Woodsford Castle

Near Dorchester, Dorset

Overview

This is the surviving part of a 14th-century castle, a rambling wing of great interest and charm, deep in Hardy country just outside Dorchester. Its roof has one of the largest expanses of thatch in the county. Just one side of the quadrangular castle, built in 1370 and probably added to an existing group of buildings, remains today. 

 

  • Dogs AllowedDogs Allowed
  • CotCot
  • Fire or StoveFire or Stove
  • Open SpaceOpen Space
  • Logs availableLogs available
  • Parking AvailableParking Available
  • BathBath
  • DishwasherDishwasher
  • MicrowaveMicrowave
  • ShowerShower
  • Table Tennis TableTable Tennis Table

Beds 4 Single, 2 Double

Sleeps
8
4 nights from
£543 equivalent to £16.97 per person, per night

A Quadrangular Castle

Today’s Woodsford Castle is just one side of a once quadrangular castle, licensed in 1335 and completed in about 1370. The grand apartment and lesser lodgings that make up most of the existing accommodation were almost certainly the work of Sir Guy de Bryan, a close friend and servant of King Edward III, who bought the castle in 1367. Defence was just beginning to give way to a more domestic way of life; but although the hall and the chapel next to it have large windows in the outer walls, they were still deliberately placed on the first floor, over vaulted kitchens and store rooms.

When we acquired the castle it had passed by inheritance for over 600 years. Two of its owners, the Earls of Ormonde and Devon, were executed in succession during the Wars of the Roses. It then passed by marriage to the Strangways, fell into decay and became a farmhouse – an enormous roof of thatch (largely renewed in 2008) replacing the original turrets and crenellations. Meanwhile, the other three sides of the castle gradually disappeared, their stone put to more useful purpose elsewhere.

Hardy’s countryside

Most of the rooms you live in are medieval and on the first floor. The undercroft is there to explore too and some of the bedrooms are in a further wing added in the 18th century. All have lovely views over Hardy’s countryside.

Woodsford Castle stands in its own grounds on the south bank of the river Frome three miles below Dorchester. The north window of the hall enjoys a view across the river and water-meadows to the high ground of Egdon Heath.

Floor Plan

‘The owls hooting, bats fluttering above our heads and an endless starry sky - a perfect weekend.’

From the logbook

Map & local info

Woodsford Castle is close to the hamlet of Higher Bockhampton, where you can visit the  birthplace of the novelist Thomas Hardy, whose fiction and poetry has close associations with Dorset life at the time. The nearby beautiful, historic market town of Dorchester is well worth a visit, especially its many fascinating museums

Lulworth Cove and Chesil Beach are both within driving distance, with spectacular walks all along this stunning coastline. The family festival Camp Bestival is held at East Lulworth every year, against the amazing seaside backdrop. 

Minterne Gardens, renowned for their magnificent rhododendrons, lie in a tranquil valley setting. A day trip is ideal to gain some inspiration or simply some peace and quiet. 

Lyme Regis is less than an hour's drive from Woodsford Castle, and Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is held every year to celebrate this fantastic area of coastline. There are lots of activities for everyone.

For more information and ideas for things to do during your stay at Woodsford Castle, take a look at our Pinterest Map.

Please Note: The Landmark Trust does not take any responsibility and makes no warranties, representations or undertakings about the content of any website accessed by hypertext link. Links should not be taken as an endorsement of any kind. The Landmark Trust has no control over the availability of the linked pages.

Woodsford Castle
Near Dorchester, Dorset
Clear directions

‘The owls hooting, bats fluttering above our heads and an endless starry sky - a perfect weekend.’

From the logbook

FAQs

    What you need to know about this building

  • Does the property allow dogs?

    Yes.
  • How is the property accessed?

    Via a drive from the main road.
  • What is the nearest railway station and how far away is it?

    Moreton – 2 miles.
  • Is there car parking specifically for Landmark guests?

