The Square, Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5EZ
Telephone: 01929 481294 (Infoline)
One of Britain's most majestic ruins and once a controlling gateway through the Purbeck Hills, the castle boasts breathtaking views and several waymarked walks. The demolition of the castle in 1646 by the Parliamentarians marked the end of a rich history as both fortress and royal residence. With its fallen walls and secret places, it is a place to explore, a giant playground for children of all ages. The crumbling ruins and subtle invasion by plants and animals, along with its almost ethereal quality as light and weather change, all contribute to the unique atmosphere of Corfe Castle. Note: steep, uneven slopes, steps and sudden drops.
Uncover the secrets of Dorset's iconic medieval monument.
Discover how royalty, warfare and nature have shaped the castle.
Spot the 'murder holes' and count the arrow loops.
Making the most of your day
Open-air theatre and cinema. Enid Blyton's birthday celebration (11 August). Family and general tours. Castle Quests during school holidays. Living History events and jester fun days. Dogs: welcome on a short lead
A brief history
Corfe Castle has had a long and eventful history. Positioned strategically in the gap between the Purbeck hills, it was perfect for defending inland Dorset against attack from the sea. The surrounding agricultural lands and forests were rich, and could be used to provide food and resources for the Castle. Not surprisingly, therefore, Corfe Castle was a royal fortress for over 600 years.
A King is murdered
In 978, before the present Castle was built, legend has it that King Edward the Martyr was murdered at Corfe by his stepmother who wanted to put her own son, Ethelred ‘the Unready’, on the throne. While stag hunting in the Purbeck forest, Edward paid a visit to Corfe, where Elfryda is said to have offered him a goblet of wine, then treacherously had him stabbed in the back while he drank it.
A castle is built
Corfe Castle was begun by William the Conqueror soon after his arrival in Britain in 1066. It was served by the surrounding community in return for the use of homes and land, as well as shelter in the Castle in times of trouble. Much of the Isle of Purbeck was a Royal Forest so the hunting of game without royal permission was punishable by death.
A state prison
Corfe was one of King John’s favourite castles. Between 1199 and 1216 he added a great many defences. During his troubled reign the castle was often used as a prison, where many prisoners met their deaths. King John also turned Corfe Castle into a comfortable royal residence. There would have been a garden and a kitchen to grow and prepare food for the king’s table.
A private home
From the 14th to the 16th centuries, Corfe Castle was less important as a royal stronghold and often fell into disrepair. In 1572 Queen Elizabeth I sold it to her Lord Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton, who converted it into a prestigious home, complete with fine furniture, tapestries and silk cushions. In 1635 Corfe Castle was bought by Sir John Bankes.
The Castle is demolished
Following the death of her husband during the Civil War, Lady Mary Bankes successfully defended the castle during a siege in 1643. During a second siege in 1646 an act of betrayal by a member of her garrison led to their capture. They deliberately demolished the castle resulting in the dramatic ruin you see today.Much of the missing stone can be found in the houses of Corfe Castle Village.
Corfe Castle and The National Trust
The task of The National Trust today is to protect and strengthen what remains of the Castle. Archaeological excavations are being used to reveal more of the castle’s past. Corfe Castle is part of the huge Kingston Lacy estate left to The National Trust in 1981 by Ralph Bankes, a direct descendant of Sir John Bankes.
Discover the Castle
From kings to ravens, ladies to peasants, Corfe Castle has offered sanctuary to people from many walks of life during its history. Discover all this and more among the Castle ruins.
Whet your appetite with these five highlights from the Castle:
The perfect position
Corfe Castle is strategically positioned on top of a steep chalk mound, surrounded by a defensive ditch. The Castle's defenders could prepare for any attack on the Purbeck Hills coming from Poole Harbour on the South Purbeck Coast.
The position of the Castle, high on the mound, made it appear almost impenetrable to invading forces. The Corfe Castle of the 21st century is very different to that of its early life. Today, there are still magnificent views over the surrounding countryside, but they are enjoyed by tourists, rather than kings, queens and knights.
Though the Castle now lies in ruins, many of its defences can still be seen today. The Castle's first line of defence, the Outer Gatehouse, now welcomes visitors, not enemies. Look up from the South-west Gatehouse and you will see murderholes, where defending soldiers would have poured rocks on their enemies.
With walls punctured by arrow-slits and crowned with the remnants of the battlement, it is no wonder the Castle was known as 'the most secure of all English Castles'.
