Sherborne has not one but two castles: the 'old' castle consists of remains of a proper mediaeval castle dating from the 12th century, while the 'new' castle dates from 1594 and is more of a stately home, originally built by Sir Walter Raleigh.
The old castle was built by Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury (1102-1139) in the first part of the 12th Century. Roger was powerful in both the religious and secular worlds - he was also Henry I's Chancellor - and was responsible for building a number of heavily fortified palaces. He wasn't to enjoy it for long, however, as in 1135 it was confiscated by King Stephen in the civil unrest after the death of Henry I. It was given to the Duke of Gloucester and remained in that family's hands until reclaimed by the Crown in 1180.
In 1357 it was returned to the Bishopric of Salisbury, but around 1542, when the area became part of the Diocese of Bristol, the Bishops of Salisbury no longer needed a residence here and leased it out to a variety of tenants. In 1592 Sir Walter Raleigh took a liking to the castle, and first leased it and then bought it. After a few years, however, he decided that the task of modernising and restoring it was too great and built the adjacent Lodge (now the 'New' castle) instead.
That was not the end of the story, however: Raleigh's property was forfeited to the Crown when he was imprisoned for treason in 1603, and the lands were eventually sold to Sir John Digby, an advisor to Charles I, in 1617. During the Civil War the castle was besieged twice, the second time for some 16 days against General Fairfax. After its surrender, the Parliamentary army dismantled most of its defences. Further work was done in the 18th century to turn it into the romantic ruin we see today.
Since 1984 it has been in the care of English Heritage.
Despite the ravages of history and time, this is still an impressive and romantic site, as the moat and earthworks that remain are substantial. It is still entered across the moat, through the South West gatehouse, the best preserved of its gates, with walls 16m high.
In the centre are the heavily ruined remains of the Great Tower, the oldest part of the castle, the walls of which still rise over 15m. Behind this are the remains of the Great Hall and the rather better preserved remains of the Chapel, and four ranges of buildings (appropriately North, East, South and West) which enclosed a small courtyard. Most of these ruins are hard to interpret, but there are descriptive displays around the site to help you work out what's going on, and the quality of some of the remaining stonework indicates just how splendid a palace this must have been.
There are also remains of the North and North-East gates, and sections of curtain wall which give a good impression of the size and scale of the original castle. To the south east are picturesque, partially wooded views of the rest of the estate, as intended by the 18th landscaping.
The site is closed in winter from 1st November until 31st March. The site has a car park, toilets, and most of the site has level access, albeit with uneven ground and lawns. (There is parking for disabled people 20m from the entrance). The rather humble little entrance kiosk also sells ice-creams and drinks, as well as English Heritage literature. A comprehensive educational leaflet is available on the EH website. Entrance is £2.50 for adults, £2 for concessions and £1.30 for children, with group discounts available.
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