Castletown, Dorset

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For other places with the same name, see Castletown (disambiguation).
Castletown is located in Dorset
 Castletown shown within Dorset
Civil parish Portland
District Weymouth and Portland
Shire county Dorset
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Portland
Postcode district DT5
Dialling code 01305
Police Dorset
Fire Dorset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament South Dorset
List of places

Coordinates: 50°34′05″N 2°26′39″W / 50.56815°N 2.444077°W / 50.56815; -2.444077

Castletown and Portland Harbour, seen from The Verne. The National Sailing Academy and Portland Castle are on the left. The large buildings in the foreground are former naval buildings, now converted into luxury flats.
Portland Castle entrance.

Castletown is a small village in Underhill on the Isle of Portland in Dorset. It is located close to Fortuneswell, on the shores of Portland Harbour, and includes a sandy beach, as well as one of Portland's notable highlights; Portland Castle, while the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is also located nearby.

Castletown was initially a fishing community. It has closer links with the navy, in comparison with any other village on Portland. The village developed from its small origins with the establishment of a naval base at Portland, in the lee of Portland Castle, which gave it its name. By the mid-19th century the village was firmly established as a hub of activity for the harbour, and various shops, services and hotels were set-up within the village. However as the naval development continued within the area, the village's traditional fishing industry greatly suffered.[1]

The village largely consists of a single Victorian terrace, which through the bay windows, overlooks Portland Harbour.[2] As with the rest of Portland's villages and settlements, Castletown has 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. Underhill, incorporating Chiswell, Maidenwell, Fortuneswell and Castletown became designated in 1976 with boundary extensions in 1997 and 2000.[3][4]


Castletown has remained detached from the other villages on Portland. The village developed through the fishing industry, as Castletown Beach was a popular landing and launching spot. Suitably positioned next to the harbour, the village saw the establishment of the public inn The Jolly Sailor in 1775, as well as the Old Castle Hotel. These two early businesses made a profitable living through the naval and merchantmen who would take refuge in Portland Roads. A successful shipbuilding company was established within the village during 1798 by Thomas Ayles. The business extensively used the village's stone quay facilities, and this pier developed as a result, with a group of sheerleg cranes and derricks being erected.[5] By the late 18th century Portland had become infamous for smuggling, where Castletown, Chesil Cove, and Church Ope Cove were the three main landing places for contraband goods.

Castletown became an important location for island's stone industry, for the shipping of stone to the rest of the UK and across the world. Although various 17th century stone shipping quays and piers existed around the island such as King's Pier, Folly Pier, and Durdle Pier, the best facilities were situated at Castletown. One major advantage was that the area surrounding the pier was sheltered, however Castletown's pier often lost trade as it was the most distant from the working cliff-edge quarries. To conquer this problem, the Merchant's Railway, a horse drawn and cable operated incline railway, was constructed, and made active in 1826. It ran from the various Tophill quarries to Castletown's waterfront, by following 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.[6]

An enclosed harbour of refuge had initially been suggested for Portland in 1794, however parliamentary approval was not granted until 1844. To allow construction to begin, a small group of cottages had to be demolished at Castletown, while a railway was laid, and this linked the piers and jetties along the village's waterfront. It was during this period that Castletown's terrace row saw the establishment of a large number of businesses, including public houses and hotels, such as the Royal Breakwater Hotel, the Portland Roads Hotel and the Sailors Return. Naturally the increase of Portland's population, and visitors to the harbour, led to a bigger market for commercial fishing. Though the industry continued to operate from the village beach, the on-going harbour works and later naval activities would restricted it. In fact a large proportion of the original beach was developed for naval use, and therefore the fishing industry was gradually reduced over time. The breakwater works, which was one of the government's biggest projects of the time, quickly became a major tourist attraction. In the effort to accommodate the large number of visitors that frequently arrived at the village to view the work, Castletown pier was expanded to allow regular Weymouth paddle steams to land passengers.[7]

Castletown's character dramatically changed with the establishment of the Portland naval base. The terraced row was conveniently located next to the harbour, and soon became infamously known as "Drunkards' Row", as it became the scene of many distasteful incidents whenever a ship's crew were given shore leave. The large number of pubs naturally led to an increase in violence and other offences. Women were also frequently charged with unlawful behaviour through alcohol consumption at Castletown. In 1880 a teetotal coffee shop was established as a counter-measure, nearby at Victoria Square.[8]

Upon the outbreak of Second World War, the village's ship-coaling operations came to an end, though this was also partly due to the move from coal to oil-powered vessels. With the important naval base, Portland was a natural target for German aircraft during the war, and Castletown had various cases of raids and bombings. Some light anti-aircraft guns would be set up within and around Castletown.[9] In 1944 Portland's harbour was commissioned as USNAAB Portland-Weymouth. The harbour was a major embarkation point for American troops during D-Day, particularly the US 1st Division who embarked for "Omaha Beach" in June 1944. As such many soldiers and vehicles passed through the village.

