Orford Castle in Suffolk is a royal castle that was began on the orders of Henry II in 1165 in order to ensure his control of the region. The castle was completed in 1173.
The design of the castle at the time was unique, with its central circular tower and three attached towers that project out from the circular tower’s main body. The keep’s central tower rises 27 metres and is 15 metres across.
The design of the keep is based on the one root of two ratio that is often found in English churches of the period. The castle is constructed of Caen stone, Northamptonshire limestone, coralline stone. Much of the stonework internally is ashlar, finely cut, dressed masonry.
Internally, the castle was designed so that the most important rooms caught the sun first thing in the morning, internals doors and carefully placed windows were added for draught proofing. The roof above the upper hall would have oringinally been domed, with a steeple. Orford Castle’s design has attracted much attention, as it combines features of earlier fortresses with those of later fortifications, though this theory has been discounted by some historians, instead with them suggesting the design was more a case of political symbolism.
The castle would have had originally a curtain wall with flanking towers and probably a fortified gatehouse. The construction of the castle is recorded as having cost £1,413, which equates roughly to 10% of royal revenue at the time. It is believed that construction was conducted by master mason Alnoth, though this cannot be corroborated.
Orford Castle seems to have declined in importance after the collapse of the rebellion of 1173-1174 and the death of Henry II. During the First Barons War (1215-1217) the castle was captured by the forces of Prince Louis of France in 1216. The castle was later returned to the control of the crown under the Treaty of Lambeth.
Henry III and Edward I appointed several different governors of the castle over the course of their reigns. In 1336, the castle was granted to Robert de Ufford, 1st Earl of Suffolk. At this point the castle effectively ceased to be a a royal castle.
The castle would pass between several different notable families over the coming centuries. The importance of Orford as a harbour declined as the harbour silted up, making access for trade more difficult. This resulted in the importance of Orford Castle as a centre of local government declining.
By the 18th Century, Orford Castle was in poor condition. Only part of the bailey wall survived and much of the upper floors of the keep had decayed. In 1754, the Seymour-Conway family purchased the castle. In 1834, Francis Seymour-Conway undertook some conservation work on the castle. As part of these works, a new roof and upper floors were installed. These new upper floors were furnished so that they could be used as an apartment for guests.
By the mid 19th Century, all of the bailey wall had vanished. Most of the stone had been taken to use in local buildings, which is very common with many castles.
Sir Arthur Churchman purchased Orford Castle in 1930 and gifted it to the Orford Town Trust in 1930. Between 1930 and 1962 when Orford Castle came into the ownership of the Ministry of Works, the castle was used as a radar station during the Second World War.
Today, only the keep remains and extensive earthworks from where the curtain walls were robbed out. The castle is now managed by English Heritage and open to the public.