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Sherborne Old Castle (Dorset, England)

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

One of only two enclosure castles in Dorset, Sherborne Castle was built by Roger Bishop of Sarum in the 1120s. As chancellor and justiciar he effectively ruled England when Henry I was abroad, playing the role of vice-regent. The castle served as the administrative centre of his vast estates.

Following Henry’s death in 1135 Bishop Roger fell out of favour, and the castle was subsequently seized by King Stephen in 1139. It was retained as a royal residence despite continued ownership claims from later bishops. Because of the way in which Bishop Roger built the castle it was not necessary for further alterations or additions to be made under royal ownership and it changed very little in the subsequent few years. During this period there were only minor repairs recorded.

sherborne old castle reconstruction
Copyright: Historic England

By 1354 the castle was in the possession of Bishop Robert Wyville and once again functioned as an administrative centre for church estates.

After the reformation the castle was back in the hands of the Crown. Queen Elizabeth leased it to Sir Walter Raleigh and after some modifications (including work on the great tower and south west gate tower to the building) he decided to erect a new lodge beyond the lake to the south. This 16th Century Tudor mansion still stands and is known as Sherborne Castle (leading to the original castle’s name of ‘Sherborne Old Castle’) and is open to visitors April to October.

sherborne old castle dorset england

During the Civil War the castle was a Royalist stronghold and resisted a siege by Parliamentarian forces in 1642. However, following a further siege in 1645, the castle was stormed by the Parliamentarians and was forced to surrender. The fortifications of the castle were slighted soon afterwards to prevent re-fortification.

From this time the castle remained unoccupied, and in the 18th century its ruins were incorporated as a feature in the landscaped park and gardens of New Sherborne Castle.

The castle had a unique design for its period, with the domestic buildings grouped together in four ranges around a small court. A great tower formed part of a central block which, unusually, was arranged around a central courtyard. This design is similar to that of a cloister, a factor which may reflect the ecclesiastical background of the castle’s builder.

In the present day the castle in managed by English Heritage and open to visitors.

Site visited September 2018.

Photos © Completely Castles 2018

English Heritage


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