Portland Castle

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Portland Castle
Dorset, England
Uk dor portcastle.JPG
The entrance to the castle
Type Device Fort
Site information
Owner English Heritage
Open to
the public
Condition Intact
Site history
Built 1539 (1539)
In use Until end of Napoleonic Wars

Portland Castle is one of the Device Forts, also known as Henrician Castles, built in 1539 by Henry VIII on the Isle of Portland to guard the natural Portland anchorage known as the Portland Roads. The castle lies at the far north of the island, on the edge of the village Castletown, which was directly named as such from the castle. It was strategically positioned next to the tidal lagoon The Mere, which was later completely filled in by naval development. Its sister castle, Sandsfoot Castle is found across the harbour, west of Weymouth. It remains Dorset's only intact medieval castle, and one of the best preserved 16th-century Henrican castles across the country.[1]

The castle has a diverse and fascinating history beginning with its construction by Henry VIII to protect the anchorage from French and Spanish attack. It was involved in the English Civil War and later in the First and Second World Wars as a seaplane base and for the D-Day preparations respectively.[2] Portland Castle experienced its only real action during the English Civil War 1642-1649. Being an historic Royal Manor, Portland naturally supported King Charles and was a Royalist stronghold. It is now under the care of English Heritage, and is open to the public during the peak season, usually closing in November until April. In 2007, it was announced that Portland Castle attracts 25,000 visitors a year.[3] In 2014 it received a Certificate of Excellence 2014 from Tripadvisor.[4]

The castle was designated by English Heritage as a Grade I Listed building in May 1993. It is one of three buildings on Portland to be Grade I Listed.[5] 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.[6]

The Captain's House, which is within the grounds of the castle, was designated a Grade II* Listed building in May 1993.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]


Original construction and use (1539-1583)[edit]

Plan of the castle

The castle was one of a chain of coastal artillery forts built by Henry VIII between 1539 and 1540. The castle artillery forts stretched all around the Kent coast, along the south coast of England, down to Lands End. Strategic sites were chosen protecting possible landing points of an invasion, especially those with major anchorages. The area today known as Portland Harbour was a weak point, and Portland Castle was built, along with the sister castle Sandsfoot Castle, which was built to the west of Weymouth. The entire harbour fell under artillery range from both castles, although as they could not cover Weymouth Bay, the town was regarded as a weak spot. The English Channel had increasingly become busier as trade flourished, and by the early 16th century the sheltered waters of Portland Roads was seen as essential refuge for merchantmen, as well as naval vessels. However the traders themselves were often attacked by French privateers.

The main threat of invasion though was from the forces of France and Spain, backed by the Pope, after Henry VIII's divorce to his first wife led him to declare himself as the head of the Church in England. With the Dorset Coast recognised as an essential part of the anti-invasion measures, Lord Russell, one of the king's leading advisors surveyed the coast in April 1539, and the map he prepared included the proposed sites for Portland and Sandsfoot Castle. Shortly after the castle was built, Russell suggested additional gun batteries within the area, and asked for funds to pay labourers, probably for earthworks of the enclosed yard to the rear of the castle.[10]

The work on the castle commenced during the summer of 1539, and was in a defensible state by December 1540. The castle's total cost amounted to £4964.19s.10d., which would convert to around £5 million in modern terms. This would have been funded from the wealth confiscated from the monasteries. Once built, Portland Castle was designated as Dorset's sole place of arms.[11]

The early garrison consisted of a captain, the original being Thomas Mervin, four gunners and two other personnel. Marvin received pay of 12d per day, and the gunners received 6d. The original munitions would have included a wide variety of muzzle- and breech-loading guns, but despite being designed for such weapons, the personnel also greatly relied on bow and arrow.[11] In 1544 piracy around the surrounding coast was usually controlled, however the brother of the castle's captain George Strangways was a pirate himself. With local officials supporting him, the castle was used as a storehouse for his loot.[12] In 1545 John Leweston was appointed captain of the castle, as well as lieutenant of Portland. At this time one use of the castle was to store treasures taken from the convents. Despite all the initial years of tension and suspense of an expected invasion, it wasn't long until the castle fell into neglect and decay. In 1574, an inspection under Lord Howard of Bindon had found Sandsfoot Castle going to ruin, and in danger of falling into the sea, while Portland Castle's two platforms were in decay and ruin. No part of the castle had been repaired or renewed since it had been first constructed. With no work done, another survey in 1583 saw further deterioration in both castle's fabric, and Portland Castle's iron gates, wooden drawbridge and glass windows were all broken. Furthermore a breach in the wall had to be repaired following sea damage, although a gyn for hoisting the main ordnance over the walls had been erected by this point.[13]

