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Orford Castle, Orford, Suffolk

(52°5′40″N, 1°31′48″E)
Orford Castle, Orford
TM 419 499
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter
15 March 2006

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Orford is a tiny coastal town in the sandlings of SE Suffolk, 16 miles due E of Ipswich. It was not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but there was a successful port at the mouth of the river Alde and a market here by 1138. The town received a boost from the building of the castle by Henry II between 1165 and 1173, but its importance fell as the port silted up; the sea throwing up the long sand bar that now extends for over five miles from Orford Ness down to Hollesley. The town is simply laid out around the market place, with the church at its E end and the castle 300 yards W of the market at the edge of the town. The road from Sudbourne runs right through the centre, alongside the market, to end at the quay at the town’s S edge.

The castle is polygonal in plan, but the form is masked by three rectangular turrets, regularly spaced around the core, and by a recatngular 2-storey forebuilding at the W, with a chapel on the upper storey. The castle has three main storeys: a basement, lower hall and upper hall, but the turrets rise a storey higher. The external fenestration is plain but plentiful, with large round-headed windows at both main levels of the core, and slits on the towers. None of the windows is adorned with sculpture, and they are not treated as features here. The castle is entered by means of an external staircase leading to a completely plain triangular-headed doorway to the forebuilding. Such sculptural decoration as the castle contains is on the interior: the S doorway into the Lower Hall from the forebuilding, and the arcading on the walls of the chapel. The chapel is on the upper storey of the forebuilding, and is in plan a trapezium with its parallel sides at the W and E (where a niche houses the altar), and the doorway at the W end of the sloping N side. It is reached through a passage in the thickness of the wall, in the upper part of the Lower Hall, reached from the spiral staircase in the SE tower.


Work on the castle began in 1163-64, when a causeway and a mill were constructed, and the keep was built in 1165-67. The final payment of the building campaign was in 1172-73, to build a great ditch around the castle, with a bridge. The builder was King Henry II, and he installed Bartholomew de Glanville as the Constable in 1167.


Exterior Features


Interior Features

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

Orford is architecturally interesting and important, and for comments about its architecture the reader is referred to Heslop and Brown in the bibliography. In terms of its sculpture, Heslop points out that its capitals are confined to the chapel and the main entrance, concluding that it is a building of elegant simplicity. All the capitals are scallops, and relatively plain one except on the doorway, where some degree of elaboration is admitted. Bettley and Pevsner (2015) describe the capitals of the doorway as having both straight and trumpet scallops, but the present author saw no trumpet scallops.


J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Suffolk: East, New Haven and London 2015, 443-46.

R. A. Brown, Orford Castle, Suffolk, Ministry of Public Building and Works, London, HMSO, 1964

T. A. Heslop, 'Orford Castle, Nostalgia and Sophisticated Living', Architectural History, 34 (1991), 36-58.

V. B. Redstone, “Orford and its Castle,” Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology X Part 2 (1899), 205-230.