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Orford Castle with adjoining quarry and remains of 20th century look-out post

A Scheduled Monument in Orford, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.094 / 52°5'38"N

Longitude: 1.53 / 1°31'48"E

OS Eastings: 641894.634025

OS Northings: 249838.151853

OS Grid: TM418498

Mapcode National: GBR XRS.PNB

Mapcode Global: VHM88.GMQM

Entry Name: Orford Castle with adjoining quarry and remains of 20th century look-out post

Scheduled Date: 10 April 1915

Last Amended: 1 August 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014860

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21408

County: Suffolk

Civil Parish: Orford

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Orford St Bartholomew

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich


Orford Castle is situated on the west side of the small town of Orford,
dominating the coastal marshes and the estuary of the River Ore to the south
and south east. The monument includes the 12th century tower keep of the
castle which is the only masonry structure still standing above ground,
together with the surrounding earthworks and buried remains of associated
structures. Adjacent to the castle earthworks, and also included in the
scheduling, is an old quarry from which some of the stone used in the
construction of the keep is thought to have been obtained.

The castle keep, which is Listed Grade I, stands on a sub-circular platform
c.50m in diameter which originally also supported a surrounding defensive wall
with mural towers. Around this platform are the earthwork remains of two
enclosing ditches with a bank between and, on the west and south west sides,
the remains of a smaller counterscarp bank beyond. To the south west of this
there are traces of further earthworks, possibly relating to the castle
defences, with the quarry to the south and west. The castle and surviving
related earthworks cover an area measuring c.163m north west-south east by
c.202m, with the quarry extending a further 100m to the south west.

The castle was built by Henry II and the construction, beginning in 1165/1166
and completed in 1172/1173, is well documented in the Pipe Rolls (the annual
records of the Exchequer). The total recorded cost over that period was 1,413
pounds, nine shillings and two pence. As a royal castle, normally held for the
king by a constable - an official appointed by the crown and of high standing
locally, it was intended primarily as a base for the maintenance of the king's
authority in East Anglia against the power of local magnates, the most
troublesome of whom was Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who held the castles of
Framlingham and Bungay and who was amongst the leaders of an unsuccessful
rebellion in 1173. It also served as a coastal defence and to protect the
harbour at Orford, which was a flourishing port in the medieval period, until
the growth of the shingle spit of Orford Ness effectively blocked it. It
remained a centre of administrative and military power throughout the later
12th and the 13th centuries, particularly in times of political unrest, during
the absence of Richard I on Crusade, in the civil war at the end of King
John's reign and the baronial wars in the reign of Henry III, when it changed
hands several times. It declined in importance during the first half of the
14th century and in 1336 was granted by Edward III in perpetuity to Robert de
Ufford, subsequently created Earl of Suffolk, after which it remained in
private hands. It is now in the care of the Secretary of State.

The keep is of three principal storeys, rising above a sloping plinth to a
height of c.27m. The plan of the tower is an irregular polygon externally,
with three large, square projecting turrets to NNE, west and south east, and a
rectangular forebuilding facing south west in the angle of the south eastern
turret. Within the keep, the main body of the tower is occupied by three
large, circular apartments, one above the other, connected by a newel (spiral)
stair in the south eastern turret, and in the northern and south western
turrets are various subsidiary chambers and domestic offices. The maximum
diameter of the building, including the turrets, is c.17m, and the internal
diameter of the principal apartments within the keep is c.9m. The walls, which
are almost 4m thick at the base and up to 3m thick above, are built chiefly of
septaria (local, nodular mudstone) with imported freestone used externally for
the ashlar facing of the plinth, the battlements, quoins and three string
courses, and externally and internally for the dressings of window and door
openings. A small amount of corraline crag, probably obtained from the
adjacent quarry, can also be seen in the internal walls, though principally in
association with later alterations. The structure internally and externally is
well built but functionally plain, with little ornamental detail.

The entrance to the keep is through the forebuilding at first floor level,
reached by an external stone stair against the adjacent wall to the west (the
existing stair is a post-medieval reconstruction). Below and to the east of
the entrance can be seen the stub of the foundations of the original stair and
landing and a curved protecting wall. The original door opening, below a
triangular headed arch, is partly blocked, with an inserted doorway of post-
medieval date. This gives onto a vestibule within the forebuilding, lit by
two round headed window openings in the south eastern wall and a third in the
south western wall, to the right of the entrance. Below the vestibule is a
small rectangular basement chamber on the north west side of which is an
angled passage leading to a recess for a garderobe (latrine), now broken
through and opening on to the barrel vaulted cesspit below and behind it. The
chamber is ventilated by a sloping shaft in the south wall, with an external
opening just above the plinth. The entrance to this chamber, which probably
served as a prison, is by ladder from an opening in the floor of the vestibule
to the right of the entrance. On the east side of the vestibule is the
entrance to the lower hall of the keep, opening obliquely beneath a fanned
triple arch and consisting of a short, stepped passage with triangular headed
arches and rebates for inner and outer doors and rectangular slots in the
walls to either side to take drawbars behind the doors.