Threat of Spanish invasion, and neglect of castle (1584-1636)[edit]

Portland Castle Cannon Battery

Between 1584 and 1586 there was a threat of invasion from Spain, and as a result £228 was spent to overhaul Portland Castle. The work of 1585, included a new platform for each keep, and lead roofing.[12] During the crisis of 1588, when the Armada sailed up the English Channel, the second battle between the English and Spanish occurred off Portland Bill on 23 July 1588, where the Armada were defeated. The castle was bolstered ready to repel the attempted invasion by the Spanish, and this including the preparation of 100 soldiers. A short time after 1588, Sir Walter Raleigh became captain of the castle, though his absence meant the deputy Nicholas Jones was left in residence. Despite this Raleigh was aware of the castle's potential, and the need for effective armament. In 1593 he reported that no decent weapons remained as those in the best condition had been removed onto the Queen's ships. This left the castle rather defenceless. In 1596, with the Spanish still a threat, the garrison consisted of a captain, two porters, six gunners and five soldiers.[12]

Later in 1623 Sir Richard Morryson carried out a detailed inspection of the castle and its physical state. He found the ceiling and joints of the castle was ready to collapse after decay, and the report also noted that there were 13 guns of various sizes (three culverins, nine demi-culverins, and a saker). There were also 54 muskets, although 34 of these were classed as unserviceable. By this point the castle's personnel consisted of a captain, lieutenant, two porters (one for the inner entrance and another for the outer gate), master gunner and a number of other gunners. During Morryson's inspection the lieutenant had to explain why one bronze cannon was missing, and why ten men were found to be absent.[14]

The castle's deterioration was largely down to the sea, and in addition to this the keep's roof had become in such a poor state that it was recommended it be replaced by a sloping tiled roof, rather than a flat lead roof, as guns were no longer mounted on the top of the keep. One half of the lodgings for gunners were in a state of decay, the moat around the courtyard was overgrown, and was in need of being dug deeper and wider, and enclosed on the inner side with a stone wall. The moat was also in need of repair, where a bank acted as a sea wall. A wall had to be built to prevent the sea from entering the moat, and to keep freshwater in the moat from draining out at times of low tide. As undermining by the sea was a major problem for the castle a small breakwater was formed by the laying of 3 to 5 ton rocks. Due to poor road links from the quarries, the rocks were transported by boat, which cost £240.[12] In 1636 two more long-range guns were added to the castle, and at this time the garrison was listed as a captain, a lieutenant, and eleven soldiers and gunners.[14]

The castle's role in the Civil War and Anglo-Dutch Wars (1642-1681)[edit]

Portland Castle from the harbour side

As a Manor, the Isle of Portland was a Royalist stronghold, and upon the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Parliament forces took control of the island and the castle. However a year later the castle was taken over by a party of Royalists, who had achieved the task through deception, as they had been disguised as Parliamentary forces. In 1644 saw a Parliamentary campaign within the West Country, which led to a four-month siege before the castle was relieved by the Royalists. As the Navy were now loyal to Parliament, it was seen as vital that the Royalists should not control the anchorage of Portland. Another unsuccessful attempt to take the castle occurred in 1645. The castle, along with the Corfe and Sherborne Castles, were the only ones remaining in Royalist hands within the region. From the onset of the war neighbouring Weymouth had firmly backed Cromwell's Parliamentarians. Through the succession of battles and ruses that saw Portland Castle captured and recaptured several times, the Royalists were consistently hopelessly undermanned and inadequately armed. In he end the Royalists managed to keep the island out of Cromwellian hands for all but two brief periods of the war.

