Corfe Castle: a large enclosure castle, and 18th century Vineyard Bridge


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2020. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1011487.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 05-Aug-2020 at 06:25:37.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Purbeck (District Authority)
Corfe Castle
National Grid Reference:
SY 95881 82314

Reasons for Designation

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important.

Corfe Castle is a striking and well-known example of an enclosure castle. Although ruinous, much of the castle survives as upstanding masonry including the keep and curtain wall, while partial excavation of the interior has demonstrated that buried archaeological remains survive relating to the castle's occupation and fortunes of its inhabitants. The history of Corfe Castle, including details ot its architectural development, is well documented with plans and written sources surviving from the 11th century through to at least the 17th century. Documentary records also indicate the important strategic role played by Corfe Castle in the civil wars of the 12th and 17th centuries. The Rings, an associated siegework, reputedly used by King Stephen when he unsuccessfully besieged the castle in 1139, is located a short distance to the west of Corfe Castle and is scheduled as a separate monument. This was later used as the site of a Civil War battery in the 17th century.


The monument includes a large enclosure castle built on a natural mound overlooking a gap in the Purbeck Hills and situated immediately north of the town of Corfe. The castle is separated from the town by a deep ditch cut across a narrow natural tongue of land. The castle is built of Purbeck stone, ashlar and rubble, generally with flint in the core. It has an inner ward, west bailey and outer bailey. The inner ward, on the summit of the hill, belongs to the original phase of the castle and is defined by a late 11th century curtain wall. This encloses a pear shaped area containing the remains of the keep, a range of buildings known as the 'Gloriette' with traces of an intervening kitchen range, and other buildings. The ashlar built keep is dated to c.1105. The 'Gloriette' is an early 13th century courtyard mansion with 15th century additions, which was built to supplement or replace accommodation in the keep. The west bailey occupies a relatively level, triangular spur of the hill, below and to the west of the inner ward. The curtain wall, along the north and south sides of the west bailey, and the three towers which comprise its defences, were part of the defensive works of King John in the early years of the 13th century. Within the west bailey are late 11th century fragments of a hall. These, together with the wall surrounding the inner ward are the earliest visible features of the castle. The outer bailey, to the south east of the west bailey, lies on land which is nearly flat from west to east but rising to the north. This area retains a defensive system of walls and mural towers mainly of early and late 13th century date. There are four towers on the eastern curtain wall and two on the west. Within the outer bailey is the south west gatehouse, the great ditch and the outer gatehouse. The south west gatehouse guards the narrow approach to the west bailey. The great ditch, quarried in 1207, removed the south wall of the presumed south west bailey. The outer gatehouse gives access from the outer bailey to the bridge which spans the ditch between castle and town. The bridge has four spans of uneven width with plain semi-circular arches, the oldest part of which dates to the 12th or early 13th century. The foundations of a suggested pre-Conquest building were revealed during excavations in the west bailey in 1950-52. These are thought to represent either a 'hospitium' belonging to Shaftesbury Abbey, a royal residence associated with King Edward, who was murdered at 'Corfegeat' in AD978 or the 'domus' of Queen Elfrida. During excavation a single sherd of Romano-British pottery was found near to the spot where a sherd of the same period was previously discovered. Documentary sources provide additional evidence for the construction and development of Corfe Castle. For example, in the Domesday record there is a reference to the building of a castle at Wareham, although it is generally accepted that this was an error, and that the castle was, in fact, Corfe. The enclosure wall of the inner ward and the 'Old Hall' in the west bailey can be attributed to the reign of William I. In the reign of Henry I Corfe is mentioned as being the place of imprisonment of Robert Duke of Normandy, by which time the keep had been built as a secure place of imprisonment. During the civil wars between Stephen and Matilda there was military activity at Corfe in 1138 and 1139. The siegeworks known as 'the Rings', to the west of the castle were built by Stephen's forces as part of this attack. The reigns of Henry II and Richard I were periods of minimal activity and repair, while King John's reign ushered in intensive building operations and the castle saw a great deal of use as a treasury, prison and royal residence. Work during Edward I's reign included the completion of the outer bailey defences. The castle then fell into disrepair until Edward III commissioned a survey, and extensive repairs were carried out between 1356 and 1377. Following that no further major works were undertaken until 1496 when Henry VII prepared the castle as a residence for his mother Margaret, Countess of Richmond. In 1572 Corfe Castle passed out of the hands of the Crown and the following steward Ralph Treswell carried out surveys, the plans of which survive. Eventually the estate was sold in 1635 to Sir John Bankes. Corfe Castle again saw military activity during the English Civil War. In May 1643 Parliamentary forces failed to take the castle by suprise, and by June the castle was under siege. This first siege lasted for 6 weeks. By October 1645 Corfe was under siege once again until finally, in February 1646, the castle was taken by treachery and subterfuge. In March 1646 a vote was passed by the Commons for its demolition. This delibarate slighting was caused by explosions which scattered fabric to the slopes around the castle and into the valley bottom. Following this, the castle was retained by the Bankes Estate as a romantic ruin, a state which has been maintained in recent years by the National Trust. Immediately at the western end of the hill on which Corfe Castle is situated, is the 18th century Vineyard Bridge. This is a single arched stone structure of coursed Purbeck stone rubble with ashlar dressings. The close proximity of this to a castle deliberately slighted at the time of the Civil War, makes it likely that the bridge will incorporate earlier medieval fabric in its construction. Inside the castle, huts, wooden fence posts and road metalling are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them is included. Beyond the castle all metalled sufaces are excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
The National Trust, , Corfe Castle, (1992), 37
The National Trust, , Corfe Castle, (1992), 37-50
The National Trust, , Corfe Castle, (1992), 5-35
RCHME, , 'Medieval Archaeology' in Excavations in the west bailey of Corfe Castle, (1960), 54
RCHME, , 'Medieval Archaeology' in Excavations in the west bailey of Corfe Castle, (1960), 29-55


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].