    There are three parking spaces adjacent to the Landmark.
  • What type of heating does the property have?

    The building is heated by an ETA pellet boiler using renewable energy and an open fire in the main sitting room.
  • How can I get fuel for the open fire or stove?

    Logs may be purchased and delivered under a private arrangement. Further details will be provided with your booking confirmation.
  • What are the kitchen facilities?

    The kitchen is fully equipped with all plates, cutlery, fridge etc. There is also an electric cooker and a dishwasher.
  • What are the bathroom facilities?

    There are two bathrooms, one with a shower over the bath and the other with a bath.
  • Does this Landmark have steep, narrow or spiral stairs?

    The stairs are steep and spiral. There are also steep external stairs with no handrails.
  • Is there a garden or outside space?

    There is a large garden (not enclosed). Please note steps in garden.

    Booking and Payment

  • What happens if I can’t get to the Landmark due to bad weather?

    If the weather is bad, please contact our booking office who will be able to tell you whether the Landmark is accessible. If the housekeeper can safely get to the building to prepare it then we consider that it is open and available for guests. However if we cannot undertake a changeover then we will do our utmost to transfer your stay to another Landmark, depending on what we have available. It may not be of a similar size or in the same part of the country as your original booking. If the building is accessible but the customer cannot travel due to poor weather in his/her local area then please be aware that Landmark will not provide a refund. However the customer may be able to claim on his/her own travel insurance. We recommend that all guests take out travel insurance when they first secure a booking.
  • How can I pay?

    We accept Maestro (if issued in the UK), Visa, MasterCard, direct transfer and sterling cheques drawn on a UK bank. Cheques should be made payable to the Landmark Trust except for Lundy stays and boat/helicopter tickets which should be payable to The Lundy Company Ltd. All payments must be in sterling.
  • How do I create an account?

    If you have not used the Landmark online booking facility before and you wish to register in advance, you can set up an on-line account by following the instructions below:

    Go to the Landmark home page and click on Gift shop (located at the top of the home page in red).

    Select a gift (e.g. Landmark Handbook or Anniversary Mug) and complete the ‘Amount required’ box. There is no need to complete the purchase but this step is necessary in order to bring up the registration page.

    Click ‘Next Step’ at the bottom of the page.

    This will bring you to the ‘Your details’ page.

    Please complete all the fields (name, address, contact details and create an account). Click on the green ‘Create Account’ button once you have finished.

    At the top of the page headed ‘Your details’ there will be a grey box saying ‘Signed in’ and underneath this it will say ‘you are currently signed in as ….

    Here you will also have the option to ‘Sign out’. Please do so and that is your registration completed.

    Please return to the Landmark home page.

    To check your registration or update your account details at any time please ‘Sign in’ using the icon in the top right-hand corner of the home page.

    If you experience any problems in registering or setting up your on-line account please contact webmaster@landmarktrust.org.uk.
  • How do I pick up the key?

    There are various arrangements for picking up keys. To arrange to get into the Landmark, please contact the housekeeper at least two days before your stay
  • Can I pay a deposit?

    If your stay starts more than three months from the date you make the booking, you are required to pay a deposit of one third of the cost of your stay (or £100 per booking, if greater) at the time of booking. Camping on Lundy must be paid for in full at the time of booking.
  • How can I cancel or change my booking?

    If you wish to cancel or change your booking, please contact our Booking Office on 01628 825925
  • Do you accept payment in other currencies?

    At the moment we only accept payment in sterling.
  • What if I arrive late?

    Please let the housekeeper know if you are going to arrive late and s/he will leave a key for you in a suitable place.
  • How far in advance do I need to book?

    It depends. Some of our most popular Landmarks are booked up a long time in advance, but many can be booked at short notice. We will always have Landmarks free for the coming weekend so it’s always worth checking our availability list.
  • Do you have to be a member to book a Landmark?

