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Castles of the British Isles

Photo Focus: Lulworth Castle

by Peter Kessler, 8 May 2022

 

Lulworth Castle in Dorset, England
Photo © Normann / Vikingman

The origins of Lulworth Castle can be pinned to the year 1608. Thomas Howard, Third Viscount Blindon and the youngest son of the duke of Norfolk, created a hunting lodge here.

Howard was a favourite of James I. Contemporary rumour states that the hunting lodge was supposed to be a grand structure which mimicked a medieval castle so that Howard could invite the king to join him in hunting on the Isle of Purbeck. The king did indeed visit Lulworth - in 1615 - but by that time Thomas Howard was dead and the estate was owned by his cousin, the earl of Suffolk.

The hunting lodge idea had clearly failed to produce the required long-term beneficial results, as it was purchased by Humphrey Weld in 1641, along with an estate of 5,179 hectares. Humphrey was the son of a wealthy London merchant.

Lulworth Castle in Dorset, England
Photo © Alison Day

For the next almost-four centuries right up to the present day it was - and remains - the seat of the Weld family. The castle’s exterior is plain, bereft of decorative touches as befits a mock medieval castle. The round towers at each corner of the square central structure rise to four stories, providing spectacular panoramic views over the Purbeck countryside and towards the 'Jurassic Coast' which stretches deep into Devon.

Sir Humphrey was a Royalist supporter during the Civil War, with the result that Lulworth Castle was occupied by Parliamentarians. They stripped lead from the castle roof and sold it to make musket balls with which to besiege Corfe Castle which lies a few kilometres due east of Lulworth.

Sir Humphrey's loyalty to the crown may not have served him well during the Commonwealth period but, following the Restoration, he was rewarded by being made governor of Sandisfoot Castle and Portland.

Lulworth Castle in Dorset, England
Photo © Ozzy Delaney

That loyalty could be a double-edged sword, however. Charles II visited Lulworth in 1665 and the cost of his stay nearly bankrupted the Welds. Worse was to come, for the Welds were staunch Catholics. Anti-Catholic legislation served to deprive him of all his official positions so that when he died in 1685 he had almost no money to pass on to his heir.

One of the most fascinating Welds of Lulworth was Sir Edward Weld (1705-1761). Sir Edward married young, to Catherine, daughter of Lord Aston of Forfar. The couple soon separated however, and in a sensational court case Catherine sued for divorce on the grounds that the marriage had not been consummated. She lost her case and Sir Edward sued for libel. He won his case but was not legally allowed to marry until Catherine died, seeing as she had been confirmed as his spouse.

In 1745 feelings against Catholics were running high as Bonnie Prince Charlie launched his ultimately unsuccessful bid for the throne. Weld's enemies 'discovered' a letter which implicated him in the Jacobite plot, with the result that he was incarcerated. The letter was quickly proven to be a forgery, and Sir Edward was freed.

Lulworth Castle in Dorset, England
Photo © Andy Mulhearn

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the castle's interior was remodelled several times, turning it into an ornate country home in the fashionable Palladian style.

On 29 August 1929, a maid discovered that a fire had broken out in the north-east tower. Left a roofless ruin by the blaze, the castle had to be rebuilt - as part of a pioneering partnership in the 1970s with English Heritage. The interior was consolidated to provide a magnificent open plan space which serves for various events, including weddings. The castle also contains displays and exhibits, cellars and memorabilia, which tell the castle's fascinating story.

Today the castle stands majestically in extensive parkland at the heart of the Lulworth estate, close to Lulworth Cove.

 

Four photos on this page kindly contributed by Alison Day, Andy Mulhearn, Ozzy Delaney, and Normann / Vikingman, all via the 'History Files: Castles of the British Isles' Flickr group.

Main Sources

Lulworth Castle website

Trip Advisor

Britain Express

 

Images and text copyright © P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.