Every town has its notable quirks and features that it has accumulated over its lifetime; this week’s post highlights the area of Sherborne known as Castleton.
This is the story of two castles, and the lovely, but long lost community that lies between them.
This area is known as Castleton. It lies to the East of Sherborne town. A civil parish virtually encircling the town, but including Oborne’s old chapel of St Cuthbert, Castle Farm, the Old Castle, Sherborne Castle, Limekiln farm and way over in the West of the parish, Wyke Farmhouse and the massive medieval tithe barn.
Castleton is within the West Dorset administrative district and shares a grouped Parish Council – Yeohead and Castleton- with the three village parishes of Poyntington, Oborne, and Goathill. It is a widespread and rather depopulated area; in the 2011 census the parish had a population of 155.
But we need to go back to into history, when seven Boroughs were created in Dorset during the 13th Century. Borough status gave towns considerable privileges, including the right to govern themselves, and run their own law courts. In return they sent their own MPs to parliament; an unpopular and expensive privilege in the Middle Ages.
Castleton was a Borough, but Sherborne, one of the largest towns in Dorset was never a Borough. The Bishop of Salisbury kept Sherborne for himself and created the new Borough of Newland.
It is not known when Castleton was made into a Borough, the first documentary reference is as late as 1537 when it had its own church and market. By 1570 Castleton had sevens inns, several ale houses, several mills and numerous cottages, and was a village in its own right.
Some Roman remains have been found at two places in the parish; at Pinford Lane in the east, and more near Sandford Lane in the North. Both sites have revealed remains of buildings, and ovens or kilns, coins, pottery, brooches, and beads.
So this delightful area, this little backwater to Sherborne town shares two castles and a church. How has it come to have such important historic buildings? Let us explore what is left.
The ‘Old’ Castle
The original castle of Sherborne was built in the 12th Century by Roger de Caen, who was the Abbot of Sherborne and the Bishop of Salisbury (1102-39). Roger was an enormously powerful man, becoming Henry I’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and Judiciary, and his ecclesiastical occupation is evident in the slight differences in the castle’s design from its contemporaries.
The Old Castle land is reputed to have had a curse put upon it by St Osmund (the Count of Sées, sometimes referred to as Earl of Dorset, a Norman noble and clergyman who served as Lord Chancellor 1070–1078 and Roger’s predecessor as Bishop of Salisbury).
‘whosoever shall take those lands from the bishopric or diminish them in great or small, should be accursed, not only in this world but also in the world to come; unless in his lifetime he make restitution thereof’.
Well, this has happened many times, but it would seem that the curse has now faded, as the current landowners, the Digbys, have held most of the site for over 500 years without trouble or incident.
In 1592 Sir Walter Raleigh acquired the castle from Elizabeth I. He made some renovations and alterations, but after a while, finding it too old to make a comfortable ‘modern’ home without vast expense, he and his family decamped to an early Tudor hunting lodge nearby on the same estate where he began work on a new home.
During the Civil War the castle was besieged by Parliamentary forces in 1642 and again in 1645, finally becoming a ruin after a 16 day siege.
The Church of St Mary Magdalene, Castleton
Roger built a small Norman church outside the curtain walls of the castle, but it was demolished by Raleigh when he moved in so he could erect a new church on the same spot. Although finished in 1601 Raleigh’s church didn’t survive the Civil War in a usable state and was replaced once again by a new building.
The current church, build by the 5th Lord Digby in 1714 (consecrated 1715) still harks back to Gothic architecture, despite being designed as a church with Bible reading and preaching at its heart (reflected in the diminished chancels). Inside, however, you can still find parts Raleigh’s church that were recycled in the new building, such as the staircase and railings, and the central Tudor window.
Raleigh House, Middle House, and Lattice House
This is a beautiful post medieval terrace and all that is now left of the street and community that grew up beside the perimeter drive of the Old Castle.
Here used to be busy crossroads, with the medieval road from Sherborne to Shaftesbury passing the Northern wall of the Old Castle. The intersecting North small roads were from Castleton Way and Castle Farm to Home Farm and Gainsborough Hill.
This is difficult to view from the road, but it is of 17th Century origin. The front facing East is of early 19th Century with an impressive stone porch. The entrance to the drive has two ashlar gate piers and iron gates of about 1859.
These are early to mid 19th Century houses all built with front door opening into the road to Castleton, as it was before the railway came through. At the Eastern end the ashlar gate piers and iron gates that are the entrance to Castleton House can be seen.
Castleton Water Works
Across the meadow from the church is the classic pump house, built in 1868. It houses a 26ft diameter cast iron overshoot waterwheel which powers three vertical ram pumps and was Sherborne’s first general supply of pure water.
Now it is all managed and generated by Wessex Water, but the original pumping station is now part of Sherborne’s Industrial Archaeology, and is open to the public as part of the Sherborne Steam & Waterwheel Centre on selected days throughout the year.
When the railway was built in 1859 it went straight through the middle of Castleton and most of the cottages were destroyed. Now with most of the population gone and with English Heritage controlling the Old Castle, Castleton today remains a peaceful, beautiful place of English countryside, and well worth a visit.