In April 1646 Colonel Thomas Gollop surrendered to Vice-Admiral William Batten. The Royalist garrison were allowed the "honours of war" and marched out with their personal weapons, colours displayed and drums beating. Portland's surrender was bloodless, and on remarkably generous terms as the soldiers were free to go back to their families or march to the Royalist headquarters at Oxford. The majority of the garrison were likely to have been local men, as only five men set for Oxford. All porters and gunners at the castle were able to continue their employment. After the war had ended the castle was maintained by the Commonwealth, and in 1651, in addition to a gunner and gunner's mate and two quarter gunners, there were 100 soldiers of various ranks attached to the castle. In 1653, as a measure to stop the Royalists from rising again, orders were received to destroy all military works on Portland, except for the castle.[15]

After the war the castle was given the new role of guarding the area against raiding ships from Ireland, and other pirates. However the castle was still in poor condition, and the garrison both underpaid and underfed. While in the hands of Parliament, the castle saw repairs totaling £800, but for the rest of Cromwell's rule it served as an ordnance store and state prison.[16]

During the First Anglo-Dutch War in 1653 the castle played an important role protecting the anchorage. A three-day sea battle occurred off Portland. The castle was in use a prison for prominent Royalists around this time, and the future Duke Lauderdale, a Scottish Royalist, was confined there after the Battle of Worchester between 1655 and 1657. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he rewarded Portland's loyalty in the Civil War by a special Royal Grant Fund, giving back to the Islanders royalties on stone taken from the crown quarries. The Grant is still made today, as it has been renewed by each successive monarch. Upon the return of Charles II to the throne, the castle's garrison was reduced to its previous manning level of captain, lieutenant and 11 soldiers and gunners. In addition to this the royal coat of arms was erected over the castle gateway, and in 1665 a warrant was issued for the castle's repair on the onset of the Second Dutch War. The coat of arms of Charles II soon became a reminder of the extensive restorations carried out during his reign. By 1679 the castle had been replenished with 16 guns, although all of them required new carriages and platforms. The isolated garrison found various forms of employment, and one of the soldiers, John Peters, acted as Portland's customs officer until 1681 when he was found to be in league with local smugglers. The crime was common among Portlanders during the 18th and early 19th centuries.[15] Despite further repairs at this time, Governor Wadham Strangways described the castle was ruinous in 1680. There were no colours, no pay for the garrison of 36 men.[16]

The 18th-century and final armament (1702-1805)[edit]

By 1702 the castle had fallen to a very dangerous condition, while Sandsfoot Castle had become a total ruin. The then captain was Charles Langrishe, who had led the first successful attack on the castle in 1643 for Cromwell, and now held the castle for the king. He reported there was "not a grain of powder, and the gunner being very necessitous was forced the Sunday before to quit the castle and shift for himself." Langrishe would later press for a lighthouse at Portland Bill, and it took 14 years for him and Captain William Holman, a successful Weymouth privateer, to force Trinity House to concede a lighthouse was needed.[17] The castle itself, at this point, had all floors, windows, roofs, moat and sea wall in a poor condition. Of the 16 old cannons a number were badly rusted, and five had been moved to the three other forts on Portland. The number of soldiers at the castle had been reduced from 15 to 5, and 150 muskets had been sent to the Tower in James II's time to be replaced, but never were.[18]

In a 1715 survey by Colonel Lilly, a military engineer in the Office of Ordnance, he reported that the lower and upper keeps needed to be replaced. Two years later and the armament was reduced to seven guns. In 1725 the main role of the castle was to protect trading vessels against privateers, although the castle was still in no fit state to protect the anchorage. This important role of protecting Portland Roads had also been in place earlier, as in 1704 the castle's main function was to provide protection for the boats carrying stone for the building of St Paul's Cathedral in London.[19] This muted state of affairs continued during the 18th century, and a report of 1779 listed three guns on the external platform to the south of the castle, and five guns in the casemates in the gun room. They were listed as in good condition, but in need of repainting. The report listed five muzzle-loading guns at the castle overall, firing a 12 lb shot. By this point the garrison was made up of a master gunner and two quarter gunners, although the latter two were likely to have undertaken caretaking roles instead.[20]

The castle at this point had become even more deteriorated, as no repair had been made to it for 30 years. The roof was reported to leak, and the timber in places were much decayed. The castle's small magazine and storeroom at the top of the castle were still in good condition though. During the 1790s, King George II made many visits to Weymouth and Portland, particularly the fashionable seaside resort of Weymouth. Whenever the king visited Portland the guns of the castle would be fired in salute. With the threat of an invasion from Napoleon the castle's armament was considerably increased. In 1805 it was listed as having six 24-pounders, six 12-pounders, and two 9-pounder guns, however this turned out to be the last time the castle was armed.[20]

The castle as a marine residence (1816-1869)[edit]

