Corfe, both as a village and a castle, is located on the A351 halfway between Wareham and Swanage, on the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset.
The dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle stand on a natural hill guarding the principal route through the Purbeck Hills. As you can see it guards the gap between the Isle of Purbeck and the rest of Dorset. Nothing could pass in or out without going past the Castle.
The village is constructed almost completely from the local grey Purbeck limestone and comprises two main streets, East Street and West Street, linked at their north end at the Square. Around the square, with its cross commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 are clustered the small collection of shops, post office, church and pubs. The main route through the village is East Street which forms part of the A351. Separating the two streets is an area of common land called “the Halves”.
In terms of access locally, visitors can also enjoy a steam train ride on The Swanage Railway which presently runs from the Norden Park & Ride just outside Corfe Castle to Swanage without the hassle of finding parking in Swanage itself. There is also a station at Corfe Castle which makes it convenient to explore the village before travelling to Swanage.
Details of opening times, cost of admission, functions and facilities can be found on the National Trust Corfe Castle site.
A little History
The medieval castle, commanding a gap in the Purbeck Hills as demonstrated in the picture below, is now an imposing ruin and a popular tourist centre drawing on it’s many years of history.
To the left of the castle is what is known as West Hill, and to the right, East Hill. In front of the castle the village of the same name.
There is belief that Corfe may have been a Roman defensive site, but the castle we see the ruins of today was a rebuild in the 11th century of what was a wooden building/hall/castle back into the 9th century.
The village and its famous castle are built mainly from the local Purbeck stone which is probably the finest limestone available for building and polishing in England, and is used throughout the world.
In the 13th century King John went to great lengths improving his accommodation and the defences. He built a fine hall and chapel together with domestic buildings. Henry III constructed additional walls, towers and gatehouses.
Monarchs had come and gone until 1572 when Queen Elizabeth I sold it to Sir Christopher Hatton, her dancing master and some suppose a suitor.
In 1635 the Castle was sold to Sir John Bankes, the then Lord Chief Justice, more as a holiday home rather than as a first home.
By 1643 the Parliamentarians occupied most of Dorset, the castle survived a six-week siege. Sir John Bankes died in 1644 and the castle endured a number of half-baked blockades. Later in 1645 a second siege was started by Colonel Bingham, Governor of Poole, and courtesy of an insider the Roundheads took over in February 1646.
The Castle was systematically destroyed by the Parliamentary forces, but the fact that some remains is surely testimony to strength of construction.
If you have looked at these pictures, visited the castle itself, or just heard about what went on, perhaps you might wonder what the castle actually looked like in the early 17th century. Could it have been like the picture on the right? This is just part of the Corfe Model Village which can be found on the Square in Corfe, and well worth a visit.
- Corfe Castle is widely acknowledged as the inspiration for Kirren Castle in Enid Blytons Famous Five books.
- For those interested in the royal line of succession encompassing the story of Corfe see Kings & Queens.
- Ownership remained with the Bankes Family until 1982 when it was bequeathed to the National Trust.
- For the increasing number of quiz oriented folk out there:
Q: Where are the keys to Corfe Castle?
A: On the wall in the library at Kingston Lacy House, Wimborne Minster, Dorset BH21 4EA.
Page Info: Some of this content was original published on www.isleofpurbeck.com (unfortunately no longer available)
Last updated: 28th January 2019