Locations Feature Page
- Fortifications

 

The region has fortifications representing all periods from the Middle Ages on, though most places with 'Castle' place names are either prehistoric hillfort sites with no stonework visible [e.g. Maiden Castle], manor houses supplanting an actual castle [e.g. Sherborne Castle manor], or crumbling ruins [e.g. Corfe]. Ruined castles like Corfe are not listed here as they are not usable 'in period'. For instance, Corfe Castle could not be used for any drama set in the Middle Ages when it was a 'working' castle as no part of it looks as it then did.

The Mediaeval Era
Stone castles first appeared later in the Norman Era (their first generation castles were made of wood, none of which survived). Unfortunately, few of the mediaeval stone castles have survived, as Cromwell's Parliament ordered them blown up in the 1640s as a threat to the security of the realm. By then, they were no longer being built as the development of siege artillery meant they were no longer impregnable. And in other cases, the owners replaced their drafty old castles with more modern mansion houses while retaining the 'Castle' name.


Winchester Castle, for a long time England's royal seat, was demolished in the 1640s on Cromwell’s orders along with other such sites. However the Great Hall was spared and is best known as where an imitation Tudor-era Arthurian Round Table still hangs. Most of the floor area is clear and can be used for various purposes. The Great Hall was used for coronations and appeared thus in the 1986 film Lady Jane.

It has also appeared more recently in the 2014 film The Riot Club, where it played an Oxford-university fencing-club venue - see below.



The earliest intact castellated buildings are actually the large Mediaeval churches like Wimborne Minster, Forde Abbey and Christchurch Priory designed to withstand assault via siege-doors and castellated lookout towers, and these might be usable in close shots to double portions of castles.

Right: the 'battlements' of Wimborne Minster [12-15C].


The 16th Century

The next wave of castle building was a network of coastal ‘castles’, or rather blockhouse forts designed for artillery. Henry VIII’s diplomatic war with Catholic Europe over his divorces prompted him to commission a line of what are termed Henrician device forts, of which there are over a dozen examples in this region. These were: Sandown, East Cowes, West Cowes, and Yarmouth Castle on the Isle of Wight; Hurst Castle, Calshot Castle, Southsea Castle, and Netley Castle on the mainland opposite, on the Solent-Southampton Water. To the west, on the Dorset coast, there was Brownsea (Branksea) Castle, Sandsfoot Castle, and Portland Castle.
However those not left to ruin were rebuilt in the mid-19C [see below], when invasion was again feared, and often modified again in WW2 with AA guns etc, so they look almost nothing like they would have in the 16C. The best-preserved of these coastal forts is probably Portland Castle, shown above, a two-storey blockhouse with curved wall-walk above on the seaward side, and a keep with castellated wall and gate facing inland. It was used by filmmakers as early as 1935, in Carol Reed's first film, Mr Midshipman Easy, set in the 1790s.


The 17th Century


Right: Lyme Regis has a section of harbour wall rebuilt in the late 20C complete with cannon, representing defences built 1627-, but the building materials used are modern.


Above: Lulworth Castle was not built until 1608, but is in 'mediaeval' style. It replaced an actual mediaeval castle, the replacement being built as a hunting lodge within a walled deer park. (The outer park gates were seen in the 1952 Joel McCrae thriller Rough Shoot). After a disastrous 1929 fire, it was eventually restored and reopened 1994.

The Keep, Dorchester: Dorset Military Museum is encased in a mock-castle facade, though now right on a busy road, as shown here. Built in 1879 as the Depot Barracks gatehouse for the new Dorsetshire Regiment, it was designed in the style of a mediaeval-castle keep [cf Lulworth Castle, left].
Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle, in the middle of the Isle of Wight, atop a hill called Mount Joy, is just outside Newport, the island's capital. This was previously the site of a Roman fort, then a Saxon ‘burh’ [walled town], then a wooden Norman castle before it was rebuilt c1600 to withstand an artillery siege. You can see the multiple walls from different eras in the image at right.
Some buildings probably belong to later periods, so it is difficult to ‘date’ the site for filming purposes.

