Rufus Castle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Rufus Castle and the ruins of St. Andrew's church.

Rufus Castle, also known as Bow and Arrow Castle, is a ruined castle overlooking Church Ope Cove on Portland, England. The castle is dates from the late 15th century, on the site of an earlier building (with origins dating from 1142) - making it Portland's oldest castle. Built directly off of the rock face, on a pinnacle of rock, on the site of an earlier Saxon defence work. However much of the original castle has been lost to erosion and collapse over the years. Remains include parts of the keep, outer bailey, sections of wall with gun ports and a 19th-century round-arched bridge across Church Ope Road. In recent years the castle has become available for the public to view on certain dates during the peak season, but only the exterior.

The castle, including its bridge, has been a Grade I listed building since January 1951. It is one of three buildings on Portland to be Grade I Listed.[1] In addition to this, the castle has become a scheduled monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance.[2]


In ancient times for defence against attack, taxes were raised on the island to construct Portland's first castle Rufus Castle. Rufus Castle was reportedly built for William II and that the structure still standing in ruins today was probably the keep of a larger castle.[3] Although very little remains of the original castle, the possible exception is the arch that spans over the path from Church Ope Road. However, the archway has been rumoured to be of Tudor origin from when the castle was partly rebuilt.[4] In 1142, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, had captured the castle from King Stephen on behalf of Empress Maud. It had additional fortifications added in 1238 by Richard de Clare who owned it at that time.[5] Around 1256, Aylmer de Lusignan obtained a licence to crenellate the 'insulam de Portand' and Robert, Earl of Gloucester, was granted a similar licence just 14 months later. It is generally presumed that Rufus castle is the site of any work that may have resulted from these licences and any remains that may date from the period exist only at foundation level, or have been lost to cliff erosion.[6] It was rebuilt in the 15th century between 1432–60, by Richard, Duke of York, and much of what remains today dates from this time.[7] In an article in the Free Portland News issue of May 2010, it was reported that the remaining ruins of the castle might be a folly built by John Penn, who owned the nearby Pennsylvania Castle, sometime in the early 1800s and therefore nothing like the castle seen in the late 1700s.[5]

In 1989, the castle's seaward arch collapsed amongst other serious damage around that time, and by the end of the century English Heritage had proposed to do a restoration, or consolidation project, to save the castle.[8]


Rufus Castle from the public footpath.

Extensive restoration and consolidation work was carried out to Rufus Castle in 2010-2012 on behalf of English Heritage, under their scheme of repair and urgent works.[9] The castle was listed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2010, and has also been on the register for the following two years.[10] Circa mid-2008, the castle was listed as being ruinous and in need of conservation repair and consolidation. As reported in a Dorset Echo article at the time, the owner was working up a repair scheme, some emergency repairs were completed to stabilise collapsing masonry and English Heritage offered a grant for the main repair scheme.[11] Before any work was done, English Heritage described condition as poor. The main vulnerability aspect of the site was slow decay.[12]

Originally work began in 2010 by historic building and church architect Russ Palmer of Honiton, Devon. At this time the remaining structure was in a vulnerable and dangerous condition standing immediately above a public footpath. With the aid of the English Heritage grant, the project firstly involved investigation of the condition of the castle and the implementation of the first stage of recommended repairs, which were partly funded by the English Heritage grant. The Stage One investigations established that the castle was of 15th-century origin and that extensive repairs were needed, initially to the north walls. This involved core drilling using roped access and the removal of ivy which shrouded the north wall and the cliff below. Palmer produced a specification for the work and after competitive tenders were obtained work was carried out by Carrek Ltd between May and October 2010 for a cost of £150,000. The work included the consolidation of the top of the walls and the exposed core at low level, grouting voids between the core and the face of the wall, and repointing. The main structural problem was due to a large arch inserted at the north west corner in about 1800. The wall above the arch was in a dangerous condition and it was strengthened with Cintec anchors and partly rebuilt. The remaining masonry was also consolidated and repairs using specialist technics such as gravity grouting, cintec anchors, recording using tracing frames etc. was completed. The project was hampered by a boundary wall collapse adjacent to the site as well as visiting seagulls looking for a nesting site. The work was finished by November 2010.[13][14]

Castle design[edit]

The top of the castle's bridge and entrance.

