National Trust Unveils Conservation Plans For Corfe Castle

By Graham Spicer | 22 August 2006
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aerial photo of a tall ruined castle on a grassy hill

The two year project will tackle the top third of Corfe Castle. © National Trust

The National Trust has announced a two year project to restore the top section of Corfe Castle, Dorset's number one Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Working with English Heritage, the Trust’s £700,00 conservation programme will allow safe public access to this part of the popular attraction. The top third of the castle, including its keep, inner ward and residential gloriette, were closed in April 2006 when frost damage and evidence of crumbling stonework was found.

“The ravages of time have begun to catch up with the large pieces of stonework around the keep, many of which lie on their side or upside down where they fell when the castle was blown up with gunpowder in 1646,” said Pippa Russell, Visitor Services and Enterprise Manager for the National Trust.

aerial photo of a ruined castle on a grassy hill

A radio-controlled balloon was used to take photos of the damage. © National Trust

“The inner core of these sections is more exposed to the elements than standing walls and this is where much of our remedial work will be focused. The walls are also very tempting climbing places for visitors, which has obliged us to cordon off the area for safety reasons,” she explained.

In June a radio controlled helium balloon was launched above the castle to inspect the damage using a high-resolution camera to take close-up photos. Abseiling engineers were then sent down its walls to investigate further and make a detailed assessment of the stonework.

These in-depth surveys allowed the Trust to identify the work required and plan a detailed schedule of conservation measures.

photo of a man abseiling down a castle wall

Conservation experts trained in abseiling made a detailed inspection. © National Trust/Mark McKenzie

The project, running until summer 2008, will replace capping at the top of the walls in the keep and gloriette and introduce soft capping (turf) to tops of walls and tumbles to prevent further deterioration. There will also be consolidation of the keep’s original plasterwork, the pinning back of loose sections of stonework and re-bedding and re-pointing sections of wall.

It is hoped that visitors will be able to access the inner ward and gloriette by Easter 2007, with work on the keep, south-west gatehouse and fallen stonework around the keep then being addressed.

The rest of the castle will still be open during the work and there will also be guided tours of the conservation work and information displays charting the progress of the project. Special Conserving Corfe Castle events will take place on September 15 and 16 2006, with lectures and practical demonstrations.

photo of a ruined castle on a grassy hill

Corfe Castle was captured by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War and then destroyed. © National Trust

“Many of our visitors are fascinated by the work needed to conserve an old ruin such as ours and we will be making the most of the opportunity by running a series of ‘conservation in action’ tours and special workshops on the conservation project,” said Pippa.

A stronghold has existed on the site of Corfe Castle since at least the 11th century. After serving as a royal treasure store and prison, by the time of the English Civil War it belonged to Sir John Bankes, chancellor to King Charles I.

The castle was besieged twice by Parliamentarian forces during the war and was finally captured in 1646 and subsequently demolished with explosives.

For more information on Corfe Castle and other fascinating fortresses across the UK, why not visit our trail of Britain's castles.

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