Note that its outward first appearance, as itself, in the 1955 film [mouse over image above] of the classic J Meade Falkner novel Moonfleet [set in the 1750s] is misleading – the film was shot in California and the establishing shot was probably done with special effects. The donkey-powered well, where the treasure is hidden, is real, and appeared in the 1984 BBC TV adaptation.


The 18th - 19th Centuries

Gothic Revival style mansions, thought to have been inspired by the Gothic novel, with turrets and/or a castellated façade were built through the late 18th/early 19th centuries, local examples being Norris Castle on Wight (which Queen Victoria tried to buy before taking Osborne House next to it), Canford Manor [now a school], with battlements and gargoyles added in 1876, Longford Castle S of Salisbury [seen at the end of the film The Princess Diaries], Brownsea Castle manor [built 1785- over a Tudor blockhouse], Wyke Castle on Pirates Lane, Weymouth, and Pennsylvania Castle on Portland.
Above: Brownsea Castle with its old-style 'water-gate'.
Above: Pennsylvania Castle on Portland is a Gothic Revival style mansion with a castellated façade. It was completed in 1800, built for John Penn the grandson of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Churchill and Eisenhower planned part of the D-Day invasion here. It is now a holiday home, with the main courtyard area an exotic garden.

For the 19th C., the most massive period defences surviving are mid-Victorian, centred on Portland-Weymouth, and built 1860-1872 - the Palmerston Forts, nicknamed the Palmerston Follies (commissioned by the PM of the time, Lord Palmerston, to repel a French invasion that never came).
The largest clusters are on west and east Wight. These, excluding those no longer visibly extant, are, in the west: Old Needles Battery [now a museum owned by National Trust]; New Needles Battery [also owned by NT]; Hatherwood Point Battery; Fort Albert [now flats]; Cliff End Battery; Golden Hill Fort [now flats]; Freshwater Redoubt [now a private home]; Bouldner Battery [now a ruin]; and Fort Victoria [now a multi-purpose public amenity within a country park, with planetarium, model railway, aquarium, museum] (The BBC's 1967 10-part BBC adaptation of Les Misérables (starring Frank Finlay as Valjean) used Fort Victoria to portray the Bastille.)
On the eastern side [mouse over map to see locations] are: Sandown Barrack Battery [now part of a park with swimming pool]; Sandown Fort [now housing a zoo]; Bembridge Fort [National Trust site leased to industry]; Culver Battery [owned by NT]; Steynewood Battery; Nodes Point Battery; Puckpool Mortar Battery [now a park and radio museum]. At the E approach to The Solent are 4 round domed armour-plated forts built on the sea-bed: Spitbank, Horse Sand, St Helen's, and No Man's Land [used in the 1972 Doctor Who serial 'The Sea Devils']. They have all now been sold off to private owners for use as residences, holiday homes, or as spa hotels.
Below: Horse Sand and No Man's Land Forts, left; and, right, Bembridge Fort on east Wight.

 

There is another cluster of Palmerston forts on Portland, consisting of The Portland Breakwater Fort aka Chequers or Chequered Fort [a shallow-domed ironclad blockhouse at the end of the northern breakwater wall, painted with black and red chequers, and backed by a group of early-20C supply buildings, all now derelict], at end of the 12'-high Breakwater; the Verne High Angle Battery [a set of large gun emplacements connected by underground magazine tunnels on Verne Heights], The Verne Citadel [a grass-topped bunker complex guarded by a dry-moat 120' deep and 70' wide, and now an HM Prison]; The Nothe Fort, the best-preserved local Palmerston Fort – see below.

Right: The Verne Citadel

Below: the Nothe Fort, which portrayed a French Foreign Legion training depot in the BBC's 1982 adaptation of Beau Geste (screenshots below).




