea as well.  The local fishermen are convinced that the wind farm has driven the fish elsewhere.  It was quite enlightening to visit with the locals.  They fish off of the pier all day long.

Breakfast is included in our room here, so I opted for the “full English breakfast.”  Yes, that is blood pudding on my plate, and yes, I did try it.  Blood pudding is neither red nor pudding.  It’s black and it’s a sausage kind of remnant roll, sliced and fried, and it’s full of unsavory scrap body parts and blood.  However, our ancestors wasted nothing and the English think blood pudding is just wonderful.  Also, notice the beans, mushrooms and a cooked tomato.  These things are also part of English breakfast.  There is sausage as well, plus what they call bacon which is more like our Canadian bacon.  You can see it beside the egg.  Their toast is also fried and extremely greasy.  No wonder our ancestors died when they were in their 30s!!!


I’ll spare you the next photo of me tasting the blood pudding, but it’s akin to the faces my kids used to make when I fed them something they didn’t like.  Like liver.  They are probably making that face now, just thinking about that!

After breakfast, we set out for a walk along the waterfront.

deal boats

These are the contemporary fishermen, doing very much what our Estes ancestors would have been doing in the 1400s and 1500s, mending nets, on the same beach.

We decided to do local things today.  Let me translate – there is no way in hell I’m getting in that car.

So, come along for the adventure.  We’re going to a castle!

We walked down to Deal Castle at the end of the boardwalk area.  This castle was never a royal residence castle, but an actual working garrison.  It was built beginning in April 1539 and Nicholas Ewstes/Eustes who was born in 1495 and died in 1533 would never have seen this castle.  It didn’t exist. However, his son, Sylvester, a fisherman of Deal, born in 1522 surely watched this castle being built by the 1400 men brought in to do so.  They must have been an economic boon to this area.  Sylvester may even have participated in the building of the castle after his father’s death if he was helping to support his widowed mother.  It was finished in September 1540 and Sylvester would have been 17 and 18 at the time.  Both skilled and unskilled laborers were needed by the hundreds.

In December of 1539, Anne of Cleves visited Deal on her way to become the 4th wife of Henry VIII, a marriage that would never be consummated and eventually annulled, on those grounds.  Did Sylvester see the future Queen?

anne of cleves

Deal Castle is beautifully symmetrical.  Designed as a defensives structure and not as a residence, it was optimized for fortification.

deal castle aerial

This aerial shows the “flower” shape of the castle.  The Keep in in the center and provided living quarters for the garrison and captain.  Food and ammunition was stored in the basement.  Talk about sitting on a powder keg.

The inside flower petals are the Inner Bastions designed to defend the courtyard and the rear of the main bastions.  The outer flower petals are the main or Outer Bastions which were designed to mount the castle’s heaviest and largest guns.  Originally, there were guns at two levels here.  The castle was built to support  66 large guns and 53 ports for handguns.  There were a total of 145 openings through which the castle could be defended.  In addition, in 1548, an inventory shows 77 bows and 468 arrows, so this older method of defense was still in use and probably more accurate than close range weaponry.

The moat was never designed to hold water, but was to prevent approach of enemies to the castle.  The gatehouse was, of course, in the front and is connected to the land across the moat by a drawbridge.

The courtyard is the area outside of the Inner Bastions and before the Outer Bastions that provide a walkway area around the top portion of the castle.

castle moat

Not visible in the aerial photo, but quite obvious in the photo above are “The Rounds,” a narrow passageway that runs around the inner face of the moat just above ground level allowing defenders to fire at attackers.

Here, from the south, a photo of Deal castle in its entirety. Unfortunately, there is no good shot of the castle without modern buildings in the photo, except from the air.

castle from distance

Below is a photo of Deal Castle from the rear on the current beach.  The sea at that time would have been closer to the rear castle wall.

castle from beach

I’m beside the guns at the castle here on top of one of the round turrets with the ocean in the background.


The Castle is an important part of the history of this region.  At times, it was defensive, and at other times, a safety net – just in case it was needed.  It was the largest of the three castles in the “Downs.”

Henry VIII built this castle, along with Sandown and Walmer, immediately after he renounced Catholicism.  He fully expected to be attacked by his old friends, and now enemies, the Catholic countries of Europe – namely, France and Spain.  The coastline of Deal was especially vulnerable, being the closest point to Europe across the English Channel, and its long beach promotes easy landing.  Dover harbor was too small and reasonably defended.  Deal had no defense.

The Castle design was revolutionary, short, flat, rounded buildings exposing as little as possible to provide a target, with rounded walls to deflect most cannonballs without damage.  Walls were 14 feet thick.

