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Portland Castle

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

OS Map Grid Reference: SY68457435
Latitude 50.56823° Longitude -2.44678°

Portland Castle has been described as a certain Artillery Fort.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


The artillery castle at Portland represents one of the best preserved and best known examples of its class. The structure of the main citadel is a particularly good survival and is associated with almost the full range of other original structural components, including the master gunner's quarters, gun emplacements and the castle yard. Historical sources suggest that the structure was used as a prison and an ordnance store, prior to conversion into a domestic residence during the 19th century. This use caused very few structural changes and ensured the castle was well maintained. The artillery castle displays most of its original architectural features and has close historical associations with the adjacent harbour, dockyard and nearby town. Portland Castle is open to the public.
The monument includes an artillery castle situated along the northern shore of the Isle of Portland, overlooking Portland Harbour to the east and Weymouth Bay to the north. The site, known as 'Portland Castle', represents one of a pair of coastal fortications constructed during the reign of Henry VIII in order to provide protection for the sheltered waters of Weymouth Bay. The two forts are sited on opposite sides of the bay and are inter-visible. Portland Castle, which is Listed Grade I, has a central citadel which is fan- shaped in plan. The structure is composed of ashlar dressed Portland Stone producing a 'rounded' external appearance. The citadel includes a single storey gun room facing across the harbour, and a two storey building situated to the rear. The gun room was originally roofed and has embrasures for a further (upper) battery of five guns protected by an embattled parapet along the northern side. This also shielded a second battery situated on the roof of the accommodation block. The two storey building to the rear includes a central hall which is octagonal in plan, with wings radiating to the east and north west. The structure could, if necessary, accommodate a third battery on the roof which was also protected by an embattled parapet. Access to the main building was provided by an entrance on the north western side. This originally included a drawbridge over a moat and an internal passage way built as a 'dog-leg' in the thick outer wall. The passageway leads into a central hall with a large decorated post supporting the ceiling. The post is reputed to have been derived from Bindon Abbey in the Isle of Purbeck, during the earlier part of The Dissolution. To the south and south east of the citadel was an outer yard, bounded by a stone wall and external ditch. The yard contained a large gun platform to the east of the citadel and a smaller example to the west. In the south western corner of the yard was a two storey 17th century building which was incorporated into the outer wall. The building is shown on a map of 1716 as 'L'-shaped and comprising a brewhouse and stable along the north-south axis, with an extension to the east forming the sutler's house. The structure was partly demolished at the beginning of the 20th century, although the remainder continues to be occupied as a domestic residence. The outer defences along the landward side of the fortification are known to have included a length of bank along the south eastern side by 1623. This bank had dimensions of 27m in length, 14.4m in width and about 1.2m in height. A plan of 1816 shows a ditch adjacent to the wall of the yard; this was later infilled, although it survives as a buried feature approximately 5m wide. The construction of the fortification followed the advice of a Commission set up by Henry VIII in 1539, in response to a possible threat of French invasion. The castle formed part of a chain of similar forts built along the South Coast at this time. It was also among the first to be operational, as it may have been complete by late 1540 and was in service by early 1541. The fortifications are known to have cost 4965 pounds to construct, a fee met at Royal expense. The paymaster was Oliver Lawrence, although the designer is unknown. During the Civil War the castle was the scene of some fighting, after which it was used as an ordnance store and later a prison. Historical sources suggest that the castle had fallen into some disrepair by 1680, although it was renovated by Queen Anne in 1702. During the 19th century, the citadel was occupied as a residence, when wooden panelling was first added to the interior. The structure is now in the care of the Secretary of State and is open to the public. (Scheduling Report)

Coastal fortification. c 1540, one of Henry VIII's castles. Total cost £4964-19-10d. Portland ashlar, lead and slate roof. Circular keep enclosing octagonal hall, flanked by wings at an obtuse angle, and enclosing a gun platform at upper level, contained in a segmental wall to seaward. A short cranked passageway gives access to the octagonal hall from the W side; on each side of the hall a large rectangular room at each level, that at ground floor to the SE being the former kitchen. The straignt enclosing walls have various rectangular openings to splayed jambs, with a continuous weathered string at mid height, and a further string immediately below the bold segmental parapet with wide splayed gun ports. This detail is carried round the upper level of the roofed quarters. The seaward segment is set on a wide splayed glacis, and has 5 segmental-headed deep double-splayed gun ports, below the weathered string at the segmental parapet with 4 gun ports. The gun platform, behind the parapet with its walkway, is in stone flags. Interior: the ground floor has stone flags, and the upper floor is boarded, carried on heavy floor joists and beams, some of these original. Walls are ashlar, unpainted. The octagonal hall is sub- divided at each level by timber and plaster partitions. The kitchen, to the right, has very deep splayed openings, to former gun-loops, with flat straight-sided inner arches. The great thickness of walls is shown by the dept of reveals to all openings. Various arched fireplaces; stone stairs with flat-slab stone ceilings. Portland Castle was one of a pair with Sandsfoot Castle in Weymouth, across the harbour and c 3km to the N. Portland originally had a defensive moat. In 1623 it had 13 guns, but by the time of the Civil War there were 21 guns. The Castle was held by the Royalists, but yielded in 1646. From 1816 it was occupied by the Manning family, and the adjacent Captain's House was built. In 1870 it reverted to the Crown, and in 1984 became an English Heritage Property in Care. (Listed Building Report)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:28

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