Dorchester Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are no visible remains

NameDorchester Castle
Alternative NamesDorkecestre; Dorecestre; Dorcestre
Historic CountryDorset
Modern AuthorityDorset
1974 AuthorityDorset
Civil ParishDorchester

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)

Gatehouse Comments

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.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSY692909
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  • Baxter, Ray, Sept 2010 (3edn), Early Norman Castles Built in the Anglo-Saxon Burhs of Dorset (Dorset Castles Research Group) esp p. 17-19
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of Wessex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 22
  • Pomeroy, Colin, 1998, Discover Dorset Castles and Forts (Dovecote Press) p. 23-4
  • Wilton, P., 1995, Castles of Dorset (Wimborne)
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 69 (slight)
  • Drage, C., 1987, 'Urban castles' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 117-32 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 129
  • Draper, Jo and Chaplin, Christopher, 1982, Dorchester excavations Vol. 1: excavations at Wadham House 1968; Dorchester Prison 1970, 1975, and 1978; and Glyde Path Road 1966 Vol. 1 (Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society monograph series 2) p. 61-93
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 220
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 169
  • RCHME, 1970, An inventory of historical monuments in the County of Dorset Vol. 2: south-east (HMSO) p. 105 online transcription
  • Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 629
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 246 online copy
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 1 (London) p. 440 online copy
  • Hutchins, J., 1861-73 (3edn), History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset (Blandford) Vol. 2 p. 366-67 online transcription plan facing p. 335 [online copy >]



  • Draper, Jo, 1985, 'Dorchester Castle' Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Vol. 107 p. 173
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1955, 'Royal Castle-building in England 1154-1216' English Historical Review Vol. 70 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 19-64
  • Bertelot, R.Grosvenor, 1943, 'Vanished Mediaeval Castles of Dorset' Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Vol. 66 p. 65-67
  • Barnes, W.Miles, 1899, 'Contribution to the History of Dorchester' Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Vol. 20 p. 132-136 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 203 online copy

Primary Sources

  • 1086, Domesday Book B1 online copy (It is suggested the reference to destroyed houses implies the existence of a castle)
  • 1904, The Great Roll of the Pipe for the twenty-second year of the reign of King Henry the Second, A.D. 1175-1176 (Pipe Roll Society Publications 25)
  • Pipe Rolls (see Hutchins for references)
  • Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works comprising the Gesta regum with its continuation, the Actus pontificum, and the Mappa mundi, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (London: Longman Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 422 online copy
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 183
  • C145/130(19) (Survey of 1336) The National Archives reference (calendared in Maxwell Lyte, H.C., 1916, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 2 p. 373 No. 1519 [online copy >])


  • Fradley, Michael, 2011, The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England, AD1050-1150 (University of Exeter PhD Thesis) available via EThOS