Our Estes ancestors would certainly have been very familiar with the castle and would have probably been inside from time to time.  Let’s take a tour to see what our ancestors saw.

deal castle 1649

This 1649 etching by Hollar shows the castle as it looked shortly after it was built.

deal castle 1735

This later etching, by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, shows the castle in 1735.

The entrance to the castle is on the side away from the ocean.

deal castle entrance

Today, the moat is lush and green.  Above the drawbridge, which is simply a bridge today, were two holes, likely how the drawbridge was drawn up to the castle.

deal castle bridge

The area between the two holes likely held a coat-of-arms at one time.

deal castle drawbridge holes

In the archway between the outside of the castle and the door, we find these holes.  In other castles, they are called “murder holes” and allowed you to drop nice things on the heads of your unwelcome guests like burning pitch, hot oil and quicklime, a substance that when mixed with water generates enough heat to combust materials and blinds people.

murder holes

The doors are original and massive, heavily studded for protection with over 1200 bolts designed to deflect the axes of invaders.

deal castle doors

To give you an idea of size, I’m “at the door,” below.

deal castle door me

deal castle single door

After entering the castle, you immediately see another door into the inner area, intentionally offset from the outer door.  This was to deter anyone who did manage to breach the first door.  Notice the spikes.

deal castle entranceway

The castle was built with three types of material.  Bricks, which you can see here, made locally, Kentish ragstone from the quarries near Maidstone, and, surprisingly, cream colored Caen stone from the quarries in Normandy.  These likely came from the destruction of a local monastery and were reused in this castle.  Henry VIII had ordered the disbandment and destruction of monasteries in 1536 and the timing would have been perfect to use those stones in this structure.  Some stones are carved, such as the ones in the photo below leading into the contemporary gift shop.

deal castle carved stones

So it’s also possible that our ancestor, Sylvester Estes, willingly, or unwillingly, had a part in the destruction of local monasteries.  This also means that he likely “became” Protestant during this time, whether he wanted to or not, as did the local churches, upon orders of the King.  If you recall, Henry the VIII was married several times and he could not do that as a Catholic King, so the Prostestant religion became the religion of the land and he became the head of the Anglican Church.  Needless to say, this was a highly controversial event, or series of events and would have been a very volatile time politically to have lived.

Flint is a very common building material in this region because of its ready availability.  Even the mortar here is reinforced with flint.

deal castle flint morter

People, and doors, were smaller then.  This door was maybe 5 feet tall.  Even the small doors on the inside rounds of the castle were studded and reinforced, and the stone archway was carved.

deal castle small door

The guns were located on the inner and outer bastions.

deal castle guns

We walked around the courtyard area.  This castle is massive, even from inside and could clearly be defended even if your foes gained partial access.

deal castle shot furnace

This strange looking structure is what is left of the shot furnace which was used for heating cannon balls before loading them into the cannons.  While very dangerous, the results of a white hot cannon ball penetrating the sides and wooden hulls of warships approaching this vulnerable stretch of coast were worth the risks.  The ships fired upon went up in blazes.  This was particularly effective in the 1782 siege of Gibraltar when 13 ships were set ablaze in one memorable night.  Apparently their aim with these guns was pretty good.

deal castle from courtyard

The entrance to the Keep, below, from the courtyard, shown above.

deal castle keep entrance

The Keep was where the 34 garrison soldiers lived, along with their captain, a trumpeter and a drummer.  Some soldiers may have had wives and children accompanying them.  In peacetime, they guarded the fort and helped with shipwrecks and other things as needed.  Some took side jobs in town.  In wartime, their ranks were increased by local recruits.  The men of both Deal and Sandown Castle, now gone, both worshipped at St. Leonard’s church in Deal as neither castle had a chapel.

This fireplace was where much of the food would have been cooked as well as heat generated.

deal castle fireplace

We do know something about what they ate.  In 1648, when the castle surrendered to Parliamentary forces, the following items were found within the castle:

  • 5 barrels gunpowder
  • 10 hogsheads and a half of wheat
  • 10 Holland cheeses
  • 10 Suffold cheeses
  • 12 firkins of butter
  • 2 hogsheads of beef
  • 20 pieces of salted pork
  • 100 pieces of pork in water
  • 17 Norsea Codd in water
  • 8 pieces beef in water
  • 2 pieces pork rady to dresse
  • 1 barrell of pease
  • 100 loaves of bread, baked, beside Beare, etc.

