‘Castle has gone from royal residence to premier tourism asset’

December 24, 2017

ICONIC LANDMARK: This view of Corfe Castle was captures it’s majestic impact on the Dorset landscape. The ruins are the legacy of the castle being destroyed through an act of Parliament following the second siege during the Civil War in 1645. Picture by Kevin Jakeman.

DIFFERENT ANGLE: Here is the Castle ruins from another stand point. The castle ruins are a Grade I Listed Building, A Scheduled Monument and an archaeological site has been given protection against unauthorised change. Picture by Kevin Jakeman.

INSIDE OUT: This looks across towards the road to Wareham from the Corfe Castle ruins.

LASTING LEGACY: This looks at one of the main parts of the ruins from inside the Castle.



LYING in the heart of the Purbecks is one of Dorset’s most iconic landmarks which struts across the landscape, putting everything else into obscurity.

Corfe Castle has a history that spans a millennium and its uses over that time frame have included a military garrison; a royal residence and a private family home and it has now evolved into a premier destination to visit locally for the National Trust.

Castle history spans six centuries

The word Corfe originates from an old English word “ceorfan” or cutting or referring to a gap. It is believed that a castle was founded at Corfe following the Norman conquest of 1066 as a base for the Royal family and its entourage to hunt in Wareham Forest and other wooded areas in the Purbecks.

As will have been profiled in historical pieces on this site, hilltops have always been considered important places to plan military strategy and Corfe served its purpose at different times in history.

The castle keep made out of Purbeck limestone was built in the early 12th Century for Henry I, William the Conqueror’s son and stood 21m high on top of a 55m high hill and it had a panoramic view for miles around it.

Having previously been under royal ownership, it was sold by officials representing Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Christopher Hatton in 1572, and in 1635 it was purchased by the Bankes family, a relationship the family would have with the building to span three centuries. Sir John and Lady Mary Bankes were the owners during the Civil War.

Castle was besieged twice in Civil War

The Bankes family supported the Cavaliers (supporters of King Charles I) against the Roundheads of Oliver Cromwell. The castle was twice besieged by Cromwell’s forces.

The royalist stronghold saw off the first siege in 1643 but was overwhelmed by an assault the second time two years later.

The story goes that Cromwell’s soldiers ordered that anyone who joined the Bankes’ garrison would have their house burnt and that no supplies could reach the castle.

The siege initially had just five individuals involved but Lady Bankes was able to swell their ranks up to 80 and get supplies through.

Castle was levelled by Act of Parliament

On the orders of Parliament an act was passed in nearby Wareham to have the castle destroyed and the ruins are the legacy of that decision.

A Captain Hughes of Lulworth was given the task of demolishing six centuries of activity and his team dug deep holes in order for them to be filled with gunpowder and detonate the towers and ramparts.

Bankes family left Trust generous legacy

After a brief period of confiscation, the castle was returned to the Bankes family but they decided not to replace it and build another house at their other estate at Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne.

The castle is a Grade I Listed Building, a Scheduled Monument and a “nationally important” historic building and it is an archaeological site that has been given protection against unauthorised change.

When Ralph Bankes died in 1981, he bequeathed the Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy estates to the National Trust and it was one of the biggest generous gifts in the trust’s history.

There is some footage with me narrating walking around the Castle grounds and puts in words some of what is written in this article.

With the publishing of this article on Christmas Eve, may I wish all immediate readers of this article a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  • SOME of the pictures being used in this article courtesy of Dorset amateur photographer Kevin Jakeman.

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