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MARKET TOWNS OF DORSET (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Corfe Castle in 1837

Corfe Castle, a disfranchised borough, is near the centre of the ‘isle’ or rather peninsula of Purbeck. It is included in Blandford south division, and is 116 miles from London. The borough and parish boundaries are the same, and include an area of 9,860 acres : there were in 1831 1,712 inhabitants.

This town, which is near the castle, consists of two streets, of mean-looking houses, built of stone and covered with tiles. The inhabitants are partly engaged in the marble and stone quarries, and clay works in the neighbourhood. The church is a large and very ancient fabric, with many portions of Norman and early English architecture : it has an embattled and pinnacled tower, a large porch, and two buildings, one on each side of the church, formerly chapels, but now applied to other purposes. The church was much damaged in the great civil war when the castle was attacked in 1646.

The castle was built, probably in the tenth century, by King Edgar. Its stateliness and strength, being situated on a high hill, caused it to be regarded in former times as a fortress of great importance. It was sometimes the residence of the West Saxon princes. Here King Edward the Martyr was assassinated by his step-mother, Elfrida (A. D. 978 or 981). King John in his war with the barons deposited his regalia here for security : and Edward II when he fell into the hands of his enemies was for a time imprisoned here. In the great civil war Corfe Castle was stoutly defended for the king by Lady Bankes, wife of Lord Chief Justice Sir John Bankes, the owner of it, with the assistance of her friends and retainers, and of a governor sent from the king’s army. It was however taken by the parliamentarians by treachery, February, 1645-46, and dismantled.

The ruins are extensive, and from their high situation form a very striking object. The castle is separated from the town by a ditch, now dry, which is crossed by a bridge of four very narrow high arches. ‘The vast fragments of the king’s tower,’ says Mr. Hutchins, ‘the round towers, leaning as if ready to fall, the broken walls and vast pieces of them tumbled into the vale below, form such a scene of havock and desolation as strikes every spectator with horror and concern. The plenty of stone in the neighbourhood, and the excellency of the cement, harder to be broken than the stones themselves, have preserved these prodigious ruins from being embezzled and lessened.’

Corfe Castle was a borough by prescription previous to the reign of Elizabeth, who bestowed on it a charter; but the privileges granted by this charter were vested rather in the lord of the manor than the burgesses. Another charter was granted by Charles II. Corfe Castle never sent representatives to the House of Commons till the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and was disfranchised by the Reform Act. The parish is now included in the parliamentary borough of Wareham.

The living of Corfe Castle is a rectory, of the yearly value of £685, with a glebe-house. There were in the parish in 1833, three infant or dame schools with 65 children ; five day-schools with above 250 children; four of these schools were chiefly supported by subscriptions and donations; and three Sunday-schools with above 200 children. One of the day-schools (supported by dissenters) had a lending library attached.