    No, Landmarks are available to be booked for anyone.
  • Do I need a Handbook to be able to book?

    No, all the information you need can be found on our website, although we’d like you to buy one anyway as it will be a pleasure to own!

    Staying at a Landmark

  • Are Landmarks accessible for people with disabilities or limited mobility?

    Some of our Landmarks are suitable for people with disabilities or limited mobility. However, many Landmarks have steep or narrow staircases, uneven floors and thresholds, changes of level, low ceilings or beams, as well as indistinct colours on steps and in corridors. We recommend that you call Booking Enquiries on 01628 825925 if you would like to find out the suitability of a particular Landmark for anyone with a specific disability.
  • Are Landmarks only available as self-catering accommodation?

    Yes, Landmarks are only available as self-catering accommodation. We do not offer bed and breakfast.
  • Do you provide catering?

    Landmark does not provide catering, but we can recommend Greycoat Lumleys who can arrange for expert and well-trained staff to cater for one evening or for your entire holiday. Their cooks and chefs are able to work with you to meet your specific requirements
  • Do you allow dogs?

    You may bring up to two dogs to properties where dogs are allowed (please see specific property details for exemptions however dogs are not permitted on Lundy except assistance dogs). They must be kept off the furniture and under proper control.
  • Can I bring a pet?

    Apart from two dogs (see above) no other pets are permitted.
  • Am I insured if I break something?

    We do not carry insurance for breakages. However we appreciate that accidents do sometimes happen. If you have a breakage during your stay, please let the housekeeper know and if appropriate we reserve the right to invoice you accordingly.
  • Are Landmarks suitable for children?

    Yes, most of our Landmarks are perfect for children, with gardens to play in and secret places to discover. Our furniture is surprisingly robust and we positively encourage families to stay. However, some of our buildings may not be suitable for small children; for example, some of them have steep or uneven spiral staircases. We recommend that you call the Booking Enquiries team if you would like to find out the suitability of any of our Landmarks for young children.
  • Can I get married in a Landmark?

    Unfortunately, most of our Landmarks are not licensed for weddings. However, you may get married on Lundy.
  • Can I hold a big party in a Landmark?

    All our larger Landmarks are perfect for gatherings of family or friends. You may invite an additional two guests to visit you during your stay, however they must not stay overnight. This is very important because our fire regulations specifically note the maximum number of people in any one building. In addition our properties are prepared, furnished and equipped for the number of people specified and greater numbers cause damage and excessive wear and tear to vulnerable buildings. Should this condition be ignored we shall make a retrospective charge per person per day (whether or not they stay overnight) for each guest over the permitted limit, the charge being pro-rated on the total cost of your booking.
  • Are there televisions in the buildings?

    We deliberately do not provide televisions and find that most people appreciate this.
  • Why are your access tracks sometimes difficult?

    One of the challenges of restoring unloved buildings is gaining access to them. We frequently have to negotiate rights with our neighbours and share tracks with them. In many cases tracks do not belong to us and we have no right to maintain them. Wherever possible we work with our neighbours to provide you with a good quality surface, but where this is a problem then you will be warned at the time of booking.
  • Will there be sockets for my electrical appliances?

    Yes, we have standard electricity sockets for UK appliances. If you are coming from outside the UK, you will need to bring your own adaptor plug(s). If you are visiting one of our European properties we have standard European electricity sockets. If you are visting from the UK, you will need to bring your own adapter plug (s).

    Facilities

  • Are the kitchens and bathrooms restored to a modern standard?

    Sometimes our kitchens and bathrooms have to be imaginatively fitted into the available space in buildings where before there were none, but they are all planned and equipped to a high and modern standard.
  • Is linen provided?

    Yes, Landmarks are fully equipped with sheets and towels. All the beds are fully made up for your arrival.
  • Are the kitchens fully equipped?