In 1993, as part of defence spending cuts, the closure was announced of the naval base at Portland. It was forecast that the departure of the Royal Navy would bring economical disaster to Castletown.[10] With the withdrawal of the navy in 1995, Castletown lost the majority of its income and has since suffered from this, with the gradual loss of a number of businesses. Right up to the end of the naval's operations at Portland, the village would come to life whenever a fleet came in to berth. Afterwards Portland Port became commercial, though it still serviced and berthed Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships. Castletown managed to partially recover through the transformation towards recreational purposes, namely diving.The village became a particularly popular location for divers due to the close distance to Portland Harbour. Castletown also 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 directly within Castletown.[11]


A small beach is found in the village, close to the entrance of Portland Port. Until 2014, the Underwater Explorers diving shop shop was the last diving centre within the village. The shop relocated to the Weymouth & Portland Sailing Academy.[12] Before that the original Castletown centre was located in a building that was originally a naval bakery. It became the Sea-Horse shop for a time before closing. In 2014 the building became a multi-purpose headquarters for the Dorset-based care providers Agincare.[13] Outside the former barker is an anchor, although originally a DUKW was also situated on the site as well - 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 had a post office during the late 19th century which closed further into the following century.[2]

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,[14] The Portland Roads Hotel,[15] the Royal Breakwater Hotel[16] and the public house/hotel The Green Shutters.[17] 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.[18] A newsagents was active within the village until 2014, and 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.[19] The centre includes a 25m Swimming Pool, a Cardio/Multi Gymnasium, Squash Courts and a Sports Hall,[20] as well as a unisex Hairport Salon.[21] Originally the fitness centre was built as a private Royal Navy facility during the 1980s, with access only to Navy-based employees and their own friends, until it was taken over by South Dorset Community Sports Trust in 2007. The centre was part of the navy project which also included the two large accommodation blocks opposite the site.[22]

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. Before becoming the control administration building it was a canteen for the navy.[23] Plans to turn it into housing has been made, and in July 2014 it was announced the building was at the centre of a £12 million homes plan being backed by the government. The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) wants to attract interest in neglected parts of Osprey Quay that have yet to be redeveloped, including the building. The land has planning permission for self-catering apartments, a food store and an office building. The former canteen was originally earmarked for 39 flats and the land adjacent to the building was designated for a food superstore, self containing apartments and office buildings, but now the HCA want to change the planning consent so that 40 homes can be built on the land, which it hopes would make it more attractive to developers. Sutton Harbour had plans for a £30 million regeneration project at the former air station and although it completed some work on the Castle Court site, including the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) building at Portland House, it pulled out in 2008.[24]

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.

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.[25]

Ocean Views[edit]

Alongside the main road of Castletown, two large construction blocks are found on the right just into the entrance of the village. The blocks, totaling £25-30 million, were built as barracks/accommodation for the use of Royal Navy personnel in 1984, along with a swimming sports centre, now the Osprey Leisure Centre. The project was started after it was ensured the naval base at Portland would not close. 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, in 2003, plans were put forward by the Government to house 750 asylum seekers, but major negative response and widespread protests from the local area caused these plans to be withdrawn. Over 600 residents marched in opposition along the causeway between the island and the mainland.[26] At the time the site was owned by Comer Homes who applied to build 363 flats in the block in October 2002.[27]

In January 2003 a suspected arson attack at the proposed site was started after a public meeting was held by hundreds of campaigners protesting against plans to use the building to house refugees. The fire had been deliberately set in a former bar area on the ground floor of the seven-storey building.[28] By February a local man appeared in court charged with racially-aggravated criminal damage in connection with the fire, to which he pleaded not guilty.[29] During 2004-05, the two blocks were stripped bare, and left as empty shells.

In 2006 brothers Luke and Brian Comer announced their plans 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, however only 39 flats were initially sold. The Comer brothers ranked Portland as being one of their most important sites, where they also have sites located in New York, Belgium and London.[23] The site features a private health and fitness club, swimming pool and a spa, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi for private residents.[30]

The left block still remains derelict today, awaiting construction. After the completion of the first block, the Comer brothers made plans to prepare another block before developers Rossmark Properties, linked to the Comer Homes Group, went into administration during the recession and the land was taken over by the banks in 2011. The site was then purchased by Fulca Ltd, also part of Comer Homes, who in August 2014 expressed wish to restart the development, a mixture of converted accommodation and new-build flats. However the developer has said that new unforeseen costs to do with the condition of the site – including a multi-million pound bill for stabilising a slope – and a downturn in the housing market means it cannot afford to make any more developer obligations, and has requested that the Weymouth and Portland Borough Council remove the affordable housing obligations made in 2004 – providing 30 units to a housing association and a paying a sum to the council for homes off-site.[31]

Grade listed features[edit]

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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36]

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.[37][38]

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.[39][40]


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