Corfe Castle and the Locked Book

Corfe Castle demolished by Parliamentary forces after its capture from supporters of Charles I in February 1646

To the Honorable William Lenthall Speaker of the House of Commons: Pardon I beseech you my lateness and my haste. My good news is the cause of both. This morning twixt 4 and 5 a party of six score firelocks got into the Castle…the dispute with the enemy lasted 2 hours… see how they cry quarter and run along the wall tops towards us so that the Castle is likely to be yours within this hour……John Fitzjames Captain February 26th 1646

We are currently revising the conservation management plan for Corfe Castle and looking again at past discoveries.

Hidden within Kingston Lacy House in Dorset were many amazing things. The Bankes family had lived there for over 300 years and accumulated all sorts of items including paintings, furniture and a library of books and documents.

In August 1981, on the death of H.J.R Bankes, the National Trust were bequeathed the ancient estates of Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle and this great gift included the contents of Kingston Lacy House.

For many years, curators and archivists kept stumbling across exciting new discoveries as they catalogued the collection. By 1998 it seemed that nearly everything had been found until Kate, the Kingston Lacy House Steward, found a locked book in the library. She spent several hours trying to open it and eventually succeeded.

Inside were a group of mid-17th century surveys and letters relating to the contents of Corfe Castle… plundered by Parliament when the fortress was eventually captured in February 1646. They had been collected by George Bankes…taken from his family archive during the writing of his book on Corfe Castle which was published in 1853.

They are evidence of the how the Castle was furnished and give an idea of the various rooms there before the soldiers ransacked the place and blew it to pieces. Kate gave me a table in the archive room on the second floor of Kingston Lacy House and I spent time reading and typing the contents. I soon discovered that George Bankes had left out much of the information from his book.

Our excavations within the walls of Corfe found musket shot and cannon balls, broken pottery, oysters and bone with fragments of carved stone; all brought to the Outer Gatehouse and dumped. Any delicate fabric and paper, leather and woodwork would have rotted away but all the useful and luxury items would have been divided up and either used in the homes of the victorious supporters of Parliament or sold.

The owner of Corfe Castle, Sir John Bankes died during the war. His wife Mary lived long enough to see the end of the Republic… and for Charles II to become king. Her eldest son John died before her and therefore it was left to her second son Ralph to get back the land and land rights as well as the contents of the Castle. He wanted to retrieve some of the precious contents of his childhood home so that he could place them in his new fashionable house being built at Kingston Lacy.

The documents in the locked book are evidence of his attempt to achieve this. Ralph Bankes was searching for witnesses of the sacking of Corfe so that he could find out where things had been taken by the enemy.

One is a note written by a soldier and starts abruptly.

that room which Mrs Burroughs should show me which accordingly I did and the goods in them within an inner chamber in the Queen’s Tower (now a fragmentary ruin at the top of the Castle) and therein was a coffer which I was then told contained writings. The greatest part of the goods were sent by Colonel Bingham (commander for Parliament at Corfe and Governor of Poole) to the Isle of Wight by water from Swanage. Brewen Vincent of Povington and myself had the charge of them and Brewen Vincent carried the goods to Mrs Virges in the Isle of Wight after they were landed at Yarmouth. There was a charter that was in the hands of a soldier which I obtained from him, which I then took to be ye Charter of the Castle which I delivered to Colonel Bingham.

Another document is by a servant once employed by the Bankes family and by that time, in the 1660s, working for Colonel Bingham in charge of the captured Corfe. This gives an idea of the rooms now lost in the Castle.

One piece of ordinary hangings for ye Gallery;One piece to hang betwixt the closet and door in my La: (Lady’s) Chamber.; One piece over ye door going into the hall.; One piece to the door in the study next to ye Gallery.; One piece of ordinary hangings for the door over the Gallery; Two pieces of fine tapestry for ye Gallery.; One piece to hang behind my La: Bed.; One piece for the lower end of the Great Chamber.; One piece over the chimney in the Great Chamber.; Two large satin wrought window cushions.;One cushion of crimson velvet for a window.

The gallery and great chamber may have been in the Keep at the top of the Castle and there are Tudor floor plans of the Keep found in Kingston Lacy.

One of the Tudor plans found in Kingston Lacy House which show the floor plans of the Corfe Castle Keep in the late 16th=early 17th century

Perhaps it was Ralph’s detective work in tracking down the records stolen from Corfe which have enabled us to still see many of the maps and dociuments still stored in the Bankes family archive and now held at the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester but we can only wonder what was lost during the Castle’s capture. Other witness statements from Corfe villagers talk of soldiers burning paperwork on bonfires

Ralph wrote letters to Colonel Bingham asking for the return of the goods taken from the Castle but despite polite replies all he was given back was one large bed without the feathers and a red velvet chair.

Among the valuable lost items are finely woven tapestries that once hung in the castle including a series telling the story of Constantine and of the fashionable 1620s romance of ‘Astrea and Celadon’…apparently the Earl of Manchester bought it from a broker in London.

I’ll finish with a letter found in the locked book written by a Corfe Castle village shopkeeper.

To the right worshipful and his assured friend Sir Ralph Bankes, Knight, at his house at Chettle, these present.

Honored Sir

 I am sorry I cannot more fully gratify you in your desires, but in what I can is undermentioned, and what I cannot at present shall as comes to my knowledge, Sir. Although I was not in the castle at the taking (which I suppose I should have been if your friends then governed it), yet I was so far from any hand in the taking it as any, and I was constrained to keep my own house for mine own preservation and mine, that I durst not look abroad to see the actions of others, wherefor all that I can inform you, is after others. Vizt.,- that some household goods and not a little was brought into the house of one Richard Smith of Corfe Castle, who had then three sons under the Parliament, but I suppose that is much divided; what remains is in the hands of Nathaniel Smith at the Ship, and of Henry Smith a shopkeeper; and I understand that Mr Anthony Fursmanhas some; I know not of any else in the island and I think but little was carried into the island. But I am informed by one Mathew Mosse, a tailor in Corfe, that one Captain Richard Gould at Holme had much of it; and that he had seen a room furnished and hung round with the castle goods, besides many stones and much timber he had; also some of the greatest timber was carried to Lutton, to Mr Dyonise Bond’s farm, where it remains yet unused. And not a little timber and stone was used about the George Inn. And the leads were mostly sold to Gaylen, the plumber of Poole, as I have been informed. What Colonel Bingham had of your’s I know not; but I am sure his soldiers had all my shop goods, and I did write to Mr Culliford whilst in London to advise me whether I could not have any satisfaction. And he answered me in the negative, that the Act would quit all men of all such actions, but I wish I could find it now; but I must rest satisfied; and Sir, with my due respects tendered do remaine,

 Your Worship’s servant

Edward Harvey

Corfe Castle

5th October 1660 

The Treswell survey book of the Corfe Castle Estate rescued by Ralph Bankes and used as evidence in the chancery court to get back his manorial rights within the Isle of Purbeck. The court case is recorded bottom left as taking place in the 22nd year of the reign of Charles II. He came to the throne in 1660 so the dates should be 1682 but the republican period of Oliver and Richard Cromwell was wiped from history so the actual date of the court case was 1671.

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