Corfe Castle, Dorset

Situated on top of a steep hill, a triangular site of fragmented buildings and walls marks the location of a once magnificent castle. A naturally steep site, in a central gap among the Purbeck Hills, provided the perfect setting for King John's favourite castle.

The first building of Corfe Castle occurred not long after the Norman Conquest in the 11th century, and consisted of a small hall and a curtain wall, which was later to become the inner bailey. This early stone work can be found towards the summit of the hill. A rectangular great tower was constructed adjacent to the southern wall of the inner bailey during the reign of King Henry I.

King John spent a substantial amount of time at Corfe Castle and he was responsible for the 'gloriette', the curtain wall around the west bailey with an octagonal tower to the west point, the ditch to separate the south-east outer bailey from the rest of the castle, and the curtain wall and towers of the outer bailey. The 'gloriette' stands to the east of the keep and once consisted of residential quarters built for King John. Little remains today but it is worth noting the amount of detail in the building work that dates from the 13th century.

Later works to Corfe Castle included the completion of the curtain wall, south-east gatehouse, and the inner gatehouse by King Henry III. Corfe Castle remained in royal possession until Queen Elizabeth I sold it in the 16th century. In the west bailey, the 13th century octagonal Butavant Tower suffered severely as a consequence of the Civil War and, at a later date, from possible subsidence. The North Tower, in contrast to the South and Butavant Towers, still exhibits a number of architectural features and it has an interesting shape.

The Plukenet Tower, situated on the east curtain wall near to the castle ditch, still bears the shield-of-arms of Alan de Plukenet on the exterior stonework of the tower. Alan de Plukenet was the constable of Corfe Castle during the 13th century. Located in the south-east corner of the outer bailey, the Horseshoe Tower survives almost to its original height, and was constructed around the same time as the Outer Gatehouse, which stands to its lower levels only.

Corfe Castle's ruinous condition is largely as a result of the Civil War, when it was besieged and abandoned, and then demolished by Order of Parliament in 1646. But the little that does remain, makes an impressive feature against the backdrop of the gentle Dorset countryside, and allows us to visualise the power and splendour it once portrayed.


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