Portland Castle from within the castle grounds

In 1816 the castle was granted to the Reverend John Manning, a prominent islander, as a marine residence. By 1816 the war with France was over, and there was less of a need for coastal defences. As such the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of York, with the agreement of the Master-General of the Ordnance, granted the castle to Manning. The state of the castle at this point was very much that of dilapidation, and a considerable sum was spent by Manning on renovating it, both inside and outside.[20] The changes, still seen today, included enlarged windows and battlemented walls around the garden. In 1825, parliament granted a horse drawn and cable operated incline railway to be built for the stone trade on the island, the Merchant's Railway. It was on the terms that the tramway was not to interfere with the defence of Portland Castle, and no building was to be placed within 200 yards of it, although the castle was residential at that time.[21]

Manning died in 1826, and in 1834 his son, Captain Charles Manning, was granted the castle by William IV. He was also made governor of Portland by the king, following the death of prominent local citizen and governor John Penn, who owned the Gothic revival-mansion Pennsylvania Castle on the island. Captain Manning lavished attention on the castle, and he installed a collection of fossils, weapons and examples of his skill as a wood-carver. He ended up becoming the last governor of the castle, and his work on behalf of the island gained him great respect and affection. Without his restoration, Portland Castle may have become a ruin.[22]

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. In 1851, Castle House in Bridgwater, Somerset, was built for William Ackerman. Its first name was "Portland Castle", as an allusion to one material it was made of: Portland Cement, combined with concrete. It is now known as Castle House.[23]

One project that Manning was closely involved in was the construction of the breakwaters of Portland Harbour. Construction began in 1849, and was completed in 1872, with two further breakwater arms added by 1903 to enclose one of the world's largest man-made harbours. This Victorian project was one of Britain's greatest government-funded engineering projects, and included new defences which took over the castle's defensive role, including the 56 acre fortress Verne Citadel, East Weare Battery, the Portland Breakwater Fort, and Weymouth's Nothe Fort.[24]

Return to military use and use during both World Wars (1869-1945)[edit]

However the castle was returned to military and naval use. With Captain Manning's death in 1869, the War Office took the castle back, and used as an army residence. For a number of years it was the home of the adjutant of the Verne Citadel. With the increasing development of Portland Harbour as a naval base, and its activities in World War I, a Royal Naval air station was established beside the castle in 1917, for seaplanes flying anti-submarine patrols. At this point the castle itself was in use as an ordnance store, and after it was in use as accommodation for the Royal Naval Air Service. Later during World War II, from 1943, Portland and Weymouth were busy preparing for the D-Day invasion and many American troops arrived within the area. The castle became both living quarters and offices for both British and US military personnel.[25] In addition to this part of the castle was used as an ordnance depot.[26]

The castle had other coastal defences added to it during the war, and a World War II pillbox was once located at the seaward side of what is now Portland Castle's car park, overlooking the small sandy beach. It was constructed in 1940-41, of concrete, and had five or six-sides, along with a protected entrance. As with many of Portland's pillboxes and heavy anti-aircraft batteries, this structure would probably have been built by local quarrymen. However it was later demolished and there are now no traces of the structure. In July 1998 it was noted that a photograph in a display at All Saints Church, in Easton village, shows the pillbox when it was in existence.[27]

The castle's opening to the public (1955-)[edit]

In 1952 the castle was opened to the public for the first time in its 400-year life. After standing empty for some years the castle had recently been restored by the Ministry for Public Building and Works. It was soon restored by English Heritage, who took over the site themselves, and opened it to the public from 1955 to date.[28] The decision was made to show as much of the Tudor form as possible, and so English Heritage stripped out the remaining 19th and 20th adaptions within the interior, which removed much of the residence created by the Manning family, along with evidence of the castle's later wartime use.[29] The castle has seen many local events, and a notable one in 1978 was a summer-long celebration on the island of 900 years of local rule under the Crown Estate. The castle was used to host a Medieval Banquet.[30]

In 1984 the castle became an English Heritage Property in Care. At the same time the airfield and helicopter base, HMS Osprey, next to the castle was still a hive of activity, and the Captain's House was still home to the Captain of the establishment. With the closure of the HMS Opsrey establishment in the late 1990s, the house, including the gardens and courtyard, once again became part of the castle. This allowed visitors to explore the entire complex of the castle for the first time. The castle includes the Contemporary Heritage Garden, and the Captain's Tearoom, which serves a selection of locally made cakes, sandwiches and snacks.[31] It is also available for hire as a wedding venue.[32]