The basement, at ground level, would have been used chiefly for storage and is
entered from the lower hall by way of the south western internal stair. It is
lit by three deep window openings, splayed internally, which originally would
have been narrow loops but have been widened by cutting into the stone jambs.
At the centre is a circular, stone lined well c.13m deep, and in the east wall
is a recess containing the remains of a shallow stone sink with drain to the
rear. Two deep, rectangular recesses in the base of the northern and south
western turrets open off the main area.

The upper and lower halls are alike in general plan and organisation, with a
large fireplace and chimney in the wall which backs onto the north eastern
turret, and three deep, tunnel vaulted, windowed recesses occupying the
thickness of the walls between the turrets. The two windows within each recess
are square headed and recessed internally and externally within round headed
arches. The rooms in the turrets are reached by passages which open off the
recesses on either side.

In the lower hall, which would normally have been occupied by the garrison or
the retainers of the lord of the castle, there is a shallow, double arched
recess in the wall between the entrance from the vestibule and the entrance to
the stair turret, and a narrow stone bench c.0.3m high which runs around the
base of the wall. The fireplace shows evidence of alteration, including
blocking in the wall of the chimney above, where it is thought there was
originally a high stone hood, and in the wall on the south west side of the
hall can be seen a large, blocked arch which opened originally onto a passage
leading northwards to a double garderobe in the thickness of the wall. Entry
to the passage is now through a later opening, cut through from a kitchen in
the south western turret. This kitchen, which is entered from the window
recess to the south of the turret, contains a double hearth on the south
western wall, and a shallow sink recessed in the north wall, with a drain
issuing externally in a stone spout. In the northern turret, behind the hall
fireplace, is a barrel vaulted chamber entered from the north eastern recess,
and directly above this, on a level with the upper part of the lower hall, is
another chamber, entered by way of a stair off the north western window
recess. In the south western turret, at the same intermediate level and above
the kitchen of the lower hall, are the apartments of the castle chaplain,
reached by a passage off the main stair in the south eastern turret. A door
off the same passage opens onto the chapel, which is on the upper floor of the
forebuilding, above the vestibule. The chapel is sub-triangular in plan, with
a rectangular, arched recess at the north eastern end containing the remains
of an altar. A low stone bench runs around the foot of the walls, below an
arcade of plain, round arches on attached shafts with scalloped capitals which
also frame windows in the south east and south west walls and the door at the
western end of the north west wall. The chaplain's apartments at the end of
the passage comprise a barrel vaulted chamber lit by a single window, with a
short passage beyond leading to a small closet and a garderobe.

Some details of the furnishings of the upper hall, which in a keep of this
type was normally used by the lord of the castle and important visitors, are
slightly more elaborate than in the lower hall. The large fireplace, which
like that of the lower hall below it, displays evidence of alteration, has a
moulded segmental head flanked by attached shafts which probably supported an
earlier overmantel. Stone corbels which project from the walls at a height of
c.2.4m, with obliquely cut sockets above them, were to support the steeply
raked beams of the original conical timber roof which, from outside the
castle, would have been concealed by the upper walls and parapet. The hall is
now covered by a post-medieval flat roof. The upper hall was served by a
separate kitchen occupying the same position in the south western turret as
that of the lower hall. The features and layout resemble those of the kitchen
below, except that the fireplace is smaller, with a single chimney, and the
sink with drain is at floor level. There is also a single garderobe to the
north of the kitchen, entered by a separate passage off the north west window
recess and situated directly above the garderobe of the chaplain's apartments.
The chutes from these and the double garderobe of the lower hall issue
externally in two adjacent pairs of arched openings in the plinth at the base
of the walls below. Another passage, off the north side of the north western
window recess, leads to the lower of two more chambers in the northern turret.
The opening of the passage to the one above can be seen high in the wall to
the west of the fireplace, at a level which would have been above the slope
of the roof. On the south side of the hall, at the same level, is another
opening, giving on to a passage between the stair in the south eastern turret
and a small chamber above the kitchen which is believed to have been a cistern
to collect rain water from the roof. Access to both would have been provided
by a catwalk above the base of the roof. Opening off the recess on the north
east side of the hall there are two rectangular closets. Above the upper hall,
the stair in the south eastern turret opens onto a modern flat roof where
originally there would have been a fighting platform protected by battlements.
Above this the three turrets rise a further storey, surmounted by the remains
of battlements which, on the south western turret, retain some of the sockets
for the pivots of the wooden shutters which originally hung in the crenels
(openings in the parapet) and shielded the defenders. The chamber in the
northern turret contains a large baking oven.

