The partly ruined Westenhanger Castle is located on what was the site of two medieval manor houses, Westenhanger and Ostenhanger.
The site as it exists today consists of the manor house set within a ruined, walled enclosure with the remains of the 14th century towers, surrounded by a partly filled moat. The house is two storeys high with an attic and is constructed from red brick. It is an L-plan with a bastion to the north east corner. The entrance elevation has seven windows with a late 20th century porch. Conservation work began on the castle in 1997 and is open to the public at certain times of the year.
The ruin of Westenhanger is close to the station, surrounded with old trees, in the parish of Stanford, and two and a half miles from Hythe. It has been a fine specimen of a fortified manor-house of the fourteenth century, and consisted of a quadrangle of curtain walls defended by nine towers, which were round at the four corners of the enceinte, and square in the centre of each face. Three of these towers only remain, though the others can be traced. The round one at the N.E. corner and the square one in the centre of the N. front are connected by a wall still perfect, the centre tower of the three now remaining being called “Fair Rosamond’s,” from a poorly founded tradition that this fair and frail daughter of the Cliffords lived here before her removal to Woodstock. A long gallery, which was standing in the time of Grose, 160 feet in length, adjoined this tower, and was called her prison. The buildings in the interior have disappeared, and a farmhouse occupies their site, though some of these farm buildings Parker thinks may have belonged to the old castle. There is a curious dovecot here. Grose gives two views of the ruins as they appeared in 1773.
Sir William d’Auberville had this manor and resided here in the reign of Richard I., and founded the abbey of West Langton. His grandson, also Sir William, had a daughter who carried the manor in marriage to Nicholas de Criol, whose descendant, Bertram de Criol, dying (23 Edward I.), left it to his daughter Joan, the wife of Sir Richard de Rokesley, an eminent Kentish gentleman, who accompanied the King to Scotland, and performed such good service at the siege of Caerlaverock that he was made a bannaret. They left two daughters, one of whom brought part of the property, then divided, to her husband, Thomas de Poynings, whose son, Nicholas de Poynings, was summoned to Parliament as baron (33 Edward 111.). This division may have separated Osten- (or East) hanger from Westen-hanger, which seems still to have been kept by the Criol family, for we find that in 17 Edward III., John de Kiriel, or Criol, had a licence to crenellate his manor-house of Westyngehangre, Kent, and his son, Sir Nicholas, died seised of it (3 Richard II.). His son, Sir Thomas, fought on the Yorkist side during the Wars of the Roses, and being taken prisoner at the second battle of St. Albans, in 1464 was executed at once by the Lancastrians; his name is spelt “Kyrielle” by the chroniclers. He left no heirs male, so the castle and lands went to Thomas Fogge, the husband of his daughter, whose brother, Sir John Fogge of Repton, succeeded him, dying possessed of them (17 Henry VII.), and being followed by a son, Sir John Footle, who bequeathed the property to the Poyning family, which then acquired the whole original estate, once more reunited. Sir Edward Poynings, a Privy Councillor of Henry VII., then enjoyed the castle and manor and resided here ; he was deputy of Ireland, and was the author of the statute there called Poynings’ Law ; Henry made him a Knight of the Garter and Comptroller of his Household, and on his death in 12 Henry VIII., without any lawful issue, his estates were escheated to the Crown, when the King gave them to Sir Edward’s natural son, Thomas Poynings, whom he made a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Anne Boleyn. He was called to the Parliament of 36 Henry VIII., as Baron Poynings of Ostenhanger, and died the year after sp., whereon the estates again lapsed to the Crown, and were presented to John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, afterwards Duke of Northumberland ; at whose attainder in the first year of Mary, they again became Royal properly.
Strype says that Queen Elizabeth, in one of her progresses, came here and lodged ” in her own house of Westenhanger,” after which she gave the place to her kinsman, Sir Thomas Sackville, who sold it to one Thomas, or “Customer,” Smith, who added to and beautified the house. Then it passed by Philip Smith to Viscount Strangford, who resided here when Philipott wrote his “Village Cantianum.” After him it passed to the Finches and the Champneys, who possessed the then ruined castle in Grose’s time, and built a small house out of the wreck.
The castle was moated all round, and had a drawbridge and a fine fifteenth century gatehouse. The place was sold for £1000 in 1701, when three-quarters of the buildings were pulled down, and the chief remains now are the embattled walls, which were very lofty and of great thickness, and the before-mentioned towers on the E. and N. The principal entrance must have been extremely fine, being vaulted with arches springing from six polygonal shafts with carved capitals, and there is a portcullis groove. Within the great gate was a court, 130 feet square, with a fountain in the centre. Here Sir Edward Poynings erected a chapel, the stone carvings of which are described by Grose, and a hall, 50 feet long and 32 wide, having a musician’s gallery at one end and cloisters at the other, leading to the chapel and other buildings. It is said that the original house contained 126 rooms. The ancient chapel, dedicated to St. john, has been destroyed, and its materials were used to build the great barn which stands N.N.W. of the entrance. The small chapel within the court is now used as a stable, and has a vaulted roof ; near it on the S. are the remains of other buildings.
Its ancient grandeur is still traceable in its ruins; the site it occupied is low, on the banks of a small rivulet which supplied the moat; this moat, once broad and deep, is now partly filled up. The parks which belonged to the castle were well stocked with timber, and there are still traces of a fine avenue which led from the S. to the principal entrance.
Stanford, the name of the parish, is derived from the Stone, or Stane, Street, the old Roman road leading from Durovernum (Canterbury) to Limne, at Hythe, where was the Portus Lemanis and harbour of the Romans. During the Civil War, after the defeat of the King’s troops at Maidstone in 1648, many prisoners were confined at Westenhanger. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)