Today, the Castle terraces are far removed from the hustle and bustle of medieval times. However they do prove very popular with visitors. Families often picnic on the grass, and more often than not, can be seen rolling down the slopes!
A very romantic ruin
Following the fall of the Castle, much of the stone was removed and used to build the neighbouring village. The Castle was then left for nature to reclaim.
Wild flowers thrived on the grassy terraces, and ivy began to climb the walls. Soon Victorian tourists began flocking to the Castle to enjoy the picturesque and romantic ruin. You can still enjoy the magic of the Castle today.
Exploration, discovery & adventure
The Castle is perfect for adventurers of any age. From the depths of the dungeon to the highest point on the hill, the Castle is full of interesting nooks and crannies ripe for investigating.
Imagine having to defend the Castle as you peer through the arrow-slits, discover what it was like to live within the Castle during medieval times, and of course re-enact sword battles to defend your picnic from hungry raiders!
Explore the Estate
The Corfe Castle and Purbeck estate covers about 8,000 acres of the Isle of Purbeck and includes an extensive stretch of coastline, including such delights as Studland Beach, Old Harry Rocks, Dancing Ledge and Seacombe Cove.
Nearby Kingston Lacy has a past that is inextricably linked with the history of the Castle. Following the dramatic fall of Corfe Castle, Kingston Lacy was built as the new family home by Ralph, the second son of Sir John and Lady Mary Bankes.
If you want to find out more about 'Brave Dame Mary' and her family, Kingston Lacy is well worth a trip.
Whet your appetite with these highlights from the estate:
Studland Beach & Nature Reserve
Studland beach and nature reserve is home to many rare birds and invertebrates. Drop into the visitor centre to find out more about the Studland nature trails and birds, plants, snakes and lizards you might see. While you are there, don't forget about the three miles of sandy beach!
Corfe Castle Village and Common
The charming village of Corfe Castle nestles at the foot of the mound. Stone from the Castle was pillaged to build the village as we see it today. The nearby Corfe Common is a haven for botanists and historians. Much of the land has not been ploughed for centuries and as such is rich in wild flowers, stone age flint workings and bronze age burial mounds.
Heathland and quarries
Purbeck's heathland is home to many rare plants and creatures. All of the heathland is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as such is carefully managed to maintain natural biodiversity and to protect the heath for future generations.
During the medieval period Purbeck was intensively quarried for its distinctive limestone. Purbeck stone can be seen around the country, including in famous buildings such as Westminster Abbey. Today, the remaining quarries serve as a reminder of the importance of Purbeck stone, not only to the local economy but also to Britain's architectural heritage.
World Heritage coast site
The Dorset coastline is extremely honoured to be classified as a World Heritage site, known as the Jurassic Coast. You can turn amateur dinosaur hunter and spend some enjoyable hours foraging on the beach for evidence of prehistoric life.
Families of the Castle
A castle's history is nothing without the inhabitants. If the walls could talk, they would undoubtedly speak of the treachery and bloodshed that had taken place inside the Castle. Here are just a few of the many colourful characters that we know had some involvement with the Castle:
Edward the Martyr
Legend has it that Corfe was the scene of Edward the Martyr's murder in 978. The teenage king is said to have been on a hunting trip in Purbeck, when he was set upon and stabbed. The order for his death supposedly came from Elfryda, his wicked step-mother, so that her son Ethelred could succeed to the throne.
King John built on Corfe Castle's formidable reputation during his reign - as he used the Castle as a royal treasury. Treasure wasn't the only thing the wayward king kept there though. He also used the Castle to imprison his niece, Princess Eleanor (the Fair Maid of Brittany). John spent much time and money improving the Castle's defences.
During his reign, Edward I re-modelled the Castle's Outer Gatehouse. He made it two storeys high with ramparts above, three sets of arrow-slits, a drawbridge, a murderhole, a portcullis, another murderhole, a thick oak gate and drawbar, extra guards and even added another portcullis! By the end of the refit, the Castle was absolutely impregnable. In Edward I's reign the Constable of Corfe Castle was the fourth highest paid Constable in England, highlighting the Castle's importance in the medieval period.
Elizabeth I and Sir Christopher Hatton
By 1572 the Castle had become a country house rather than a fortress. Elizabeth I sold the Castle to her friend and Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton, thereby ending its 500 years as a royal home.
The Bankes family
During the 17th century, the Castle was home to the Bankes family, who were staunch Royalists. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the Castle was attacked by Parliamentarians. With Sir John away from the Castle, defending the home fell to Lady Bankes and her family, 80 defenders, a cannon and some loyal servants. They successfully held the Castle. Two years later however, during a second siege, Lady Bankes was betrayed by one of her garrison, Col. Pitman. Lady Bankes survived the siege and moved to her family home in Middlesex. She died there 1667.
