Sherborne Old Castle

Things To See and Do

A Powerful Seat

A residence of the Bishop of Salisbury for half its history, this castle has been home to kings, earls, sheriffs and courtiers and is reputed to be where the Exchequer system was invented. Walk the grounds today and you can see evidence of its previous grandeur in the remains of the Great Tower, Chapels and the South West Gatehouse as well as the foundations of the Great Hall and West Range.

The Gatehouse

The South West Gatehouse was built to impress as well as deter enemies by the Bishop of Salisbury, King Henry I's Chancellor and most senior advisor. Today visitors still cross over the moat using a wooden bridge to enter the castle, just as they would have done centuries ago. Look up as you do so to see the remains of the 16th century rooms.

The North West Gatehouse, built to control access from the nearby village withstood the force of a Parliamentarian attack before surrendering after the outer courtyard was breached in 1645.

The Great Tower

Once dominating the whole castle, the upper parts of the Great Tower were deliberately destroyed by Parliamentarian forces after the Civil War. Originally entered only at first floor level via an external stair, it was remodelled to add valuted ceilings over the basement and you can still see the column added by Sir Walter Ralegh to support these ceilings in 1592. Discover more in the guide book.

Sir Walter Raleigh's Mansion

Sir Walter Ralegh was a scholar, courtier and adventurer whose fortunes relied entirely on Queen Elizabeth I. His popularity with her brought him a knighthood, captaincy of her guard and the lease for the castle at Sherborne. Plans to transform it into a fashionable mansion never came to fruition due to his financial ruin in search of Eldorado. The castle was returned to the Crown in 1603 and in 1617 it was sold to Sir John Digby.

North Gate and Barbican

When the Bishop planned his castle, the lake surrounding the hill provided a means to bring in goods via a lakeside wharf and up a steep flight of steps. As the lake silted up, a fortified tower and a narrow, high-walled ramp was added. Today you can see the remains of this gatehouse and walk down the steps to imagine what was once a busy landing port.

The Castle at War

After the failed first siege during the Civil War, Parliamentarian commanders, Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas Fairfax set out in 1645 to capture the castle which they described as "malicious and mischievous, like its owner." Stand in the remains of the Great Tower today and you are standing where the garrison retreated before finally surrendered in August 1645.

The Well and Kitchen Courtyard

Walk over to the well on the eastern side of the castle grounds and you are on the site of the Kitchen Courtyard, originally built in the Middle Ages and then extended in later centuries. The kitchen would have been separate to the main castle buildings due to the risk of fire but would have provided meals for all of the residents and guests at ths castle.

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