Corfe Castle Village
This old village is built mostly from grey Purbeck limestone that can be found in the area and is made up of two main streets, East Street and West Street, connected at their north end at the Square. Dividing the two streets is “the Halves”, an area of common land. Surrounding the square is small collection of shops, the post office, church and pubs. The square itself, has a cross commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897. Corfe Castle village was founded on an important intersection of trade routes and travelling paths.
The ruins of Corfe Castle stand atop a natural hill standing guard over the main route through the Purbeck Hills. It watches over the gap between the south of Purbeck and the rest of England. Nothing could go in or out without the Castle being a witness to it.
An ancient stronghold
It’s likely to have served as a defensive site even in Roman times and Corfe Castle certainly has had an extensive history. The first castle buildings were probably built out of wood. It is in Castle Corfe that King Edward the Martyr’s murder took place in 978, allegedly by his step-mother so that her son Ethelred the Unready could become King of England. King Edward would have been only 15 or 16 and his death brought the quarreling of the nobleman about who to place on the throne after the death of King Edward’s and Ethelred’s father.
The castle was rebuilt in stone in the second half of the 11th century by William the Conqueror and was used as a royal fortress by the monarchs of England for the next 600 years. In 1572 Corfe Castle was sold by Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Christopher Hatton, her favourite dancing master; after mass use of cannons had changed the way of warfare there was no need for the fortress. Castle Corfe was bought by Sir John Bankes in 1635, who was Lord Chief Justice, and was used as an occasional private residence.
As problems arose for Charles I, the Bankes family made Castle Corfe their permanent residence. Most of Dorset was occupied by the Parliamentarians in 1643, and Lady Bankes, along with her supporters, endured successfully a six-week long siege. Sir John Bankes died in 1644 and the family overcame numerous blockades by Parliamentary troops. At the end of 1645, Colonel Bingham Governor of Poole began a second siege, and Parliamentary forces were able to enter the castle in February 1646 by the betrayal of a garrison soldier. The family was permitted to leave the Castle, then it was methodically destroyed by the Parliamentarians.
Restoring the castle to its former glory
Many of the plundered possessions were saved by Sir Ralph Bankes, son of Sir John, who managed to gather them together to furnish the new home he built in Kingston Lacy House, to the west of Wimborne.
Corfe Castle, along with much of the village of Corfe and the entire Bankes estate, was bequeathed to the National Trust upon the death of Henry John Ralph Bankes in 1981.
The castle was closed for a period of restoration between 2006 and 2008, after the keep was determined too dangerous to visitors. The castle closed and was only letting people in to see the walls and inner bailey. After the Nation Trust completed extensive restorations on the castle, the keep was free to visit in 2008, and the rest of the work on the castle was completed the following year. During this conservation project, an “appearance” door was discovered in the keep, that was designed for Henry I; indicating that this would have been one of the most important castles in England in that period.
Castle Corfe is an internationally recognised important structure and a Grade 1 listed building. It is a Schedule Monument, meaning that it is protected against all unauthorised change and is a nationally important historic building. It is among the National Trust’s most-visited historic houses, bringing in nearly 190,000 visitors.
This stronghold has been around since ancient Roman times so Corfe Castle village and the fortress is a must see for all castle lover travelers.
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