This is probably very similar to what the townspeople ate as well, especially when vegetables weren’t available or in season.  Before refrigeration, the only ways to preserve meats were drying, salting and packing the foods in barrels.  I’m amazed they didn’t die of food poisoning.

deal castle ovens

The ovens, above, and possibly a forge as well.

deal castle oven

deal castle forge

In the photo above, the fireplace through the door and the area beneath the fireplace is believed to have been a forge, or possibly the garrison’s armourer’s workshop.

deal castle privy

This is the all-important bathroom.  Did you wonder how that need was accommodated?  It was here, over this hole, now blocked off so you don’t fall in.

deal castle privy chute

Looking down into the “toilet” and then looking up to the one ventilation window.  I’m thinking this window was very important and one didn’t spend any unnecessary time in this “bathroom.”

deal castle privy window

And I shudder to think who had to clean this out.

Moving on, there is an upper level to the keep where the captain would have quartered and where he would have received guests.  The stair leading to that level is quite unique and equally as difficult to photograph.  There is, or was, a double stairs, one under the other.  You can see in the photo below one is intact today and the other is still partially visible.

deal castle double stairs

View from the other side.

deal castle double stairs2

The stairs were very tight and steep.

deal castle rounds access

The inside looks something like a maze with areas for defending the castle available from every location.

deal castle window

Originally, many of the windows were holes for guns, not cannons.  By the time your enemy was this close, you were going to be engaged in hand-to-hand combat.  To use this porthole for defense, you would have had to crawl up the “tunnel” to the opening on your belly.  You are looking at the courtyard outside these windows.

deal castle window2

I can’t help it, I just love these and the way they look today.

deal castle window3

deal castle window4

deal castle window5

deal castle window6

This area with the windows circles the entire castle and each window porthole is different.

deal castle window7

deal castle pump

There was fresh water within the castle via a well, below, modernized with this pump.

deal castle well

Today, guests use this as a wishing well and it is full of coins and unfortunately, trash.

deal castle well2

The length of a siege was most often determined by the amount of fresh water and food inside the castle.

This entire basement area is marked by short hallways that only go to a window which was a gunnery station.  These appear to be “The Rounds” outside.

deal castle dead ends

I got quite lost in this area, but thankfully it is circular and you can’t really get entirely lost.

deal castle doorway to stairs

Every doorway leads to another door which leads to another door.  Most of these were about 5 feet in height.  You can see my husband here as an example getting ready to enter one of these little maze areas.

deal castle jim in doorway

deal castle doorway and hallway

In the basement area, you can see that the doors didn’t fit very well and that drafts were obviously abundant.  Water could run out under the doors.

deal castle unsealed door

The basement also held the gunpowder.  Every effort was taken to reduce the possibility of a spark making this castle England’s biggest impromptu fireworks display.  The door to the room containing the gunpowder was copper.

deal castle copper door

You know, it was wonderful to visit this castle, but it felt really good to emerge from the basement type humidity and darkness into the sunlight and see the ocean over the castle walls.

deal castle sea over wall

We walked back to the gatehouse through the courtyard.

deal castle courtyard

You might recognize the window shapes from the photos from inside.

deal castle courtyard2

I have to wonder about the purpose of the tiny little window or door in the outer wall.  It’s beautiful this lovely day, nonetheless.

The expected invasion by Catholic Europe in 1539/1540 never happened, to the great relief of both Henry VIII and the people of Deal and the Kent coastline, I’m sure.  However, in 1588, the country was once again scurrying to get ready for warfare with Spain.

Queen Elizabeth has less than three dozen of her own warships and therefore relied up on the Cinque Ports to supplement her own Navy.  The Lord Warden of Cinque Ports, at Dover, of which Deal was one, issued a proclamation that “no ship, bark or other vessel should pass the seas, whose voyage or absence may be above 6 weeks out of England.”  In other words, every ship was now military.

At that time, Sandwich had 43 vessels, Deal six and Walmer, five.  As the threat continued, the local people increased their ship count by six.  Cinque Port sailors were ready to defend England.

The Spanish Armada approached, moving up the English Channel in a half-moon shape.

spanish armada

Deal Castle prepared, expecting to be in the middle of the fray, but the majority of the fighting took place in the English Channel off of Calais, France, resulting in an English victory over the Spanish Armada.  Deal was spared.

Signal houses were built along the coastline, this one above Deal, to provide watches to notify the people when the Spanish were sighted approaching the coastline.  Did our ancestors watch for the Armada’s arrival?  Did their children play in these no-longer-needed signal houses?

signal station

By 1588, Sylvester Estes had died and his son Robert, also a mariner, would have been about 33 years old and wouldn’t marry for another 3 years.  All mariners and their ships had been pressed into service to defend England by Queen Elizabeth, so the fact that Spain was defeated at Calais and not at Deal could well be the difference between whether we are here today, as descendants, or not.