At the top of the south eastern turret, above the stair, is a reinforced
concrete structure which is part of a look out post built in World War II.

The outer wall of the castle, which is believed to have been contemporary with
the keep, survived largely intact until at least the beginning of the 17th
century when it was recorded in a survey by John Norden. This shows a small
ward around the keep, enclosed by a crenellated wall with a gatehouse on the
south side and at least four rectangular mural towers. A small fragment on the
north side stood until 1841, and is depicted in several 18th century prints
and paintings of the castle which show clearly that it was on the central
platform, close to the keep. A slot in the ground surface on this side is
believed to be the trench left by the removal of masonry foundations, and
substantial masonry footings are still visible on the probable site of the

The surrounding earthworks appear somewhat irregular as a result of later
quarrying and dumping, and nothing is now of visible of the bank on the north
east side, but the general outline remains clear. The surviving works define
an ovoid enclosure, widest to the north, with overall maximum dimensions of
c.175m north west-south east by c.143m north east-south west. The inner ditch
surrounding the central platform is up 20m wide and remains open to a depth of
up to c.3.5m. It is crossed to the south, opposite the site of the gatehouse,
by an earthen causeway, on the western side of which can be seen the masonry
footings of a bridge. The outer ditch is up to c.2.5m deep and 17m wide, while
the surviving part of the bank between them ranges between 10m and 27m in
width. On the north east side of the castle, part of the outer ditch has been
infilled and underlies a path, but it will survive as a buried feature and is
included in the scheduling. The counterscarp bank to the west and south west
is up to c.8m wide and c.1m in height above the ground surface to the west.
Immediately to the south west of the counterscarp are further earthworks which
may relate to the castle, including an elongated hollow up to 18m wide and,
beyond this, a roughly triangular platform c.2m in height above the adjacent
ground surface and measuring c.65m north east-south west by c.25m.

The quarry lies c.87m south west of the castle keep and comprises an irregular
hollow up to c.5m deep, with maximum dimensions of c.140m north east-south
west by c.50m. It includes a pattern of spoil tips, trackways and working
platforms. Exposed in the north and west of the quarry is the coralline crag,
a pliocene deposit of very soft, shelly sandstone which underlies Orford. The
quarry is thought to have been opened to provide stone for the construction of
the castle and has been little used since.

Excluded from the scheduling are two 6-pounder muzzle loading naval cannon
dating from c.1800, which are mounted on modern carriages in front of the
castle but not known to have any primary connection with it, the fences and
gates around the monument, English Heritage huts and information boards and
the surface of the path on the north east side of the monument, although the
ground beneath all these feature is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the
principal defensive feature. The keep may be free-standing or surrounded by a
defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes
are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of
various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be
defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into
the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a
gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops,
may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout
the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid-
15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were
constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new
creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading
families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are
widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh
border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable
diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With
other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to
the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative
centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles
generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a
valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and
defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining
significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

The keep of Orford Castle, which is one of five medieval royal castles in the
counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, is a very complete example of its type and
date, displaying evidence of only minor alterations subsequent to its original
construction. It is believed to be among the earliest polygonal tower keeps to
have been built, departing from the square plan of most earlier castles in
England, and the design is in several respects unique. The building of the
castle in the third quarter of the 12th century and details of its subsequent
maintenance as a royal stronghold are also very well documented historically.
The manner in which it still dominates the local landscape conveys something
of its original function, which was symbolic as well as military and
administrative, and its various internal and external features provide good
evidence for the way in which such a castle and the lives of those who
occupied it were organised.

The earthworks surrounding the keep remain impressive, despite alteration by
later quarrying, and will retain archaeological evidence for buried
structures, including the walls and towers which formerly surrounded the keep
and are known from early depictions of the castle. The presence of a well
preserved contemporary quarry adjacent to the castle and believed to be the
source of some of the material used in the building is also of interest. The
site is open to the public and provides a valuable educational and
recreational resource for townspeople and visitors alike.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Allen Brown, R, Orford Castle, (1988)
Davy, H, Architectural Antiquities of Suffolk: Orford Castle, (1827)
Johnson, , Orford Castle, (1700)
Baillie Reynolds, P K, 'Archaol J' in Orford Castle, , Vol. 108, (1951), 150
Hartshorne, H, 'Archaeologia' in Observations...upon the present state of Orford Castle, , Vol. 29, (1841), 68
Roberts, R A, 'J Brit Archaeol Ass NS' in Orford Castle, , Vol. 36, (), 33-58
Engraving, Hooper, S, Orford Castle, (1785)
Title: Survey of the Manor of Sudbourne
Source Date: 1601
Reproduced in [1]

Source: Historic England

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