Sandsfoot Castle, Dorset


★★★★★

West walls of the keep
Southwest castle walls

Attractive ruins of a small shoreline fort overlooking Portland Harbour, built in 1541 by Henry VIII; also known as Weymouth Castle
Entry
Free
Location
Along Old Castle Road, Weymouth; DT4 8QE
Photo Tour (14 images)
Sandsfoot Castle, also known as Weymouth Castle, is a small artillery fort, built by Henry VIII between 1539 and 1541 on the coast south of Weymouth, one of a pair (along with Portland Castle) that was intended to defend the important anchorage of Weymouth Bay from possible French invasion. Although this threat never materialised, the fort was occupied for well over a hundred years and saw action during the English Civil War, however it was abandoned soon after and had become ruined by the start of the 18th century.

The building originally consisted of a rectangular residential block, of three floors, entered through a gatehouse tower, while on the seaward side was a semi-circular gun platform with five windows, allowing heavy artillery fire to be directed over any part of the bay. The platform is almost completely missing, having collapsed as a result of coastal erosion, but the remainder is largely complete, and while a relatively minor structure it is sturdy and photogenic, both because of the pleasingly aged appearance of its grey-brown masonry, and owing to the spectacular setting, right on the brink of low cliffs overlooking the English Channel. The castle is owned by the local council, managed with support from English Heritage, and was closed to the public for much of the last hundred years because of its unstable condition; it reopened after extensive stabilisation work in 2012, and is now an attractive if little visited historic location.




History


Sandsfoot was one of 21 coastal castles constructed during the reign of Henry VIII, in addition to various lesser structures including earthworks and blockhouses, all known generally as the Device Forts. It is situated atop low, clayish cliffs one mile south of Weymouth, still high enough to spot approaching ships up to ten miles away. The building lacked the traditional defence elements of a castle since it was not designed for land-based campaigns, though it did originally adjoin an outer protected area ringed by earthworks, comparable to a bailey. Gradual erosion of the cliffs necessitated repairs to the foundations of the gun platform as early as 1583, and additional repairs were carried out in 1611, yet the platform was soon being undermined once more. The castle was briefly captured by Royalists during the Civil War and was subsequently planned for demolition on at least two occasions, however it survived, later used for a while as a mint and then a storage depot before being abandoned. Some masonry, in particular that on the easily-reached ground level, was removed by local residents in the early 18th century, and most of the gun platform was lost sometime in the 19th century, with the final part collapsing in 1951.

Location


Land around the castle remained empty and undeveloped until construction of the Portland Branch Railway in 1864, passing 350 feet from entrance to the fort. In the early 20th century all the surroundings were taken up by the expanding suburbs of Weymouth, while the railway was closed in 1965 and now forms part of the coast path, a section known as the Rodwell Trail. The castle, which is not well signposted, is reached by Old Castle Road, a dead-end street on the southeast side of the old railway, branching off the A354. Parking spaces are usually available towards the south end of the road, just before it enters Castle Cove Sailing Club. The area just in front of the castle is occupied by Sandsfoot Gardens, a small, Tudor-style park created in 1951, centred on an ornamental pond between four palm trees.


The Castle


The castle was built out of Portland stone, originally mined from the Isle of Portland to the south, and partly reused from the remains of Bindon Abbey, which was closed by Henry VIII in 1539, as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The main section was the rectangular residential area, consisting of a basement, used for storage, the ground floor for accommodation (of up to 50 men) and cooking, and the upper floor. Entry was through the gatetower on the northeast side, which was protected by a portcullis, controlled from a small room above the ground floor passage. Two staircases either side of the gatetower accessed the other floors. About a third of the walls retain their smooth ashlar facing, still crisp and in good condition, while the rest are reduced to the rubble core. The interior can be viewed via an iron walkway at ground floor level, installed in 2011, while other railings close some of the openings, including on the east side, the doorway that once led to the gun platform. Hedges and fences prevent reaching the stony beach 20 feet below - the nearest sea-level access point is 700 feet south, near the entrance to the sailing club. In front of the castle are low, grassy embankments, once lined by stone walls, with small towers at the two corners.

Park in front of the castle
Park in front of the castle