Reasons for Designation
Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late
Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended
area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a
substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a
stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the
bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military
operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements.
They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60
with baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted
range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular
significance to our understanding of the period.
Despite a part of the bank and ditch having been removed by road construction,
the ringwork and bailey known as 'The Rings' survives well and is a good
example of its class. A Civil War battery is believed to have been located
within the earlier remains during the 17th century.
The site is located a short distance to the west of Corfe Castle which had an
important strategic role during the civil wars of the 12th and 17th centuries.
The Rings is believed to have been built in 1139 by King Stephen as part of an
unsuccessful attempt to besiege the castle. The later battery is an example
of how earlier monuments could later be reused, in this case to perform a
similar military purpose.
The monument includes a ringwork and bailey, later re-used as a Civil War
battery, situated on the east end of a low chalk ridge running parallel to
West Hill. The ground on which the site lies falls away on all sides except
the north west, giving an excellent field of view.
The circular ringwork has a large earthen rampart standing above a surrounding
ditch. Within the rampart is a platform of earth best seen in the ringworks
south east quadrant. This is thought to represent a Civil War battery
emplacement. The bailey, lying to the SSE of the ringwork and adjoining it,
has a bank and external ditch. The internal diameter of the circular ringwork
is c.40m giving an area of 0.1ha, and the internal area of the bailey 0.2ha.
Within the ringwork, the interior platform behind the south east rampart,
thought to be the site of the Civil War battery emplacement, stands to 1.25m
above the internal floor; the associated length of rampart stands a further
0.5m above this.
The remaining ramparts stand to c.1.5m from the internal floor of the
ringwork, and are c.6m wide at the top. The ditch is c.1.5m deep, 1m
wide at the bottom and c.10m wide at the top. There is a 2m gap in the
southern side of the ringwork's bank and ditch which cuts the bank
diagonally. It is thought unlikely to be an original entrance. On the
ringwork's north west side the rampart and ditch are cut by a modern road.
The bailey, which lies SSE of the ringwork, slopes quite steeply to the south.
Its ditch joins the ringwork ditch and is c.1.5m deep at its deepest point,
but has been ploughed out in places, particularly towards the southern end of
the monument. Similarly, the bank of the bailey, the height of which is
similar to that of the ringwork, is much reduced to the south by ploughing.
There is an entrance at the southern end of the bailey which appears to be
original since the eastern bank forms a terminal at this point.
The position of the ringwork and bailey, commanding the castle, town and
approach route, supports the view that it is the remains of a siege castle
constructed by King Stephen when he unsuccessfully besieged Corfe in 1139.
Traditionally a battery was sited here in the 17th century Civil War, and the
tithe map of 1844 calls the 'Rings' 'Cromwell's Battery'.
The post and wire fences and the gateposts and gate are excluded from the
scheduling but the ground beneath is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.