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Channel Islands Castle Cornet, Guernsey

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Castle Cornet stands on a former tidal island guarding the entrance to St Peter Port Originally only accessible on foot at low tide, in the mid C19th it became part of the harbour breakwater and reached by bridge.


When William, Duke of Normandy became King of England in 1066, the Channel Islands became possessions of the English Crown. In 1204, King John lost control of Normandy to the French. The Channel Islands elected to stay as self governing islands under the protection of the English crown. Being very close to the French Coast, there was a need to protect themselves against French attack.

St Peter Port was a busy trading harbour and subject to French attack and a fortification was needed to guard the harbour. Castle Cornet was built to defend entry to to the harbour.



The first castle was a simple structure built on the highest point of the island, with a small keep, chapel, two courtyards and a curtain wall.
Soon after being built, the castle was captured by the French who held it for seven year. It changed hands several times in the following years. The castle was extended in the mid C15th with a large donjon keep, great Hall and other buildings protected by the curtain wall with a barbican. The Gunner’s Tower was built to take cannons which were just beginning to be used in warfare.

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By the Mid C16th cannon were more readily used both for defence and attack. They were also becoming heavier and more powerful. A new and more substantial curtain wall was needed with bastions and bulwarks for the increasing numbers of cannon, which could provide defence from both land or sea attack.

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Chamberlain’s Mount at the highest point gave additional protection from land based guns.


During the English Civil War, Guernsey supported the Parliamentarian cause, while the Castle was a Royalist stronghold. It eventually surrendered in 1651. After Restoration of Monarchy, Castle Cornet was kept as a fortress. Major-General Sir John Lambert, who was commonly regarded as one of the most talented of the Parliamentarians and involved in the constitutional framework of the Protectorate had resisted the Restoration of the Monarchy, and was held prisoner here for ten years. He was a keen gardener and a garden bears his name.

In 1672, the donjon (keep) was hit by lightning which ignited gunpowder stored beneath it. The explosion demolished the donjon along with the chapel and the Governor’s residence and killed seven people. The donjon and Governor’s residence were never rebuilt.

Castle Cornet was upgraded during the Napoleonic Wars in the C18th when it was armed with over 70 guns and a garrison of up to 300 men. New barrack buildings added, which are best seen from the sea.


The Lower Barracks housed men of the Royal Artillery who manned the castle guns. The Upper Barracks housed four companies of infantrymen. A Hospital was built, which was used later used as a canteen in the C19th.


The citadel at the top of the Castle, contained a range of bombproof casemates built as a means of increasing barrack accommodation.

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By 1800, the castle was considered to be inadequate as a garrison stronghold and replaced by Fort George on a hill above St Peter Port. The lower barracks continued to be used and Castle Cornet was also used as a prison. A guard house was built in the lower ward in 1850 (now the shop and ticket office).

In the 1860s the harbour was extended and a wooden bridge was built to give access to Castle Cornet.

German troops occupied the castle during World War II and it was renamed Hafenschloss. They built gun batteries for anti-aircraft guns as well as magazines and air raid shelters. The wooden bridge could be blown up if the castle was attacked from the town.



After the war, the wooden bridge was replaced by the present concrete structure and Castle Cornet was handed to the people of Guernsey by George VI in recognition for their loyalty during the Occupation. It is now part of the Guernsey Museums and Galleries.

The Castle is open 10-5 and there is a free guided tour at 10.30. The gun on the saluting battery is fired at noon day by gunners in C19th costume. There are also short living history performances.

There are four period gardens, four museums (Story of Castle Cornet, RAF museum, Royal Guernsey Light infantry museum and Royal Guernsey Militia Museum) as well as a shop and cafe




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The Main entrance to the castle is tucked away behind the Town Bastion and casements bui,lt into the curtain wall protected the gateway.



This leads in to the Outer Bailey with the Lower Barracks and 1850s Guard Room which is now the ticket office and shop.


The Saluting Battery overlooks the Lower Ward and the Harbour.


A gateway leads from the Outer Bailey into the castle.



Steps lead up into the Middle Ward.


Part of the Medieval curtain wall can be seen running from the Barbican to the Gunner’s Tower and Mewtis Bulwark.


In front is Lambert’s Garden who was kept in quarters overlooking it.


The C18th Hospital (now the Museum of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry and Museum) and stores building (201 Squadron Museum ) are in the Middle ward. At the far end is the West Bastion, overlooked by the Mewtis Bulwark. These both overlook and guard the harbour.



They also look down on the Saluting Battery. The bridge to the castle can be seen and also the main entrance to the castle.


There are views down to the Governor’s Garden and along the outer wall from the Mewtis Bulwark.




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Steps lead up to the Upper Ward.


Sutler’s Garden and house are at the top of the steps. The sutler was the quartermaster responsible for supplying the castle garrison. Part would have been used to grow herbs and vegetables . The rest would have been a 'pleasure' garden. The Sutler's House was the only building in the Upper Ward not damaged in the explosion in 1672.


Beyond the garden is the Prison Tower which was built on the site of the C13th gatehouse and has the Castle clock. The Prisoners' Walk is a long narrow passageway between tall walls that led from the Prison Tower to the Citadel.



Steps lead up from the Upper Ward and are the only access to the Citadel. There are views down to the remains of the foundations of the donjon and the other buildings which were destroyed by the explosion in 1672.


Being the highest part of the castle, the citdel is lined with cannons and there is the remains of a C19th gun position overlooking the sea. This was later used by the Germans during the Occupation.



It looks down on the South Battery at the tip of the island, with its traversing cannon.


Returning to the Middle Ward, a passageway leads to the Outer Ward with the Curtain Battery used to fire the noon day gun and the East Battery.


The Upper Barracks are outside the original medieval curtain wall and provided accommodation for married officers. They are now the cafe.


Near them is a magazine. This was built from granite after the explosion of 1672, and kept the gunpowder well away from the other buildings.




The Sally Port is below the citadel. It was a narrow gateway through the Curtain Wall which served as a second entrance to the castle and gave access to the sea.


Round the far side of the Citadel beneath the Mewtis Bulwark is the Governor's Garden.


The outer ward facing the sea was heavily fortified during the Napoleonic wars and was also fortified by the Germans during the Occupation.




Allow plenty of time for a visit as there is so much to see, especially with the four different museums. There is no specific route around the castle. Choose a dry day as it can be vey exposed, especially walking out to Castle Cornet.

You are given a leaflet with a basic map with the ticket. All the buildings are signed with basic information.

The shop sells a guide book for £4.99 which has some information about the history of the castle along with a lot of information on its social history. The best bit is the plan at the back.

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