Porchester Castle, Hampshire

Portchester Castle in Hampshire, South East England is one of the most impressive and best-preserved of the Roman ‘Saxon Shore’ forts.

The fort is thought to date to the 280s AD, and may possibly be that of ‘Portus Adurni’. The fort was reused for a Saxon community from the 5th century, and in circa 904 became a stronghold or burgh to protect Wessex from Viking raids. From the late 7th or early 8th century, post-built houses were built as the community was becoming wealthier in the 9th and 10th centuries.  After the Norman Conquest, the Roman walls became the defensive perimeter of a castle owned by William Mauduit. The principal buildings lay in the north-west corner of the fort, and the inner bailey was built by 1100. In circa 1130 the castle was acquired by William Pont de l’Arche, who may have built the curtain wall of the bailey and doubled the height of the keep. At this time a monastic foundation was also established, all that remains of this is the parish church in the outer bailey. In 1320-6 the buildings on the west of the inner bailey became a self-contained palace; rebuilt by Richard II in 1396-9 it remained important for successive kings because of its access to the Continent, and use as a setting off point for military adventures.

Repairs were made in the 1490s and in 1563 it was used as a military hospital.

Elizabeth I held court here in 1603, shortly before the eastern ranges were remodelled. From 1665 it was used intermittently as a prisoner of war camp until the end of the Napoleonic wars. Between 1802 and 1810 it was used as an Ordnance depot. The last prisoners left in 1814 and the castle was abandoned by the army in 1819. Most of the prison buildings were subsequently demolished and in the 1920s unemployed miners were used to clear the site. It is now in the care of English Heritage.

Upstanding remains include the 12th century keep with the early 19th century Castle Theatre, Richard II’s palace, the great hall range, great chamber range, east range, gatehouse, several gates, and the Church of St Mary. Excavations have also identified the remains of Roman occupation and burials; several Saxon buildings, including a 10th century residence with a hall and tower, and an inhumation cemetery.

Martin Ashley assisted in the structural stabilisation of East Watergate, and stabilisation of ruined masonry to the Palace East range, Great Hall and Great Chamber. This involved repointing in lime mortar, pinning of cracked elements and applying mortar topping to prevent water traps.