Portland Castle: One of Henry VIII’s Finest Coastal Forts Built in The Early 1540s

By | December 31, 2016

Portland Castle is an artillery fort constructed during the time of Henry VIII on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, in the early 1540s. The two-storey keep was built of ashlar Portland stone and is considered to be one of the best preserved Henrician forts. It has a curved central tower and a gun battery, and it formed part of the King’s Device program to protect against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire.

Henry VIII had it armed with eleven artillery pieces right after its construction, intended for use against enemy shipping, operating in partnership with its sister castle of Sandsfoot on the other side of the anchorage.

This fan-shaped castle was built from Portland stone.

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Portland Castle was in use until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, when it was converted into a private house. It was taken over again in 1869 but was not rearmed and instead served as accommodation for more modern neighboring fortifications.

A cannon at Portland Castle.

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In 1908, Portland was placed onto the Schedule C list, which meant that the Army would continue to use and manage the historic property, but with input on repairs from the Office of Works.

During World War One and World War Two, Portland Harbour became an important naval base and the castle was used as an ordnance storage. In 1949, the War Office relinquished control, and in 1955 it was opened to the public by the state.

It now houses a variety of 18th and 19th-century cannons.

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The keep, standing 120 feet high, is the heart of the castle and it is surrounded by a walled courtyard, approximately 170 by 90 feet, with two gun platforms on either side of the keep. In the western side of the courtyard is the Captain’s House, and beyond the eastern wall lies the Governor’s Garden. The castle is entered through an outer gateway on the southern side.

The keep and the Captain’s House seen from the courtyard.

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In the center of the ground floor is the octagonal great hall, which has large Victorian windows. There are several wings outside the great hall, including the gunners’ quarters and the castle’s kitchen, which was later equipped with a large 16th century fireplace.

The gun room is located at the front of the keep. Originally, it was a two-storey gun battery with embrasures for five guns on the ground floor and four more above the first floor. The ground-floor embrasures were designed with vents to allow the smoke from the guns to escape.

Restored 16th-century kitchen.

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The Captain’s House and the gardens were used by HMS Osprey helicopter base until 1999 when the part opened for visitors. Today, the castle is operated by English Heritage as a tourist attraction.

The main castle is protected under UK laws as a Grade I listed building, and the Captain’s House as a Grade II building.

In the 21st-century, the castle is operated by English Heritage.

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