Built of Portland Stone, the castle displays the skills of Tudor masons, as well as the quarry stone selectors, as the quality of stone varies from bed to bed within different parts of the island. The ashlar selected for the castle was also used in rich merchant houses and other wealthy persons, around that time in Weymouth and Portland. It was described as the finest. The castle is among the smallest of the nine major castles built by Henry VIII. It is in similar design to Deal and Walmer in Kent, and Hurst and Calshot Castles in Hampshire, and is centrally planned with a round tower/keep as its nucleus. It has a low profile offering less of a target, with a traditional rounded wall facing the sea, designed to deflect incoming ordnance. It originally had three tiers of firepower. As an unusual feature the outer gun platform does not span around the entire keep. The land side was moated. Sandsfoot Castle was not segmental in shape, but had a rectangular block behind a polygonal gun platform.


The angled entrance of the castle, leading into the Great Hall.

Directly in front of the castle was a moat, and above the castle entrance still has long narrow slits which was likely to have been for raising a drawbridge. Below is a Gothic porch, which was added in the 19th century, in front of the original entrance. The Tudor doorway inside has a Victorian door. The squared holes for the drawbridge, which secured the original door, are still visible, although now blocked with brick. To add further protection, the entrance passage was designed to be sharply angled, avoiding the possibility of cannonballs being fired directly into the hall. On the left side of the passage is a recess for the gun-loop, for protection of the entrance, although it was altered in Victorian times to create a window.

When English Heritage took over the castle the walls of the entrance had been plastered during the late 18th or early 19th century, but this was stripped back to reveal the original masonry.[33]

Great Hall[edit]

The Great Hall was the principal room on the ground floor of the castle. In Tudor times its original function was to be the main living quarters, and a fireplace is still within the room. Despite the tower looking circular from the exterior, the internal space is octagonal. For much of the castle's active career the hall was poorly lit, with two cross-loops for hand-guns, until these were cut into larger windows in Victorian times. One prominent feature within the room is an ornate central post, this was inserted to support the above floor, and early plans indicate that another timber post was once in the same spot on this floor above, which supported the gun platform.

A timber and plaster partition separates the hall from two small rooms, and from the 18th century both were used to store goods and military equipment. The three rectangular recesses within the room would have been used as store cupboards. The hall has two doorways connecting to the kitchen in the south wing, and the other up some stairs to the upper floor. On the left were the gunners' quarters or a store in the north wing, which is entered by a passage through the wall.[33]

Gun Room[edit]

The remaining gun room of Portland Castle.

The gun room was the location of the main armament, and today remains open to the sky, however it was originally roofed over, which provided another floor for an upper gun platform. On the curving wall face of the gun room is a groove which indicates the former roof line, and a groove in the wall of the keep just below was to carry the roof beams. At one side of the room was once some wooden stairs, which gave the garrison access to the upper gun deck.

The curving outer wall features five gun casemates, and these were splayed to enable the guns to be moved, as they fired through the rectangular openings, known as ports. The gun-ports themselves had iron hinges in the sills for wooden shutters, and one of these at the far end of the gun room have been restored by English Heritage. Within the stone vault of the casemates are large vents that were designed to carry the smoke from the guns out of the stone parapet above. Today English Heritage displays an assortment of smooth-bore, muzzle-loading guns of the 18th and 19th centuries, on reproduction carriages within the casemates. In the centre casemate is a replica 16th-century saker, a gun whose muzzle was around 3.5 inch calibre. In addition to these other items on display include a garland of cannon shot, and reproductions of a gunners' rammer, worm and sponge.

The garrison would have used the gun room for sleeping, and there are still traces remaining in the pattern of stone paving, and indications in early plans, for four timber barrack rooms, which were built against the keep. One of these barrack rooms served as a common room, including a fireplace, whose stone and brick hearth still remains. The rooms were lit from above via roof lights, and in the 18th century these partitions were removed to allow greater space for handling the guns. The gunners were moved to new quarters. A latrine for them was once situated to the right of the door into the gun room, near the gunners' quarters.[34]

Upper Gun Platform[edit]

The angled entrance of the castle, leading into the Great Hall.

