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Historic England Research Records

Orford Castle

Hob Uid: 391933
Location :
Suffolk
East Suffolk
Orford
Grid Ref : TM4194249873
Summary : Orford Castle lies at the western edge of the village of Orford in Suffolk. It is the earliest castle in England for which documentary evidence of its building survives. The Pipe Rolls record its construction by King Henry II between 1165 and 1173 to a total cost of £1414 9s 2d. It was a symbol of the King's power, strategically placed both to uphold royal authority in a region thickly planted with castles of powerful lords and to guard the coast against invasion. The castle has a number of special claims of interest which include the unique design of the polygonal keep and the fact that it was one of the earliest castles in the country to use mural or flanking towers along the curtain wall.In essence a single circular ditch with counterscarp bank defined the extent of the castle complex, within which the keep was centrally placed. The curtain wall would have defined a roughly circular bailey with the keep situated in the northern half. A section of curtain wall and the outline of one mural tower are revealed in earthwork form as a robber trench some 7m to the north of the keep. The remaining stretch of wall and towers lay within the ditches which surround the keep on its south, east and west sides. This is not part of the castles defences as so often has been suggested, but in fact represents quarrying, initially created during the removal of the curtain wall and towers and then deepened by the removal of sand.The keep is the only standing structure to survive. It remains in good condition standing some 30 metres high and was constructed from at least 4 different kinds of stone including local septaria-a sandy coloured mudstone, oolithic limestone, coralline crag, and, Caen stone. At the top of the south eastern turret of the keep a reinforced concrete roof was constructed during the Second World War. This was originally intended to hold an anti-aircraft gun but instead housed a radar observation post.
More information : [TM 4193 4987] Castle [G.T.] (Remains of). (1)

Orford Castle, built by Henry II between 1166 and 1170, has a transitional keep with projections round a central nucleus. The keep, the sole structural relic of the castle, is polygonal on the outside and circular internally. Three square turrets, and a forebuilding in the angle between the south turret and the main structure project out from its face. The forebuilding contains a chapel. In the basement there is a deep well lined with dressed stone. Grade 1. (2-3)

Orford Castle is situated upon rising ground at the edge of the
old flood plain of the River Ore, and commands the coastline and the hinterland for some considerable distance.

The castle comprised a keep with encircling certain wall, and inner and outer dug moats. The keep is as described by Authority 2. It is in excellent condition, and is under the guardianship of the Ministy of Works, who are at present restoring the exterior. A reproduction of a probably 16th c. drawing of the castle on view in the keep, shows the keep encircled by a curtain wall with angle turrets, a gateway on the seaward, S.W. side and a bridge across the inner moat.

In a 1785 print, the curtain wall is extant only on the N. side, and its course is now marked on this side by a roller trench. The lower courses, of flint rubble walling, of the N. side of the bridge remain. The inner moat enclosed the castle completely. The outer one, on the S.E. side, formerly opened out onto the marshes, before modern reclaimation works canalised the River Ore. These earthworks are turf-covered, and are only in fair condition, having been partly filled in, in places, and mutilated by quarrying on the N. side.

Orford Castle is daily open to the public. See GPs, AO/62/224/5 from SSW; /6 from W.S.W. Published survey (25" 1927) revised. (4)

Additional references. (5-9)

When Henry II ascended the throne in 1154, Suffolk was entirely without a castle. In order to remedy this and to challenge the power of Henry Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, a castle was built at Orford, at the time a port comparable in importance to Ipswich. The keep was built with a curtain wall fitted with interval towers which resembled the contemporary works at Dover Castle. Neither Kings Richard or John added to the castle, and although captured by Louis of France in 1217, it was not badly damaged. it was adequately maintained by the Crown until granted to Robert de Ufford in 1336. (10)

The keep is the only standing structure to survive at the site and has therefore been the main focus for study. This has left significant gaps in our understanding of the rest of the castle, particularly the nature and position of the other castle defences. This is understandable given the lack of surviving fabric and the complexity of the earthworks surrounding the keep. In an attempt to address this probem, a series of archaeological investigations including earthwork survey, geophysical survey and excavation were undertaken during 2002-2003. The combined results of this work have greatly increased out understanding of the castle and have contributed to a new guidebook and a reconstruction paining by Frank Gardiner showing the castle as it may have appeared around 1300. (11)

In essence a single circular ditch with counterscarp bank defined the extent of the castle complex, within which the keep was centrally placed. The curtain wall would have defined a roughly circular bailey with the keep situated in the northern half. A section of curtain wall and the outline of one mural tower is revealed in earthwork form as a robber trench some 7m to the north of the keep. The remaining stretch of wall and towers lay within the ditches which surround the keep on its south, east and west sides. This is not part of the castles defences as so often has been suggested, but in fact represents quarrying, initially created during the removal of the curtain wall and towers and then deepened by the removal of sand. This arrangement leaves a substantial berm, some 30m in width between the castle ditch and curtain wall, much of which has also been affected by quarrying and landscaping, but a causeway to the south-west of the keep contains masonry remains which excavation revealed to be a barbican, in the form of a passageway which ran from a bridge over the ditch to a gatehouse in the curtain wall. (12)

Please see this guidebook for illustrations, photographs and further historical information about the castle. (13)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1928
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Source Number : 2
Source : The castles of Great Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 105
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Source Number : 11
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Barker, L 2004 Orford Castle, Orford, Suffolk (English Heritage Archaeological Investigation Series no: AI/22/2004)
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Source Number : 13
Source : Orford Castle
Source details :
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Source Number : 3
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : Blyth Rural District 1948
Page(s) : 65
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Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : 12/09/1962
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Source Number : 5
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : Suffolk Coastal, 16-JUN-1984
Page(s) : 3
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Vol(s) : 230
Source Number : 6
Source : Orford Castle, nostalgia and sophisticated living
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Source Number : 7
Source : Orford Castle, Suffolk [guide]
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Source Number : 8
Source : Twelfth-century floor- and roof-tiles at Orford Castle [earliest in England]
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Source Number : 9
Source : Framlingham and Orford Castles [guide book]
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Source Number : 10
Source : The history of the King's Works, volume 2 : the Middle Ages
Source details :
Page(s) : 769-71
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Monument Types:
Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : SF 4
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 21408
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Listed Building List Entry Legacy Uid
External Cross Reference Number : 285095
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 38
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TM 44 NW 1
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1402806
Relationship type : Identified as

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON TM 44 NW 1
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1962-09-12
End Date : 1962-09-12
Associated Activities : Primary, ORFORD CASTLE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1984-01-01
End Date : 1984-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, ORFORD CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 1993-01-01
End Date : 1993-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, ORFORD CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 1995-01-01
End Date : 1995-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT CASTLE HILL
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 2000-01-01
End Date : 2000-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT CASTLE HILL
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2001-01-01
End Date : 2001-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, EH: ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY AT ORFORD CASTLE
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 2002-01-01
End Date : 2002-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT ORFORD CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2002-01-01
End Date : 2003-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT ORFORD CASTLE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2002-01-01
End Date : 2002-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, ORFORD CASTLE
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 2003-01-01
End Date : 2003-12-31