    Yes, our kitchens are well equipped with cookers and fridges. There are freezers and dishwashers (in larger buildings) and, where space allows, microwaves as well as a wide and standard range of utensils. A full equipment list is available at time of booking.
  • Do you provide logs for the open fire/stove?

    Logs are provided at many of our Landmarks for an additional cost.
  • Will there be a mobile signal in the Landmark I book?

    Mobile coverage varies. Some Landmarks have an excellent signal, but others have none at all. If you are concerned, you can check with the housekeeper before your arrival.
  • Is there Wi-Fi in your buildings?

    No. At the moment, we have decided not to implement Wi-Fi in our buildings following a consultation with our customers. Many said that they would find it useful, but many also felt that it would somehow damage the experience of staying in a Landmark. As the responses were so split, and as we have so many other initiatives requiring funding, we have decided to put this on hold for the time being.
  • What should I bring with me? Are there lavatory rolls, soap, shampoo, milk, teabags, coffee, hairdryer?

    A welcome tray with tea and sugar awaits your arrival and you will find a pint of milk in the fridge. We also provide lavatory rolls and a bar of soap, per basin but no other toiletries. We do not provide hairdryers.
History

A licence to crenellate his manor

The Woodsford Castle we see today dates from 1370 - 90 and was probably added to an existing group of buildings. In 1335 William de Whitefield, then lord of Woodsford, was granted a licence to "crenellate the dwelling place of his manor" - in today's terms, planning permission to fortify his house. We don't know whether he actually did this, because so much of the castle has disappeared. However, this was a time of unrest leading up to the outbreak of the Hundred Years War with France in 1337.

Many of those living near the South Coast felt the need to strengthen their defences against possible raids, and it is likely that William de Whitefield did the same. By 1370 Woodsford had a new owner who was more closely linked to state affairs. In 1367 it had been bought by a great magnate, Sir Guy de Bryan. Sir Guy was a close friend of King Edward Ill and held a number of important posts from Steward of the Royal Household and Keeper of the Great Seal, to Ambassador to the French court, and Admiral of the Western Fleet. In 1370 he was made a Knight of the Garter. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, 200 years later, he was still remembered by the historian William Camden as a famous warrior. Camden describes Woodsford as the place where Sir Guy had a "little castle of his own".

We do not know whether Sir Guy rebuilt the whole castle, but it is likely that all he did was add to it what is really a very grand apartment block. All the evidence shows that although the existing building was only one side of a quadrangle, the other three sides were much less substantial. There was a gatehouse opposite the present main door, and towers at the corners, linked by walls with smaller buildings against them. Traces of these could still be seen in the 1780s and they are shown on a map of about the same date.

A medieval castle had to accommodate a number of different households. The chief of these was that of the lord himself. Guy de Bryan's main estates were in Devon, so he would not have visited Woodsford very often, but the best chambers would have been kept for him and his family. Then there was the Constable, the only full-time resident, who would have had his own set of rooms. Lesser officials and the garrison would each have had their own lodging. There would also be rooms for guests, varying in status according to the status of the lord himself and at Woodsford they could have been of the very highest, as recorded in the traditional names of the rooms. What we have at Woodsford is one main apartment (now the Landmark), consisting of the King's Room, the Queen's Room, the chapel, and rooms in the adjoining towers. In spite of the names it is likely that this was for Sir Guy himself. At the south end is a slightly less grand apartment, probably for the Constable. It had a main room and, again, rooms in a now vanished tower. Each of these two had its own kitchen on the ground floor. Between them are two smaller lodgings.

After Guy de Bryan's death Woodsford passed by inheritance to the Stafford family and then, around 1500, to the Strangways, who later became Earls of Ilchester. In 1630 the castle was in ruins but about 1660 the main range was transformed into a very large farmhouse, tamed by the addition of a thatched roof. Floors were inserted above the King's Room and the chapel with new windows. Barns and lean-to buildings, all thatched, clustered round the walls. A wing was added on the north-west corner in the 1790s, and an attic floor above the Kings Room.

