~ History ~
1090's ~ Gundalf, Bishop of Rochester and builder of the great keep at Rochester Castle, builds himself a stone residential keep, surrounded by earthwork defences.
1100's ~ A stone wall is built to enhance the keep's defences.
1642 ~ At theoutbreak of Civil War the owners of St Leonard's Tower is a Royalist sympathiser Sir John Rayney of Wrotham Place.
1648 ~ Sir John joins the Royalist forces against Sir Thomas Fairfax at the Battle of Maidstone.
General Fairfax and his troops pass through West Malling to make camp at East Malling Heath on the eve of the battle. Rayney properties in West Malling are targeted as local Royalists assemble for battle at Penenden Heath.
The Royalists have assembled some 10,000 men, raised for the Earl of Norwich. The force then disperses to hold various towns for King Charles I, including Gravesend, Rochester, Dover and Maidstone.
Together with a major rebellion in South Wales, the Kent uprising constitutes a major threat to the Parliamentary cause. Oliver Cromwell's army is already stretched, but some 6,000 men are committed to tackle the Kent problem.
General Fairfax marches on Maidstone with 4,000 experienced veteran troops to recapture the town from its 2,000 inexperienced Royalist defenders.
After outflanking Norwich's main Royalist forces on Burham Heath and a diversionary feint towards Aylesford, Fairfax crosses the River Medway at East Farleigh bridge virtually unopposed. Early skirmishes begin at Penenden Heath before a full attack in heavy rain upon Maidstone. Intense fighting street by street, baricade by baricade results in the Royalists retreating toward's Gabriel's Hill and then Weeks Street.
The last stand is held inside St Faith's chapel when 1,000 Royalists finally surrender as an intense thunderstorm rages.
Fairfax allows the men to return to their homes rather than be held captive, as he needs all his men to deal with the threat still posed by 6,000 Royalists who have gathered at Burnham Heath. As Fairfax marches his army to engage, the Royalists retreat north in order to regroup and take London. When they arrive and find the gates firmly barred, the remnants of the Royalist army retreat to defend the Earl of Norwich's home town of Colchester. Following ten weeks of siege the deprived and famined Royalists finally surrender.
1782 ~ Edward Hasted records that St. Leonard’s Tower “was now used for the stowage of hops”. Weathering, stone-robbing and neglect have reduced the keep to a ruinous state, albeit its walls are still intact.
St Leonards Street, West of Maidstone
St Leaonard's Tower near the village ofWest Malling, near Maidstone, is a fine example of an Early Norman Keep.
It is unusual as its outer defences were never fully developed with remains of earthworks and medieval stone wall as the only defence to its walls which are up to six feet thick. The keep is some 60 feet high with its entrance 10 feet off the ground with a wooden staircase, easily removed in times of siege.
Disappointingly there appears little history of the keep.
Although you cannot access the interior of the keep and there is little else to explore, if you want see an early example of Norman architecture, this is an excellent example.
The keep is well sign-posted with car parking available.