On site of the upper gun platform features a wall-walk today, although this is not original, as there would have been a roof over the gun room below. During the castle's active state four guns could have been mounted on the roof behind the embrasures, and these openings are wider than the gun-ports below. This provided a batter field of fire, and would have been suitable for guns on field carriages. Between the embrasures are rectangular exits of the smoke vents from the lower casemates, although these have now been covered over. From the wall-walk, looking across the keep, original Tudor windows can be seen, at first-floor level, and their sills sit just above the former roof line. At the south end, above the windows, there is a groove in the masonry which indicates another higher roof line. This may have covered some stairs, which replaced, or were in addition to, the now missing staircase in the northern corner.

The curved parapet can be seen clearly from the wall-walk, as well as the embrasures of the former gun platform, above the keep and its wings, which provided the third tier of guns. On the parapet of the main block are clusters of stone balls, and these are ornamental, representing garlands of shot. The wall-walk looks across over Portland Harbour.[35]

Gunners' Quarter/Store[edit]

The room labelled as the Gunners' Quarter or Store remains unclear on its original use, however it may have served as quarters for the castle's porter, or as a store. After 1716 it was used as alternative barrack accommodation. The room, like the Great Hall, was poorly lit, as the cross-loops were intended for close defence of the castle, rather than to light the room. The interior of these loops have slots for a bar across the centre, along with ledges in the frames at elbow height, and this was possibly for maneuvering hand-guns. In the far corner of the room is a small angled-room with another cross-loop.

In 1937 a cloakroom was installed off the entrance passage of this room, which included a toilet and sink. Today the room displays 17th-century pikes, breastplates and helmets, as well as reproductions of gunner's tools, including a rammer, a ladle, a sponge, and a small carronade type gun in an embrasure.[36]


The castle's kitchen was originally a smaller room than to what is seen today, and English Heritage have added a dresser, table and benches to give an impression of how it may have originally looked. In one corner is a large fireplace of Tudor origin, used for cooking, and a circular brick-lined oven was inserted in the 19th century. In 1716 the decision was made to divide the kitchen into three rooms - a panty, cellar and kitchen, and traces of partitions can be seen in the lines of black stones on the floor, and in the sockets in the wall, which was for a beam at floor level which divided the space into two. The pantry was situated behind the kitchen, with a drain leading through the outer wall, and it was used to store food. On the opposite side of the passage was the room once described as the cellar, used to store wine and beer. This room may have had a serving hatch in the wall, alongside the steps that lead to the gun room. A clear line of sockets in the east wall remain, behind the dresser, and this was probably for racking for barrels. The windows within the kitchen were initially cross-looped, but these were also enlarged in the 19th century. One of these Tudor cross-loops have been restored.

The room is connected to the great hall via an angled passage. A doorway to the left of the kitchen opens to a curving staircase, and this leads to the captain/governor's lodgings on the floor above. The doorway is of original, unaltered Tudor origin. The niches on the right of the stairs and those at the top, all date from the 19th century, and would have probably held lamps.[37] Above the doorway of the kitchen, within the gun room, is an external bell, installed during Victorian times, and this was probably for summoning servants.

Upper Hall[edit]

The upper hall was initially the captain's hall in Tudor times, and the two small rooms within the hall would have been servants' rooms. The general layout of the room is similar to the Great Hall below, and in Victorian times the room became a dining room, complete with a small butler's pantry in the window recess, beside the stairs. The windows within the central recess look out over the castle's courtyard, and date from Victorian times. The niches located here would probably have held a lamp.[38]

Captain's Chamber[edit]

The Captain's Chamber may have been the quarters for the master gunner in Tudor times, however it is more likely that it was the captain's private chamber, situated next to the only latrine on the first floor. The windows in the western side of the room have been altered since Tudor times, and the single window was cut back to form a closet. It was within this section that a 16th-century inscription was found reading: "God save King Henri the eight of that name and Prins Edward begottin of Quene Jane, mi Ladi Mari that gooodli Virgin, and the Ladi Elizabet so towardli, with the King honorable Cosels".

During the early 18th century, the room became a dining room, although again by 1937 it had become a bedroom once again, with a dressing room beyond. A corridor was once situated in this room, and traces of the partitions can still be seen in the end walls beside the doorways. Above the corridor is a ceiling of 18th- or 19th-century origin, and partly hidden above it is a projecting stone corbel which would have supported the original gun platform.[39]

Drawbridge Chamber and Privy[edit]

The three-gun battery at the south of the castle.