The castle, constructed in the form of a pentagon, has 7-foot-thick walls pierced by numerous loop-holes meant to allow archers to fire at attackers. This gave the castle an alternative name; "Bow and Arrow" Castle.[7] It is built with Portland stone.[4]

Rufus Castle features walls of roughly squared rubble and no roof. The walls to the north and west stand to their full height and retain at the top a number of shaped corbels for a machicolated parapet, but part of the south-east wall, which is thinner, has broken away. To the south-west is a gateway with four-centred, arched head; to the north is a 19th-century gateway with a round-arched head approached by a bridge of the same date. In the south-east wall is a chamfered stone jamb of a doorway which has been closed up. In the north and west walls, at first-floor level, are five embrasures, splayed internally under segmental rear arches, with circular gunports. Outside the south gateway are the remains of stone footings and there are said to have been further buildings to the east, where the cliff has fallen away. The pentagonal tower of Bow and Arrow Castle overlooking Church Ope Cove has late Medieval gunholes, but rests uncomfortably on an earlier foundation to the north and stepped plinth to the west which may have been a 12th-century keep.[6][15]


Rufus Castle is within the grounds and ownership of the adjoining Castle Keep, and was formerly part of the estate of the nearby Pennsylvania Castle. According to Mark Watson, the current owners felt that the castle was such a liability that they sold it to him for £1 in 1997. Watson intended to turn the castle into a tourist attraction, estimating the likely costs to be at least £250,000, and he stated that his outlook and plans for the castle had convinced the former owners that he was the man to take it on. Watson said in 1997 that "People may think it's a mad scheme, but I'm sure it will work. I want to set up a fund and restore it as a local bit of heritage and a tourist attraction." However the plan never materialised.[16]

Although the castle remains privately owned, the castle allows visitors access to the exterior only from 10am-2pm on a number of dates from April–September. Situated next to the castle is a bungalow and private gardens with an outdoor swimming pool which has no public access. Any visitors to the castle are directed to go through a stone archway at bottom of Wakeham, near the museum, and follow down the private road past a bungalow, and finally ring the bell to let the occupants know you are visiting their grounds.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985–2005). Portland, an Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. ISBN 0-946159-34-3. 
  4. ^ a b "Portland - Weymouth,Dorset,England - Portland & Portland Bill". Retrieved 2012-12-31. 
  5. ^ a b "Pennsylvania Castle and Church Ope, Portland". 2003-04-03. Retrieved 2012-12-31. 
  6. ^ a b "Rufus Castle (The Gatehouse Record)". 2012-12-10. Retrieved 2012-12-31. 
  7. ^ a b "Rufus Castle, Portland, Dorset, Travel Information". Retrieved 2012-12-31. 
  8. ^ Morris, Stuart (1990). Portland Camera. Dovecote Press. pp. Photo 15. ISBN 978-0946159796. 
  9. ^ "English Heritage | English Heritage". Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  10. ^ "Rufus Castle (The Gatehouse Record)". 2013-09-27. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  11. ^ "Historic treasures at risk from neglect (From Dorset Echo)". 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Rufus Castle, Portland: portfolio of Peter Gunning and Partners, chartered quantity surveyors, construction and cost consultants". Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  14. ^ "Rufus Castle, Portland » RUSS PALMER - Historic Building and Church Architect". Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  15. ^ "Detailed Record". Retrieved 2012-12-31. 
  16. ^ "Hello darling... I'm king of the pounds 1 castle. - Free Online Library". Retrieved 2012-12-31. 
  17. ^

Coordinates: 50°32′19″N 2°25′46″E / 50.5385°N 2.4294°E / 50.5385; 2.4294