The current waterfront town of Deal built up around the castle, but the older part of town that existed before the castle is near St. Leonard’s church and is today referenced as “Upper Deal.”  Lower Deal, at the waterfront, as it is known, tends to flood at high tide especially in bad storms in the spring.

Deal and the Maritime Museum

After spending the morning at the castle, we set off to find lunch.

I love to walk through these towns.  The British will tuck a garden in anyplace and it’s always just lovely.

deal sidewalk garden

This “Mariner’s Compass” quilt pattern, in tiny tiles, is just so appropriate on the waterfront in Deal.  The beach is just across the street to the right and this is embedded in the sidewalk.  Of course, there is also a car parked on the sidewalk, well, because it fits!

deal mariners compass

A very interesting Boutique sign, but unfortunately the boutique was closed.

deal boutique

Like many old towns, the little alleyways slip between buildings, are wide enough for one person, and have names.

deal primrose hill

I love the Deal tile and now wish I had brought some home.

deal market street

Every village has a “Market Street.”  You can tell this is the “old” area because the streets aren’t large enough for 2 lanes, and in some cases, not even one lane.

Deal is famous for its ceramic tile and you can see it embedded in many of the buildings.

deal tile

Walking is a lovely way to see the local architecture, in this case, Bute House, now a dentist’s office.

deal tile entryway

Tell me, how can you resist this?  We discovered at the bakery that each village has its own signature “bun” too, and of course we had to try and compare each one.

deal bakery2

We bought a Bath bun and a Chelsea bun.  The Bath bun had candied cherries and fruit in bread. I thought it might taste similar to panetonne, but it didn’t. The Chelsea bun had raisins, sugar and cinnamon.  How can that be anything but good?  Regional differences in foods exist just a few miles apart here.  And I guess everyone has their own style of bun.  Ok, no bun jokes….

bath bun

We wandered from shop to shop.

deal shops

I love the local color.

deal last pub

Yes, we walked to the end of the village.

deal the rose

We knew because this sign told us so!

deal rose hotel

I do believe this is one of my favorite pictures of all time – not the one above – the one below.

deal yellow door

I can’t imagine a lovelier place.

We decided to visit the Deal Maritime Museum.  We didn’t know what to expect.  Turns out it’s a quaint little museum staffed and run by volunteers.  I’m glad they are preserving this heritage.

deal maritime museum

After all, Deal is synonymous with maritime.

deal maritime museum2

They also salvaged a few tombstones that St. George’s Church across the street was “getting rid of.”  Burial space in England is at a premium and older graves not cared for by relatives, read, paid for yearly, are reused.  The grave stones are simply disposed of in most cases, certainly when, if not before, they are illegible.

St. George’s Church is on High Street in the main part of Lower Deal.  While none of the American Estes ancestors attended this church, there are Estes records associated with this church from the 1820s, although none of the tombstones in the museum from St. George’s were Estes.  Yes, I checked every one.

deal st georges church

Note the skull and crossbones on the stone below.  This is often found on the stones in Deal and does not necessarily mean pirates as we think of it today.  They told us that it was associated with the maritime trades.  Moses Estes, buried in St. Leonard’s in 1707 also carries this same insignia, a skull, crossbones and hourglass, on his stone.

deal st george stones

The old church is now “Spires” café.  And yes, the remaining tombstones are leaning up against the wall and the former cemetery is now the outside café and garden area.

deal spires cafe

High and Middle Street

To visit the museum, we had to walk down High Street, which is the modern shopping area.  Yesterday we found a coffee shop and a couple bakeries, so we knew where to go today.  We got coffee and sampled things from the bakeries and delis along the way.

deal stitches

More important however, is the Stitch shop.  Yep, I finally found a fabric shop and it had some lovely English prints, mostly florals, which is, of course, extremely appropriate for here – the land of lovely gardens.  In this photo, Jim is stuffing my fabric purchases into the backpack.

After that, we seemed to be walking slower and slower.  We wandered through the shops sampling the cuisine – kind of the tourist version of grazing.

deal deli

deal deli2

You knew that DNA has to be in this article someplace, and here it is, but not at all like you would have expected.

deal dna

deal dna2

We stopped by the coffee shop and found the bookshop – that would be W.H. Smith in the panoramic view from the coffee shop below.

deal pano from coffee shop

Then we took the tiny one-person-wide alleys back to the hotel.

deal odd fellows alley

deal odd fellows alley2

We were becoming familiar with the streets and the shortcuts and feeling quite at home.  Who needs a car?