Within the drawbridge chamber, the pair of long loops with circular openings at the top and bottom may once have been for the chains of a drawbridge. The chamber room would have housed the winch for raising and lowering the bridge, and on the right are stair leading to the original upper gun platform on the roof over the keep and wings. The steps have been cut off, and by 1793 the platform was replaced by a pitched roof. The wall on the opposite side was altered later on to provide access to the roof.[38]

The privy was the only latrine within the residential quarters, and the discharge shaft can be seen from outside. Later on a flushing toilet was inserted into the head of the shaft.[40]


Within the east wing of the castle are two rooms, above the kitchen, and these were both bedrooms. In Tudor times the rooms may have been the lieutenant's quarters. In the early 18th century, there was a corridor running between the two rooms, and this gave access to the upper hall and beyond. There are remaining traces of this corridor, and one of the side walls remain between the two rooms. A fireplace is within the larger of the two rooms, and by 1937, when the Royal Navy used the castle, the room had become a sitting room. The smaller room also has a fireplace, although it is simpler, and a large recess with the ends of six iron ties above it. The recess may have once housed a cupboard, however the iron ties are of unknown use and origin.[41]

Exterior and Courtyard[edit]

Portland Castle's outer gateway, with the coat of arms of King Charles II.

From the sea shore the castle's three tiers of gun embrasures, and the compact architectural and symmetrical composition of the castle can be seen, as well as the high quality masonry work. Unlike the other castles from Henry VIII, Portland Castle received little attention to close defence, aside from the moat which was filled in at an early date. The cross-loops on the ground floor, intended for hand-guns, are very archaic in appearance for Tudor times, and were probably not very effective. These were placed mainly in the wings, with others on either side of the entrance into the central tower. However it is a possibility that they were added merely as a symbol of defence. The castle was later protected from the landward side by a moated enclosure.

To the rear of the castle is a walled courtyard, which was added to the original castle. It is now a garden, however it was once part of the castle's defences. The northern side butts against the castle and partially masks the north-western cross-loops. An angled extension at this corner once accommodated a platform for a single gun. The three-gun battery on the south dates from the same time as the walled courtyard. The enclosure wall has a curved parapet, similar to that of the castle. At the time of the Civil War the moated courtyard acted as a useful extra defence, and redolent of more peaceful times is the governor's walled garden beyond it to the south-east.[42]

Within the courtyard was once an early 18th-century house where the sutler lived, who sold provisions to the soldiers of the garrison. The house was located next to the outer gateway. The gateway itself has the coat of arms of Charles II above it, which was inserted in the original Tudor niche following the Civil War. It is made of lead and still retains some original colouring.

The Captain's House now houses the ticket office, shop and tea room. It was once the governor's brew house and stables, before being enlarged to create the master gunner's house. It was further improved by the Mannings in the 19th century, and then became the residence of the officer commanding HMS Osprey. The interior has been greatly altered over the decades.[29]

The Governor's Garden[edit]

Plans show that there's been a garden at the castle on and off for almost 300 years, part of a long tradition of Governors and Captains of military forts establishing gardens for themselves in the places they commanded. Although its exact use isn't clear, it is believed that the garden was for the growing of fruit and vegetables as well as providing some rest and recreation. But after the Second World War the garden was abandoned.[43]

In 2002, as part of English Heritage's Contemporary Heritage Gardens scheme, a competition was held for the design of the quarter of an acre garden, which was won by Christopher Bradley-Hole, a designer who is renowned for his minimalist approach. The scheme had been launched in 1999 to create new gardens at English Heritage historic properties designed by leading designers, plantsmen and landscape architects.[44] By the time the competition was won, the garden, set on three sides by rubble walls, had become tired and in a poor state, with a few straggling shrubs and trees set within beds of old metal railway lines with re-enforced concrete paths leading to ruinous sheds and greenhouses. The new design was set to be a reflection of the long connection between Portland Castle and its garden as well as a need for a quiet contemplative space within the run-down area. The old buildings and paths were dismantled with Bradley-Hole's team being helped by a working party of prisoners from a local prison ship, HM Prison Weare. Once the garden was cleared the garden was able to become established, with sweeping curves to echo the circular castle.[43]

