Castletown shown within Dorset
|District||Weymouth and Portland|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||South Dorset|
Castletown is a small village in Underhill on the Isle of Portland in Dorset. It is located close to Fortuneswell and is on the shores of Portland Harbour, and includes a sandy beach, as well as two of Portland's notable highlights; Portland Castle and the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
Castletown has a long naval history, and the village developed with growth of trade and the navy from the late 18th century onwards. By the 1850s it was the hub of stupendous activity for the Portland Breakwater works and shops, services and hotels soon followed. However, fishing suffered in the village as the long beach was squeezed by a century of naval development.
The village features a single Victorian terrace, which through bay windows, enjoyed a panoramic view over the beach to Portland Harbour. As with the rest of Portland's villages and settlements, Castletown has been been designated as a conservation area, as it is a place of special architectural and historic interest, given protection to ensure that people can continue to enjoy their character for years to come.
Castletown stood apart from the other villages on Portland. One of the earliest businesses there was a thriving shipbuilding company which Thomas Ayles had established in 1798. As a result there was a number of sheerleg cranes and derricks around the small stone quay. The Jolly Sailor, a pub which opened in 1775, as well as the Old Castle Hotel, drew custom from the increasing number of men of war and merchantmen taking refuge in the Roadstead. Castletown was also an important location for the stone industry on the island, as although various stone shipping quays and piers existed around the island such as King's Pier, Folly Pier, and Durdle Pier, the best facilities were located at Castletown, as it was also sheltered. However it was furstest from the quarries.
As a result the Merchant's Railway, a horse drawn and cable operated incline railway, was constructed, opening in 1826. It ran from Tophill to Castletown's waterfront, around the edge of Verne Hill. The Freeman's Incline section took the stone directly from the Verne top to Castletown. The horses were unhitched from the top of this incline, and a steep rope passed around the brake wheel, and then passed down over the rollers. The weight of these laden trucks descending would pull empty ones back up. New piers at Castletown were constructed for the railway. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Portland was well established and infamous for smuggling. Chesil, Castletown and Church Ope Cove were the natural places for landing the goods.
Once the breakwaters of Portland Harbour were given the green-light, several cottages had to be demolished at Castletown, and a railway was constructed to link the piers and jetties at the village's waterfront. The terraced row flourished with the establishment of many businesses, pubs and accommodation. Despite the upheaval, fishing continued from Castletown. A ready market was now established with so many visitors and workmen on the island, although later trade would decease due to the navy's empowering presence within this section of the island. Whenever a fleet came to berth in the harbour, Castletown came to life. The single street of the village became known as "Drunkards' Row" as it attracted many undesirable, rowdy personalities. Even women were charged with losing control of themselves through alcohol. One counter-measure was the opening of a teetotal coffee shop in 1880 at the nearby Victoria Square.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Castletown's ship coaling operations closed, although this was largely down to cheaper coal imports and the move from coal to oil. With the importance of Portland's naval base, the island was a natural target for German aircraft, and Castletown had various cases of raids and bombings. Some light anti-aircraft guns would be set-up within and around Castletown. As the naval base, along with Weymouth, was a major embarkation point for many American and allied troops for the D-Day landings, this included the village of Castletown where many soldiers and vehicles passed.
With the withdrawal of the navy, Castletown lost the majority of its income and has since suffered from this. Portland Port became commercial, whilst still servicing and berthing Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships. The village managed to regain somewhat, by the changing to recreational purposes, namely diving. The village became a popular location for divers due to the close distance to Portland Harbour. Castletown features a purpose-built commercial dive boat jetty next to a hotel, gas station, a large public car park and a free slipway for boats. However as of 2014, no diving shops remain active at Castletown.
The Royal Naval Cemetery is also found above the harbour, honouring many servicemen associated with Portland's Harbour. Castletown also holds the Portland Community Hospital. This was originally a Royal Naval Hospital which served Portland's naval base from the late 19th century until 1957, when the hospital was handed over to the NHS.
A small beach is found in the village, close to the entrance of Portland Port. The Underwater Explorers diving shop shop was the last diving centre since the original Castletown centre closed, where it was replaced by the Sea-Horse shop before it also closed. Outside of the Sea-Horse store was an anchor and a DUKW, a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck developed by the United States during World War II for transporting goods and troops over land and water and for use approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious attacks. The village has a post office during the late 19th century which closed further into the following century.