Some surviving coastal forts have been turned into blocks of flats, as in the examples at right [mouse over]. However, Hurst Castle, seen here in the background, and below, survives almost intact, maintained by English Heritage. It sits at the tip of Hurst Spit on the Solent Narrows. Despite some WW2 modifications, this is the major extant example of the 19C artillery fort built around the core of a 12-sided blockhouse Tudor coastal fort. Built originally in 1544, two even larger wings were added in 1860 and 1873, and it was garrisoned through WWII. It has battlements, a portcullis and drawbridge intact as well as a dungeon.
Two forts sit on opposite sides of Southampton Water, Calshot and Netley Castle, on the W and E shores respectively. The latter was substantially remodelled as a private residence, but the former has been preserved by English Heritage as a tourist attraction.

Below: Hurst Castle exteriors.




Below: Hurst Castle interior.

Below: Durlston Castle - Treves's 1905 Highways & Byways In Dorset called it "a stronghold of the Bank Holiday Period", a humorous reference to the crowds who arrived by train after the Bank Holiday Act of 1872. Built in the 1880s and refurbished in 2011, it is a pub/restaurant for those visiting Durlston Country Park S of Swanage.
The 20th Century
The largest sites are the Army Camps in Wiltshire and Dorset, the latter including Blandford, East Lulworth, and Bovington [now housing the Tank Museum and Ranges], though these have the flimsiest fortifications - wire perimeters and sentry posts. In Wiltshire there is a cluster of camps on Salisbury Plain [see screenshots right]. Portland Naval Base has recently closed down, long a large defence complex, whose quays were often seen in 1950s war films. Many are 19th-C fortifications already covered above, but there are some 20C additions built when it was also a a major Cold War underwater-weapons research establishment. Completely hidden from view is a tunnel complex dug during WW2 into the hillside of East Weare behind the naval dockyard, which served as Portland Naval Communication headquarters. In Hampshire, the derelict RAF Sopley camp base, with 91 huts, in the SW New Forest is now being redeveloped as 'Merryfield Park'. A Cold War underground monitoring bunker hidden below Lepe Country Park on the Solent is being restored.

Above and below: 4 screenshots from Guns At Batasi [1965], with an unidentified Army Camp on Salisbury Plain playing a fictional one in a Rhodesia-like emerging nation.

Army camps are technically fortified sites in the sense of having wire perimeters and entrance barriers and guardhouses patrolled by armed sentries. Below are a pair of screenshots from BBC's 1975 post-catastrophe drama serial Survivors, which shot scenes for S03E11 'Long Live The King' at by-then abandoned Piddlehinton Army Camp in central Dorset.
Below: The gatehouse of a secure facility on Portland, abandoned in the 1990s, and [mouse over] a shot from the 1974 BBC comedy Nuts In May, which showed the main gate of East Lulworth Army Camp (which is still operating).
Not all army bases have outer defenceworks, especially when they are in towns, as below. Winchester's Peninsula Barracks has been sold off to developers for residential accommodation, but still retains the characteristic central 'barracks square'.

The most common type of 20th C fortification is the smallest, the ‘pillbox’, a small sentry post possibly armed with a machine gun. Part of WW2’s frontline defense network in case of invasion, tens of thousands were constructed, called 'the largest building scheme Britain has ever undertaken'. (See example below.) These were either on clifftops or camouflaged inland, while on the beaches were concrete “dragon's teeth” anti-tank defences, often shaped like beach huts (for camouflage), as at Taddiford Gap W of Hurst. 

Below: [1] Fort Henry, a 90'-long blockhouse, buried in brush at Studland [OS 038829], where generals viewed a D-Day rehearsal; [2 – mouse over] a surviving pillbox at Flower’s Barrow overlooking Hounstout in Purbeck. (This was probably the one seen in the opening of the 1954 children's film The Black Rider.)

Top
  South Central MediaScene HomePage    Email Us