Monument record ORF 001 - Orford Castle (Med)

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Orford Castle - A cylindrical keep with three projecting rectangular towers. Scheduled.


Grid reference Centred TM 418 498 (288m by 256m)
Map sheet TM44NW


Type and Period (7)

Full Description

Orford Castle - A cylindrical keep with three projecting rectangular towers. Built by Henry II, 1165-1172. Scheduled area constitutes a public park on the edge of the town. NE part is occupied by keep & earthworks; SW by old sand pit (S1).
Whetstone, hone of mica-quartz-schist (Ellis type IA1).
1991: Said to be maintained and in guardianship.
1993: Trench inserted from entrance kiosk to W side of keep, for electricity line, monitored & recorded by SAU.
1995: Trench along similar alignment inserted and again monitored by SAU. Details of finds in (S3).
August 1996: Scheduled area slightly revised (S1).
A range of structures of World War II date and probable military function are visible on aerial photographs in the immediate area of Orford castle its earthworks. From at least 1943 to 1945 the castle is surrounded by circa 325m of barbed wire that roughly follows the line of the bailey earthworks. Also within this time, three structures can be seen to the south-east of the keep. In 1943 a square building can be seen in the ditch of the earthworks at circa TM41974984, with a possible smaller structure to the south of it. A nissen hut type structure is visible at circa TM41924989 on 1943 photographs, but has been removed by 1944. A second nissen hut type structure is visible at TM41994986 in September 1945. All of the structures have been removed by October 1945. It is not clear what role Orford Castle might have played during the war, but it is possible that it was used as an observation tower, as was Slaughden Martello tower (see ADB 013). (S5-8)
Also Mes, Un.

Features visible on Lidar. See asociated files.

Orford Castle, built by Henry II between 1166 and 1170, has a transitional keep with projections round a central nucleus. The keep, the sole structural relic of the castle, is polygonal on the outside and circular internally. Three square turrets, and a forebuilding in the angle between the south turret and the main structure project out from its face. The forebuilding contains a chapel. In the basement there is a deep well lined with dressed stone. Grade 1. (2-3)

Orford Castle is situated upon rising ground at the edge of the
old flood plain of the River Ore, and commands the coastline and the hinterland for some considerable distance.

The castle comprised a keep with encircling certain wall, and inner and outer dug moats. The keep is as described by Authority 2. It is in excellent condition, and is under the guardianship of the Ministy of Works, who are at present restoring the exterior. A reproduction of a probably 16th c. drawing of the castle on view in the keep, shows the keep encircled by a curtain wall with angle turrets, a gateway on the seaward, S.W. side and a bridge across the inner moat.

In a 1785 print, the curtain wall is extant only on the N. side, and its course is now marked on this side by a roller trench. The lower courses, of flint rubble walling, of the N. side of the bridge remain. The inner moat enclosed the castle completely. The outer one, on the S.E. side, formerly opened out onto the marshes, before modern reclaimation works canalised the River Ore. These earthworks are turf-covered, and are only in fair condition, having been partly filled in, in places, and mutilated by quarrying on the N. side.

When Henry II ascended the throne in 1154, Suffolk was entirely without a castle. In order to remedy this and to challenge the power of Henry Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, a castle was built at Orford, at the time a port comparable in importance to Ipswich. The keep was built with a curtain wall fitted with interval towers which resembled the contemporary works at Dover Castle. Neither Kings Richard or John added to the castle, and although captured by Louis of France in 1217, it was not badly damaged. it was adequately maintained by the Crown until granted to Robert de Ufford in 1336.

The keep is the only standing structure to survive at the site and has therefore been the main focus for study. This has left significant gaps in our understanding of the rest of the castle, particularly the nature and position of the other castle defences. This is understandable given the lack of surviving fabric and the complexity of the earthworks surrounding the keep. In an attempt to address this probem, a series of archaeological investigations including earthwork survey, geophysical survey and excavation were undertaken during 2002-2003. The combined results of this work have greatly increased out understanding of the castle and have contributed to a new guidebook and a reconstruction paining by Frank Gardiner showing the castle as it may have appeared around 1300.

In essence a single circular ditch with counterscarp bank defined the extent of the castle complex, within which the keep was centrally placed. The curtain wall would have defined a roughly circular bailey with the keep situated in the northern half. A section of curtain wall and the outline of one mural tower is revealed in earthwork form as a robber trench some 7m to the north of the keep. The remaining stretch of wall and towers lay within the ditches which surround the keep on its south, east and west sides. This is not part of the castles defences as so often has been suggested, but in fact represents quarrying, initially created during the removal of the curtain wall and towers and then deepened by the removal of sand. This arrangement leaves a substantial berm, some 30m in width between the castle ditch and curtain wall, much of which has also been affected by quarrying and landscaping, but a causeway to the south-west of the keep contains masonry remains which excavation revealed to be a barbican, in the form of a passageway which ran from a bridge over the ditch to a gatehouse in the curtain wall.

Sources/Archives (16)

  • <R1> Bibliographic reference: Victoria County History of Suffolk (Vol I 1911; Vol II 1907). VCH, Suffolk (many references).
  • <M1> Unpublished document: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Parish file. Parish file: copy (S1)(S3).
  • <S1> Unpublished document: Department of the Environment. Scheduling information.
  • <M2> Photograph: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Air Photograph. APs: SAU ALO 5-7; OS 72057/53; Essex C C CP/96/18/12-13.
  • <S2> (No record type): Archaeologia, 29, 1842, 60-69.
  • <S3> (No record type): SAU, Loader T, Orford Castle ORF 001: Record of Archaeological Monitoring, report, August 1995, ill.
  • <M3> (No record type): SAM file:.
  • <M4> (No record type): Monitoring archive:.
  • <S4> Photograph: Essex County Council. Air Photograph. Essex C C, Strachan D, APs, CP/96/18/12-13, June 1996.
  • <S5> Photograph: USAAF. USAAF Air Photograph. US 7PH/GP/LOC132 5014-5 30-DEC-1943.
  • <S6> Photograph: USAAF. USAAF Air Photograph. US 7GR/LOC355 4059-60 30-MAY-1944.
  • <S7> Photograph: RAF. Air Photograph. RAF 106G/UK/832 4173-4 23-SEP-1945.
  • <S7> Bibliographic reference: Toy, S.. 1953. The castles of Great Britain.
  • <S8> Photograph: RAF. Air Photograph. RAF 106G/UK/929 3366-7 16-OCT-1945.
  • <S9> Unpublished document: English Heritage. Barker L, Survey Report, A1/22/2004, 2004.
  • <S10> Unpublished document: Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service evaluation report. SCCAS, Gardner R, No 2003/22, March 2003.

Finds (3)

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Events/Activities (10)

Record last edited

May 10 2022 3:08PM

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