The area still features several hotels and pubs, largely established for the navy personnel that once came from the port. The hotels include The Aqua, The Portland Roads Hotel, the Royal Breakwater Hotel and the public house/hotel The Green Shutters. The other pub in the village is the Sailors Return whilst The Jolly Sailor pub had closed and since the derelict pub has had announced plans in 2012 to become a residential care home. A newsagents is still active within the village, however all diving stores have now either closed or moved elsewhere on Portland, namely within the sailing academy's neighbouring business estate.
The Osprey Leisure Centre is located in Castletown, which was formally known as the Boscawen Centre, where it was officially opened to the public at the beginning of May 2007. The centre includes a 25m Swimming Pool, a Cardio/Multi Gymnasium, Squash Courts and a Sports Hall, as well as a unisex Hairport Salon.
Between the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy and Castletown lies the Portland Search and Rescue Helicopter base, also close to Portland Castle. In this area is also the now derelict Air Traffic Control building which was operated for use of the Royal Navy helicopters when they were based on the island. Also along the main road to Castletown is the Royal Manor Health Care Centre.
Castletown's Stone Pier was where stone was shipping off from the quarries. During World War II, a light anti-aircraft gun emplacement was situated at the end of the pier.
Alongside the main road of Castletown, two large construction blocks are found on the right just into the entrance of the village. The blocks were built as barracks/accommodation for the use of Royal Navy personnel. However, they were only in use for a short time before the Royal Navy left Portland in 1995, causing the blocks to become a victim of vandalism once derelict. A little while into the new millennium and plans were put forward by the Government to house several hundred immigrants, but major negative response from the local area caused these plans to be withdrawn.
In 2006 the abandoned blocks were eventually purchased by brothers Luke and Brian Comer, who planned to turn the barracks into luxury apartments via a £100 million scheme. Construction work began for the right block in 2007 and were largely completed by June 2008. The block, named Ocean Views, includes 554 apartments ranging from £169,000 to penthouses for £605,000. Reportedly, 2,500 inquiries for the apartments were made in only days after the apartments was publicised. The left block remains derelict today, awaiting construction, whilst the Comer brothers rank Portland as being one of their most important sites, where they also have sites located in New York, Belgium and London.
The site also features a private health and fitness club, swimming pool and a spa, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi for private residents.
Grade listed features
Castletown has a wide array of architecture and buildings, a number of which are Grade Listed.
Portland Castle is within Castletown, and was designated as a Grade I Listed building in May 1993. It is one of three buildings on Portland to be Grade I Listed. Additionally, in October 1981, the castle had become scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. The Captain's House, not to be confused with the house at the bottom of Mallams near Fortuneswell and Chiswell, is a large detached house, adjoining Portland Castle. It was built between 1816 and 1835, on site of and partly incorporating walls of former outbuildings to the Castle. It was the Master Gunner's residence before it came into the Manning family in 1816, when it is assumed that the major reconstruction took place. The site was occupied until then by brewhouse, stable, and sutler's house. When the castle was opened to the public by English Heritage in 1951, the house was not a part of the attraction, as it was still home to the Captain to the neighbouring HMS Osprey. With the closure of the HMS Opsrey establishment, the house later became part of the attraction. It was designated a Grade II* Listed building in May 1993. The gateway and curtain wall to the south east of the house became Grade II* Listed at the same time. It was formerly part of the main enclosure of and access to the castle, and now gives access to the house. It dates from the mid-16th century and is a surviving section of a former curtain wall with moat.
Located around 23 metres (75 ft) south of the entrance to The Captain's House is a War Department/Admiralty boundary marker. Dating from 1870, it is one of many markers of its kind to be found on Portland, and this particular example has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.
The Royal Breakwater Hotel was designated Grade II in May 1993. The hotel, still operating as a commercial business, is a large complex building in three sections, dating from 1890-1910. It has a rich composition characteristic of turn-of-the-century design, with its main frontage facing the harbour unaltered. It is one of several hotels and inns which were built in the late 19th century to serve the Dockyard.
At the end of the village, closest to the point where Portland Port begins, is the former Dockyard Police Station. The MOD police station was initially a railway station, dating from around 1865. It was built to serve the naval base which was expended under Palmerston's administration in the 1860s. It has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.
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