Ruined but not Abandoned: Corfe Castle, England

Abandoned architecture is a hot item on social media – and serious business for some photographers and urban explorers. The ruins of this country, though, are much more recent than those of England (as are most things), with many fewer centuries of history and stories. I adore the historic architecture of America- but comparing the ruins of buildings from our Civil War to survivors of the English Civil War? Corfe Castle, located in Dorset, is a former stronghold of kings and strong women – and one of my favorite ruins.

The remains of the Gloriette (12th century French word meaning “little room”), built for King John, was essentially a tiny palace within the larger castle. Outfitted with style, the gloriette even contained an indoor toilet.

William the Conqueror laid the foundation for what would become Corfe Castle, as he set out to make the coastline of defeated England impervious to any future threats to his new kingdom. King John would later improve upon the rather spartan accommodations, but it took Edward I in the 13th century to finally complete the building campaign.

The dimensions of the castle – and the site – combined to make it an impressive fortification. Corfe Castle sits on a hill (180 feet high) and the 12th century keep walls extended 68 feet high.

But it wasn’t enemies from across the Channel that undid the walls of Purbeck limestone. Gunpowder wielded by the troops of  Oliver Cromwell, seeking to oust the Royalist family living at Corfe Castle, brought the walls down. I wrote about the Bankes family in a blog post a few years ago  – the woman of the “house” as it were, held out against the Parliamentarians for 48 days.

A view of the castle from the village of Corfe Castle, located at the base of the ruins.

The view from the castle is intoxicating, and wandering about the ruins is a heady experience – so much drama and violence expended within its walls that the memory of that energy seems to linger in the air. Ten centuries of existence imparts that sort of feeling, and fortunately, the United Kingdom’s National Trust keeps the site alive and standing for visitors, so its ruined walls of stone linger to tell stories of the past much more effectively than any text.

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  1. David Ames says:

    great stuff!

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