The garden has a maritime theme, with a metal and timber bridge designed to resemble a pontoon, and the metal rails on the harbour side attempt to make one feel they are on board a ship. Beyond is the rounded bulk of the fort of Portland Castle, and within the dry moat there are now ornamental grasses, Euphorbia and white Geranium with naturalised bulbs for spring interest. The central design is based on a series of circular shapes and at the heart of the garden is an amphitheatre bound by a low, drystone wall which features a topping of Portland stone cut from a local quarry. Clipped balls of box add a sculptural note and visitors are able to sit and look out to sea to the boats in the harbour through stands of tough evergreen Corsican pines. Within the circular lawn, beds are cut into the turf set at various compass points to echo Portland's maritime history. They're planted with tough plants such as sedum and geranium as well as tall grasses like Miscanthus and Stipa, which don't mind the scouring winds and the high light levels. Bradley-Hole wished for the coastal weather to add to the effect of the garden, and so when the wind blows the grasses sway and rustle, catching the constantly changing light from the sea.[43] The garden was completed and opened to the public in the summer of 2002.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/portland-castle-teachers-kit/portland-castle-teachers-kit-history.pdf
  2. ^ "Detailed Result: PORTLAND CASTLE". Pastscape. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  3. ^ http://watershedpr.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/PDF-of-brochure-outlining-project-for-the-Old-Engine-Shed.pdf
  4. ^ England. "Portland Castle Reviews - Isle of Portland, Dorset Attractions". TripAdvisor. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  5. ^ "1205262 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  6. ^ "1015326 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  7. ^ "1280817 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  8. ^ "1205280 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  9. ^ "1281849 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  10. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 15, 16. ISBN 1850747253. 
  11. ^ a b Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  12. ^ a b c d Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  13. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 17, 18. ISBN 1850747253. 
  14. ^ a b English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 19. ISBN 1850747253. 
  15. ^ a b English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 20. ISBN 1850747253. 
  16. ^ a b Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  17. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  18. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  19. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 21. ISBN 1850747253. 
  20. ^ a b c English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 23. ISBN 1850747253. 
  21. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  22. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 24. ISBN 1850747253. 
  23. ^ "Detailed Result: CASTLE HOUSE". Pastscape. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  24. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 25. ISBN 1850747253. 
  25. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 26, 28. ISBN 1850747253. 
  26. ^ "Detailed Result: MONUMENT NO. 1413734". Pastscape. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  27. ^ "Detailed Result: MONUMENT NO. 1420378". Pastscape. 1998-07-14. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  28. ^ "Portland Castle". English Heritage. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  29. ^ a b English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 4. ISBN 1850747253. 
  30. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  31. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 28. ISBN 1850747253. 
  32. ^ "Portland Castle, Dorset - Wedding Venue Hire". English Heritage. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  33. ^ a b English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 5. ISBN 1850747253. 
  34. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 8. ISBN 1850747253. 
  35. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 12. ISBN 1850747253. 
  36. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 6. ISBN 1850747253. 
  37. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 9. ISBN 1850747253. 
  38. ^ a b English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 10. ISBN 1850747253. 
  39. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 10, 11. ISBN 1850747253. 
  40. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 11. ISBN 1850747253. 
  41. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 13. ISBN 1850747253. 
  42. ^ English Heritage (2000). Portland Castle. English Heritage. p. 14. ISBN 1850747253. 
  43. ^ a b c "The Garden at Portland Castle". English Heritage. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  44. ^ a b "Detailed Result: THE GOVERNORS GARDEN". Pastscape. 2001-02-16. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Stuart Morris, (2011), Dorset; The Royal Navy (illustrated): The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 978-1-904349-88-4
  • Andrews, E.A., and M.L. Pinsent, "The coastal defences of Portland and Weymouth," Fort, No. 9, supplement, 1981, pp. 4–43.
  • Colvin, H.M. (ed) (1982). The History of the King's Works, Vol. IV, 1485–1600, Part II.
  • Harrington, Peter (2007). The castles of Henry VIII. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84603-130-4
  • Stuart Morris, (1985, 2004). Portland, an Illustrated History. The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 0-946159-34-3
  • Lawson, Susannah (2002). Portland Castle. London: English Heritage. ISBN 1-85074-725-3
  • Morley, B. M. (1976). Henry VIII and the development of coastal defence. London: H.M. Stationery Office. ISBN 0-11-670777-1
  • Stuart Morris, 1998 Portland (Discover Dorset Series) The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 1-874336-49-0.
  • Palmer, Susann. 1999. Ancient Portland: Archaeology of the Isle. Portland: S. Palmer. ISBN 0-9532811-0-8
  • Stuart Morris, 2002 Portland: A Portrait in Colour The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 1-874336-91-1.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°34′06.1″N 2°26′48.48″W / 50.568361°N 2.4468000°W / 50.568361; -2.4468000