Yarmouth Castle dominates the entrance to Yarmouth harbour. It oversees a thriving mix of recreational boating and ferry visitors, but it is an enduring reminder of the long and important history of the town, the western end of the Island, and the stretch of the Solent it looks over.
It sits alongside the building that served as the residence of the Governor of the island. The castle was not just for defensive and military purposes, but also a clear sign of the power and authority of the King, his representatives and the political authorities of the time.
Today the castle is an excellent family day out and picnic spot. It has displays of its own, the town’s and the local sea’s history. It retains an extraordinary atmosphere of authenticity. Standing on the battlements it is possible to survey the surrounding scene and sense what the look-outs and previous generations would have scanned the sea for.
It was built by King Henry VIII as part of a chain of coastal defences and was regularly manned into the mid-19th century. Of the defences to be built the castle was the last to be completed in 1547. As a consequence it was the most modern and was the first to include what was then the new-style ‘arrowhead’ artillery bastion built in England. The castle represented a significant investment in the town and the wider area by the King. The fortifications were the clearest signal of just how vulnerable England felt to invasion and attack.
Yarmouth and its river were an obvious point for invasion. It was then, as it still is today, a key communications and supply point for that side of the Island, and of course relatively close too to the key parts of the south coast, so potentially vulnerable to invasion. For all these reasons Yarmouth was and remained a strategically vital area.
As with all such fortifications it has gone through many phases of evolution and development. Once it had a moat, now filled in. It has served as a barracks, a gubernatorial home, a strategic defence command post and now a significant tourist attraction.
The castle’s enduring strategic importance is demonstrated by the fact that in both the Great War and World War II the castle was fully operational. It is poignant in this Great War centennial anniversary year to think of the people moving into the castle, living, training and preparing to fight if required to do so. The sense of their presence, of their service, and of the many soldiers that preceded them, lives on in every brick and emplacement in the castle.