In 1850 a thorough and most scholarly restoration was carried out under the supervision of John Hicks of Dorchester. The builder was a Mr Hardy, whose son Thomas later joined Hicks's office to train as an architect before later finding fame as an author and poet. It is even possible that Hicks first met Thomas at Woodsford. Thereafter, Woodsford was once more a house of some status, centre of a large tenant farm. 120 years later another round of repairs was needed, and in 1977 the castle was sold to the Landmark Trust - the first time in 600 years it had changed hands except by inheritance.

Restoration

The thatched roof was in danger of collapse

When the Landmark Trust bought Woodsford Castle in 1977 the great thatched roof was in danger of collapse. The most urgent task was therefore to make the building safe and watertight. The whole of the main roof was rethatched and in several places the roof structure was completely renewed. As part of the same operation chimneys were repaired, one chimney over the great kitchen fireplace rebuilt and the walls were repointed where necessary.

Because the castle was still lived in by tenants little more could be done at that time. Ten years later, however, the tenants moved out and a second stage of repair could begin, this time inside the building. The intention was to return Sir Guy de Bryan's grand apartment to something approaching its original arrangement, a task which was completed in 1992. A great deal of work was involved, most of it carried out, with only occasional help, by one man, Leonard Hardy, under the supervision of Caroe and Partners, the architects.

Before any repair could begin it was necessary to strip out the many later accretions in order to learn more about the building. Plaster was removed, walls and floors opened up, and most significantly, the floor in the King's Room taken away to reveal its earlier and true proportions. This exercise revealed much about the original construction of the castle, and its varied history, not least that the restoration of 1850 was much more extensive than we had supposed.

It was felt that, with respect to our medieval forebears, the vaulted ground floor was not the best place for a modern kitchen. These rooms were simply limewashed, their stone paving repaired and like the rooms at the south end left open for visitors to explore. Instead, the kitchen, with bathrooms and extra bedrooms, would go into the pleasant 18th-century wing. Here floors were taken out at the northern end to allow space for a new staircase, and the windows, with the panelled linings of the window reveals, were repaired and renewed.

In the King's Room the removal of modern and Victorian plaster revealed surviving areas of thin medieval plaster; this has been left in place, and the surrounding areas replastered in fine lime plaster to an equal thickness. At the same time as the removal of the floor, some 18th-century first floor windows were blocked up, and surviving remnants of earlier windows repaired. This enabled us to repair the heads of the medieval windows and to build, in new Purbeck stone, arches on the inner faces so as to reinstate their embrasures. All the windows have been reglazed with lead lights. The new oak ceiling follows the marks left in the walls by the medieval roof timbers.

In the chapel substantial remains of the very fine east window were found, blocked up in the 18th century by the present wooden casements. The reveals of the casements have been rebuilt neatly, and the infill wall consolidated before replastering in lime to reveal the line and remnants of the medieval window. There was a temptation to remove the inserted floor altogether, but this was resisted. It seemed equally important to leave some evidence of Woodsford's later history, and the way in which it had been altered over the years. A new staircase was built to give access to the upper floor, however. In the Queen's Room a new floor of Purbeck stone flags was laid over the top of the vault below. We have left a small time capsule under one of them.

The surroundings of the castle were greatly improved when the farm buildings in the adjoining field to the east were cleared away. Further landscape works were carried out and new trees planted so that the castle can once again stand against a wooded background, as old photographs show it to have done in the past. In 2008 a major re-thatching campaign was undertaken of what is the largest thatched roof in Dorset.

Availability & booking

Select a changeover day to start your booking...

What's a changeover day? and Why can't I select other dates?Explain MoreQuestion

A changeover day is a particular day of the week when holidays start and end at our properties. These tend to be on a Friday or a Monday but can sometimes vary. All stays run from one changeover day until another changeover day.