1646 Keep Collapse blocks Inner Gate

The Inner Ward Gate looking up towards the Keep. The gateway was excavated to 1646 level but the steps take you up above the demolition rubble the old ground surfaces in the Keep are buried several metres deep under Civil War demolition rubble.

The Inner Ward Gate looking up towards the Keep. The gateway was excavated to 1646 level but the steps take you up above the demolition rubble the old ground surfaces in the Keep are buried several metres deep under Civil War demolition rubble.

At Corfe on Thursday we were just walking down from the top of the Castle. We’d been looking at the erosion and wall repairs that were needed this year. Phil the Area Ranger said “this always amazes me” and I knew what he meant. We shouldn’t be standing there at all and 20 years ago it would have been impossible. Some clever engineering opened the Inner Ward Gate for us.

Corfe is a great craggy romantic ruin. An irate visitor once said to me “how can the National Trust have let it get in this state?!. It’s not our fault. It’s been this way for over 350 years. The owners, the Bankes family, supported King Charles in the Civil War which made the Parliamentarians want to make it useless as a fortress… after they eventually got hold of it (2 sieges later).

The Inner Ward Gate is below and slightly to the right of the tall Keep tower at the centre of the picture. Corfe looking south towards the village. The castle https://archaeologynationaltrustsw.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?post_type=post#is divided into three main areas, the Outer Bailey is entered first across the bridge from the church and through the Outer Gatehouse, then up the hill to the South West Gatehouse which gives access to the West Bailey. Up the hill again to the highest stronghold of the Inner Ward where remains of Henry I's  great tower Keep and King John's manor house still stand.

The Inner Ward Gate is below and slightly to the right of the tall Keep tower at the centre of the picture. Corfe looking south towards the village. The castle is divided into three main areas, the Outer Bailey is entered first across the bridge from the church and through the Outer Gatehouse, then up the hill to the South West Gatehouse which gives access to the West Bailey. Up the hill again to the highest stronghold of the Inner Ward where remains of Henry I’s great tower Keep and King John’s manor house still stand.

The NT were given the castle by the Bankes family in 1982. The plan was to make the place more accessible and enjoyable for the visitor. The route to the top was OK until the Inner Ward Gate was reached. Here, we were confronted with a jumble of massive chunks of masonry and the only option was to weave a narrow path between great chunks of demolished castle. The Parliamentarian Captain Hughes, had ordered his men to undermine the west wall of the Keep and place gunpowder charges there (quite a lot). This had brought the whole thing down successfully burying the gateway.

The Inner Ward Gate before the move. The only way to the Inner Ward is along a narrow worn path against the railings. Bit of a queue to go up and down at busy times.

The Inner Ward Gate before the move. The only way to the Inner Ward is along a narrow worn path against the railings. Bit of a queue to go up and down at busy times.

In 1991, we dug between the blocks and found the gateway. It had a 80 ton block on one side of it, a 50 ton block on the other and an 8 ton block in the middle.

The NT working group thought up various solutions to this 350 year old access problem, involving large amounts of scaffolding in unseemly unaesthetic places. Then a wild idea. Could the blocks be moved. Unlikely. Worth asking the question of the engineers though. The answer was …. of course. A bold and exciting scheme was devised.

Preparing to move the blocks visitors are provided with a temporary scaffolded walkway to get them to the Inner Ward.

Preparing to move the blocks visitors are provided with a temporary scaffolded walkway to get them to the Inner Ward.

50 ton was undermined and tilted to the north. 8 tone was lifted on a gantry and 80 ton was surrounded with a cradle of steel girders, and, after excavation, rails set in concrete were built beneath it. Then it was pushed to one side using a particularly powerful machine.

The 80 ton block of collapsed keep is cradled in a gantry with runners placed beneath before sliding it to one side.

The 80 ton block of collapsed keep is cradled in a gantry with runners placed beneath before sliding it to one side.

We excavated the gateway floor after the move and found it to be full of good quality robbed castle stone. Perhaps it was left there by mistake and could not be retrieved once the Keep was blown up.

A scatter of good robbed ashlar stone found under the block of Keep once the engineers had moved it in 1996. Perhaps the Parliamentarian sappers meant to retrieve it but it was too late once the Keep west wall had been exploded across the gateway.

A scatter of good robbed ashlar stone found under the block of Keep once the engineers had moved it in 1996. Perhaps the Parliamentarian sappers meant to retrieve it but it was too late once the Keep west wall had been exploded across the gateway.

After the archaeology, the 1996 masons pinned the blocks in their new positions, made a new flight of steps that took visitors through the gate at 1646 level up and then up above the unexcavated demolition accumulated within the Inner Ward. There is rubble several metres deep in places, particularly within the Keep.

The view through the blocked Inner Ward gate towards the West Bailey before opening

The view through the blocked Inner Ward gate towards the West Bailey before opening

I know what Phil means though. It always gives me goose bumps when I look up to see the shifted blocks of Keep and stand at the Inner Ward Gate.

The Inner Ward Gate looking back towards the West Bailey when opened

The Inner Ward Gate looking back towards the West Bailey when opened

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