The Haunting of Portland Castle

The castle's entrance

The castle’s entrance

Portland Castle is one of the Device Forts, also known as Henrician Castles, built in 1539 by Henry VIII on the Isle of Portland to guard the natural Portland anchorage known as the Portland Roads. The castle lies in the far north of the island, in the village now called Castletown, near Fortuneswell. The castle is under the care of English Heritage Trust.The castle provided protection from French and Spanish invasion, and it remains one of the best surviving examples of costal defense from the period.

The castle artillery forts stretched all around the Kent coast, along the south coast of England, down to Lands End. Strategic sites were chosen protecting possible landing points of an invasion. The area today known as Portland Harbour was a weak point, and Portland castle was built. The entire harbour fell under artillery range from Portland Castle and nearby Sandsfoot Castle.

Portland Castle from Portland Harbor

Portland Castle from Portland Harbor

Portland Castle has a low profile offering less of a target, with a traditional rounded wall facing the sea, designed to deflect incoming ordnance. The land side was moated.

The castle was bolstered ready to repel the attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588. In the event the Royal Navy fended off the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Portland just east of the isle of Portland on 23 July 1588.

the cannon battery

the cannon battery

Portland Castle experienced its only real action during the English Civil War 1642-1649. Being an historic Royal Manor, Portland naturally supported King Charles and was a Royalist stronghold. Nearby Weymouth – a merchant town – firmly backed Cromwell’s Parliamentarians and a succession of battles and ruses saw Portland Castle captured and recaptured several times. Despite being hopelessly undermanned and inadequately armed, the Royalists managed to keep the island out of Cromwellian hands for all but two brief periods of the war. By 1645, after repeated attacks only Portland, Corfe, and Sherborne remained in Royalist hands. When defeat finally came in 1646 Portland’s surrender was bloodless, and on remarkably generous terms.

During the bloody exchanges during the Civil War, garrison physician, Richard Wiseman, was known to perform emergency surgery in the castle’s kitchen. There Wiseman would cauterize wounds with a hot poker, heated up in the nearby fireplace. Today, the smell of burning flesh often greets visitors to the castle.

The castle is often used by re-enactment groups. One such group left soot and ashes in the fireplace to cool over night. The next morning the hearth and fireplace had been swept clean. No one in the group took either credit or blame for the incident.

Upon another occasion photographic proof of a presence in the kitchen appeared when another re-enactor developed photographs of her fellow performers. A swirling mist was on one of the frames.

The kitchen is used as a wedding venue for civil ceremonies. During a 2008 ceremony a lady in a long flowing gown appeared to several guests before fading into thin air.

Like the kitchen, the Great Hall is also used as a wedding venue. The hall has its original Tudor floor and is a point of curiosity for re-enactors. The Portland Garrison Civil War Society often hold 17th Century dances in the hall. Spectral voices have been heard humming along to the tunes, even when the music stops unexpectedly. Other sounds, those of a family in conversation and moving about the room, have also been heard.

Along a stone staircase leading to an upper floor, the scent of lavender is often noted. The “Lavender Lady,” a woman associated with the last governor of Portland, one Charles Manning, is believed to be the source of the scent. This woman reportedly withered away behind the castle’s walls. She hated living among the “dead” and suffered both mentally and physically.

There have been sightings of “ghost” children at play, as well as false fire alarms, cold spots, and other paranormal activity. Even the Captain’s House, a elegant two-story building, upon the grounds has running water taps turned on and off at will.

On the restoration in 1660, Charles II rewarded Portland’s loyalty in the Civil War by a special Royal Grant Fund, giving back to the Islanders royalties on stone taken from the crown quarries. The Grant is still made today.

The castle again stood by during action in the Anglo-Dutch War with the Battle of Portland, a bloody but indecisive three-day sea battle close to the Island coast.

Portland castle was armed for the last time during the Napoleonic Wars. In 2007, it was announced that Portland Castle attracts 25,000 visitors a year, despite limited opening hours.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, castles, Georgian Era, legends and myths, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era, Victorian era and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Haunting of Portland Castle

  1. Very spooky. I wish I would have known about it when I lived in England.

Comments are closed.