CORFE, A VILLAGE AND A CASTLE
Located halfway between Wareham and Swanage on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. The dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle stand on a natural hill guarding the main route through the Purbeck Hills. It guards the gap between the Isle of Purbeck and the rest of Dorset. Nothing can pass in or out without going past the Castle.
CONSTRUCTED ALMOST COMPLETELY FROM THE LOCAL GREY PURBECK LIMESTONE
The village is constructed almost completely from the local grey Purbeck limestone and comprises two main streets, East Street and West Street, linked at their north end at the Square. Around the square, with its cross commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 are a number of shops (including a post office), a church, 3 pubs and 2 hotels.
From the Square you can easily access the Castle, a Model Village depicting how the castle looked before it was destroyed in the English Civil War.
You can also easily access the Corfe Castle to Swanage steam railway. The station has been restored and offers a relaxing way to visit nearby Swanage and Norden Halt (see How to Get Here for more information).
The village offers a number of pubs, restaurants and team rooms offering food and drinks. The village bakery is also situated in the Square. If you are looking for accommodation, Corfe offers a number of historic hotels, charming self-catering cottages, cosy bed and breakfasts and camping and caravan sites (see the Food and Drink and Accommodation pages for details).
The main route through the village is East Street which forms part of the A351 main road taking traffic to Wareham in the north and Swanage in the south. West Street leads away from the square and offers the only parking in the village. Separating the two streets is an area of common land called “the Halves”, and to the south of the village is a much large area of common land, which is great for walking and offers views of the Castle and surrounding area.
Information and bit of History
Burial mounds around the common suggest that the area was occupied from 6000 BC. The common also points to a later Celtic field system worked by the Durotriges tribe. Evidence suggests that the tribes probably co-existed with the Romans in a trading relationship following the Roman invasion c. 50 AD.
The name “Corfe” is derived from the Saxon word, ceorfan, meaning to cut or carve, referring to the gap in the Purbeck hills where Corfe Castle is situated.
In the 18th century, clay quarrying developed as an industry in the village. By the middle of the century, with the arrival of William Pike – a merchant from Devon, activity expanded significantly. In 1791 Pike signed a five-year contract with Josiah Wedgwood to supply 1200 tons of clay and search for further deposits. Clay extraction continued to provide major employment for the local population until the 20th century.
The Village and Castle are now a major tourist attraction in Dorset seeing thousands of visitors each year. With easy access by car and public transport from Wareham and the Swanage heritage railway line which runs a number of daily steam and diesel services to and from Swanage throughout the year.
The parish of Corfe Castle encompasses a broad swathe of the Isle of Purbeck. To the south, it includes the smaller village of Kingston and a section of the Jurassic Coast facing the English Channel. To the north, it includes a large area of heathland stretching as far as the southern shore of Poole Harbour, where Furzey, Green, Long and Round little islands also form part of the parish.
The National Trust run the Castle, a shop and a tearoom in the village. The Corfe Castle Model Village located just off the village square, is a 1⁄20 scale model that shows what the castle and village would have looked like in 1646 before the castle was slighted.
Within the Church of St. Edward is an alabaster reredos inset with carvings in white marble, designed by the famous Victorian architect George Edmund Street R.A., which was presented by Lord Eldon in 1876.
A cross in the square commemorates Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897. Next to the cross is a defunct village pump, bearing the village’s arms.
Mortons Manor Hotel, about 200 yards up East Street from the square was built in 1590 and is one of the most notable buildings in the village.
The castle itself stands above the village and dates back in some form to the 10th century. It was the site of the murder of Edward the Martyr in 978. During the English Civil War it was a Royalist stronghold and was besieged twice, in 1643 and again in 1646. It is currently owned by the National Trust and is open to the public (see main Corfe Castle page for further details).