Portland Castle

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Portland Castle — Dorset, England

Portland Castle is located in the South West of Dorset in the small village of Castletown; on the Isle of Portland, which is actually a peninsula joined to the mainland by a ridge of shingle known as Chesil Bank and is a part of the of the Jurassic Coast, protected by the World Heritage.

Portland CastleThe village of Castletown is located in an area referred to as Underhill, at the northern end of the Isle of Portland that lies within the Portland Harbour; it is the only landing place on the North side and it is situated opposite Weymouth. Portland Castle, also known as one of the Device Forts, or Henrician Castles, was built in this location to defend Weymouth against the threat of attack. The Castle was built circa 1540, of Ashlar stone, the finest Portland Stone available, which perhaps contributes to the excellent condition that the Castle has maintained during the past four and a half centuries. The excellence of the Castle's condition contributes greatly to the historians' record concerning the transition of medieval artillery fortifications to more modern techniques, not to mention the wonderful opportunity for tourists to thoroughly enjoy visiting a medieval building that has not suffered the decay that so many ancient building have undergone.

The history of the Henrician Castles began with the divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon, creating a schism between England and the Catholic countries on the continent when Henry rejected the Pope's refusal to sanction his divorce. Henry had himself declared Supreme Head of the Church in England, and began the Dissolution of the Monasteries by seizing their properties and assets, his final act in usurping Papal control in England. The issue of Papal control eventually led to great ramifications for the religious community of England beyond Henry's reasons for his actions. The result of Henry's divorce left England politically isolated and the subsequent religious differences that now separated England from the Catholic Papal countries of France and Spain created a threat of invasion. The treaty of 1538 between France and Spain gave additional weight to Henry's fear that one or both might attack England, which led to the beginning of Henry's plan to defend England from possible invasion. Phase One and Phase Two of the Device Castles were initiated, with Portland Castle being only one of many coastal defences, ranging from earthen bulwarks to small blockhouses and artillery towers; and eventually to Italianate style fortifications.

The Device Forts, which may have referred to artillery forts, though the word device is not much used in that sense today, or perhaps device refers to strategy or planned forts, were placed in strategic tactical areas. Portland Castle was an artillery fortification specifically built to defend a weak point of defense on the southern coast of England; as such it was designed as a squat building to offer less of a target and had a traditional rounded wall facing the water that could deflect incoming artillery from the sea. On the land side of the building there was a moat to repel forces that might manage to reach the fort. It is interesting to note that Henry took an interest in the military engineering techniques of the time, approving and amending some of the designs as he saw fit. After the first phase of the Device Forts was completed, a second phase of defense measures began, following a renewed threat of attack from the French.

Portland Castle experienced few actual encounters with France or Spain and aside from the English Civil War in the mid 1600's when the Parliamentarians and Royalists alternately occupied the Castle, or in the early 1800's when the Castle had a few incursions during the Napoleonic Wars, Portland Castle remained unarmed. It was however rearmed during World War I when it was used as a sea plane station, and then again during World War II, when the Castle became a major part of the base of operations in preparation for D-Day.

The history of Portland Castle which began with Henry VIII has seen a multitude of changes through the centuries, including being used as a jail for prisoners and enemies of Oliver Cromwell, as well as serving as a private residence during the Victorian era for Captain Charles Manning, the man who built what has now become known as the largest man-made breakwater harbour in the world. Today Portland Castle is cared for by the English Heritage, offering tours of the Castle and grounds; hands on exhibits, as well as having audio tours. A visit to the Castle reveals the complex history of a wonderfully preserved medieval Castle, filled with exhibits to please everyone. Tour the central citadel which gives the rounded appearance to the structure which is visible from the exterior and explore the history of the gun room and canons on exhibit. There are even tales of ghosts to entertain the visitors and you can take the Spooky Tour to explore these tales; however, you can be assured that some staff members, locals and tourists have actually seen or experienced a meeting with the supernatural.

Where is Portland Castle?

Portland Castle is located in Dorset near the A354 road. The nearest populated areas include Dorchester and Weymouth to the north.

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