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Dorchester Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Dorkecestre; Dorecestre; Dorcestre

In the civil parish of Dorchester.
In the historic county of Dorset.
Modern Authority of Dorset.
1974 county of Dorset.
Medieval County of Dorset.

OS Map Grid Reference: SY692909
Latitude 50.71691° Longitude -2.43763°

Dorchester Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are no visible remains.

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law*.


Castle stood in the North part of Dorchester, the prison now occupying its site. Between 1154-75 it was in possession of the Earl of Cornwall and had become a royal possession by 1185. According to Hutchins, the castle occupied 6 acres, had a prominent mound, the defences being oval in shape, which implies that it was a motte and bailey. The earliest documentary evidence is of 1137 when it was strengthened by the Count of Gloucester. There are several references to it in the reigns of both John and Henry III, particularly to expenditure on repairs to buildings in the castle rather than repairs to the defences. It appears to have been disused from about 1290, and there are references to its stonework being reused to build the Greyfriars in 1309. Excavations (in 1970) have located the main ditch in two places. (PastScape)

Out of whose ruins the priory was built, was raised, as some suppose, by the Romans, who walled the town; or, as others, re-built by William the Conqueror, after it had been destroyed by the Danes. The site of it, still retaining its name, belonged to the Priory, and at its dissolution went to the same owners. It lies on the north side of Sheep Lane, on a rising ground, a little west of the Priory, and about a furlong east from Poundbury; commanding the vale on the north, and the town on the south and east, near the river, which runs at its foot. The area contains about six acres; its form oval. Towards the north-west part was an eminence higher than the rest, still called the Castle Mount; and on the edge of the precipice was a rampart of earth, like a bastion; but these were necessarily removed when the ground was levelled. There is a small rampart and ditch visible on the north and east sides. When the Presbyterian meetinghouse was built, about 1720, on digging the foundations, a large cavity was discovered, made through the chalk, leading from the castle to the town, and a lesser one on each side the former, all very deep ; perhaps a subterraneous communication with the town. (Hutchins 1868 - original edition published 1774)

Speed's plan of c. 1611 shows the site as unoccupied with several mounds. The 1771 plan reproduced in Hutchins shows the oval form some ramparts and a mount.
A ditch, approximately 4.5 metres deep, has been found on the east and south west sides of the prison wall (Draper and Chaplin). It would seem the prison wall roughly lies on the line of the castle palisade and Baxter suggests the motte was in the north west corner of the site. Interestingly the castle was not sited in the corner of the existing urban defences as was more usual.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:28

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