Our hotel faces the water.  There are buildings all along this waterfront area, Beach Street, attached to each other, and there are alleys called closes between the buildings to “Middle Street.”  Middle Street was the land of slaughter houses, brothels, pubs and smuggling.  It had a terrible reputation and was quite baudy and rough – then and right up until WW2 when it was heavily damaged by bombs.  Deal decided not to rebuild the part destroyed but instead to build a much needed car park (parking lot, located right behind our hotel) instead.

While I was in Deal, I joked about the fact that Middle Street would be where my ancestors would be found, land of pubs and smugglers.  In 1710, Deal was described as, “An impious and remorseless town.  Fraud, oppression, theft and rapine reign.”  In 1703, the mayor walked through the town every Sunday, carrying a large stick, “as a severe scouge to all manner of vice, profaneness and immoraility.”  Without benefit of trial, he put swearers in the stocks and once gave ‘a common prostitute’ 12 lashes.  It apparently did little good.

After returning home, I found records in the Summer 1992 edition of Estes Trails that had to do with where the Estes family lived in “Lower Deal,” near the waterfront.

1663 – Deal Tenents – Richard Estes, Widow Priscilla Estes very poor

1673 – Richard Eastes, pilot, left to his son Moses his two messuages in Deal known as Sea Valley and the capstan standing.  To my son-in-law Jeffrey Caffrey and Mary his wife my daughter, the messuage in which they live in Lower Deal.

1674 – Will of Stephen Pearce who left to his wife the rents and profits of the tenements where Sam Clarke and Priscilla Estis were living on the beach and waste aforesaid.

1680 – William Archbishop of Canterbury to Moses Estes of Deal, pilot, on surrender of former lease to Richard Estes deceased dated 1662…tenement in Lower Deal abutting Beach Street east.  Note – Beach Street is the seafront street where the Clarendon, our hotel, is located.

Also, tenement or dwelling house in Lower Deal abutting Middle Street east to land demised to John Estis west to land demised to Elizabeth Estes north to buildings demised to William Hargrave…now in the tenure of Nicholas Estes…formerly demised to Richard Estes for 21 years.

Uh oh – our Estes folks really were on Middle Street, which really doesn’t surprise me one bit.  Well, that just makes our family quite colorful!!!  Indeed, where is my pirate hat???


Further up Middle Street, in some of the “worst areas,” quaint, historic cottages exist today and it a lovely place to visit and live.  Each cottage here is named and the name generally has something to do with what it was, or is.



deal middle street3

deal middle street4

The building below, the Paragon, was once the heart of the rough area of Middle Street, being the local pub.

deal middle street the paragon

The Paragon was originally an old pub called the “Star Inn” before becoming a music hall in about 1876.  The hall, like Middle Street itself, was very rough.  Beatings, stabbings, landlords robbing clients, drunks and half-naked women in the streets were all quite common in the area.  While this was recorded in the 1700s and 1800s, there is no reason to believe it was any different earlier.

deal middle street5

Here’s a lady skateboarding up Middle Street today.  Vastly different from what Middle Street used to be in the days of Deal Castle.

middle street skateboarder

So we followed the alleys from High Street, across the car park that used to be Middle Street to our hotel on what is now Beach Street, literally across Estes family land or at least lands that were quite familiar to our ancestors.

After that, we decided to walk out on the pier again because it was much less foggy today.  You can see the shelter areas on the pier for fishermen.

deal pier

Jim’s camera takes panoramic pictures and here is the waterfront on the left and right of the pier.

deal pier pano

deal pier pano2

I’m sure my ancestors saw this same view.  The buildings looked different of course, and my ancestors weren’t standing on a pier but in their boats instead.  Still, if you squint a bit and listen to the gulls and the surf, it isn’t much different.

As I walked back, I stopped and looked at the beach and realized just how long my ancestors would have looked at this same beach.

deal beach

Julius Ceasar recorded in the year 55 when he invaded England and landed on the beach between Deal and Dover, that this part of southern Britain was inhabited by Belgic and Celtic tribes.  Was my family among them?  From the year 55 to the year 1495 is 1450 years, or 48-58 generations.  Was my family living on this soil that long?

Maybe the Estes DNA will tell the story.  Join me once a week for the next five weeks in the 52 Ancestors series where we’ll discover what the DNA does say about our five Estes ancestors who lived in Deal and surrounding area in the 1400s, 1500s and 1600s.  It’s an exciting tale to tell!



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5 thoughts on “Deal and Deal Castle, Kent, England

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your trip! I felt as if I was right there with you. How exciting to visit a place you know that you are walking on the land that they lived on. And gazing at the sea that they sailed on. I imagine it was an Indescribable feeling.

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