The legend of the ravens
As with the Tower of London, Corfe always had resident ravens. Many believed that something terrible would happen if the ravens left the castle. According to local legend, that is exactly what happened in 1638. In 1643, during the Civil War, Corfe was besieged by Cromwell's men, and three years after the Castle was all but destroyed.
Whether the ravens knew of the troubled future of the Castle, we cannot say, but they are definitely back - even though the Castle is crumbling!
Ravens have been seen roosting and trying to nest around the Castle since 2000, but were sadly unsuccessful. However, in 2003, they finally found a place to nest. Shortly after, two healthy fledglings hatched. They have successfully bred since then and if you're visiting the Castle between February and May, keep a look out for these fabulous birds.
More than just ravens
It's not only ravens that enjoy the Castle's hospitality. You can also see Grey Wagtails and Peregrine Falcons in and around the Castle. In the winter, Black Redstarts can be seen bobbing around the walls, and you can often witness majestic buzzards soaring between the hills.
Get in touch
01929 481294 (Infoline) 01929 480921 (shop) Fax: 01929 477067 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gift Aid Admission (Standard Admission prices in brackets) Castle: adult £7.50 (£6.81), child £3.75 (£3.40), family £18.75 (£17.04), family (1 adult) £11.25 (£10.22). Paying visitors and members arriving by public transport offered a voucher redeemable at the National Trust shop or tea-room in Corfe Castle
Shopping & eating
Delightful licensed 18th-century tea-room, with tea garden. Enjoy a traditional Dorset cream tea with local clotted cream. Treat yourself to a light lunch and homemade pudding. Locally made gifts in our shop in the village square.
Pay and display at Castle View, off A351 (800 yards walk uphill to castle). Members free. Norden park and ride (all-day parking, ½ mile walk to castle) and West Street in village (pay and display), neither National Trust
Suitable for school groups. Education room/centre. Hands-on activities. Interactive exhibition at Castle View
Families & children
Baby-changing facilities. Pushchairs and baby back-carriers admitted. Family guide. Children's guide. Children's quiz/trail. School holiday activities inc. family treasure trails. Baby back-carriers for loan (small donation requested). Children must be accompanied by an adult within the castle
Places to stay
One holiday cottage with superb views of the castle and surrounding hills, an ideal base for exploring the Dorset coastline. Sleeps 4 people. Available for short breaks and week bookings.
In main car park. Drop-off point
At castle entrance and at visitor centre (in National Trust car park)
Partly accessible, steep slopes, some steps, uneven paths, undulating terrain. Some visitors may require assistance from their companion
One of Britain's most majestic ruins, this medieval castle has been an important stronghold since the time of William the Conqueror. Defended during the Civil War by the redoubtable Lady Bankes, the castle fell to treachery from within and was heavily slighted afterwards by the Parliamentarians.
Note: unbooked guided tour numbers restricted to 30, guided tours can be booked for larger groups
Average length of visit: 1 hour 30 minutes. Guided tour (additional charge)
Coach parking, 800 yards. 4 spaces. Castle is 10 minute walk up a steep hill. There is a coach park and ride scheme available at Norden via Swanage Railway (01929 425800). Castle entrance is then a short level walk away
On site catering
Traditional tea-room (licensed), assisted service, 65 covers by castle entrance in village square. Groups can reserve tables
Learning at Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and left in ruins by the Parliamentarians in 1646.
The National Trust acquired it, in 1981 as part of a bequest from Ralph Bankes (it included part of Corfe Castle village, Corfe Common and other nearby lands).
This romantic ruined castle with sweeping views over Poole harbour now boasts a visitors centre with interactive displays and a separate study room, alongside a variety of children's activities and seasonal events:
Castle tours offer a great way to bring the ruins to life for youngsters and adults alike - an expert guide can place the ancient structure into its geographical and historical context.
The study room's imaginative 'hands-on' activities - from early medieval costumes to examining archaeological finds - provides an excellent preparation for, or follow-up to, a castle tour. The study room is best suited to pupils aged 7-14 (KS2 and 3), but other ages can be catered for.
Guided walks looking at Corfe Castle village as a rural settlement, or at Corfe Common are also available.
All education activities require pre-booking. Current charges are £2 (+VAT) per student per activity. The two activities are hands-on study room sessions and guided tours. From March 2010 the charge will be £2.50