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Sturminster Newton Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Piddlewood; Stourminster Newton Castle; The Bridge

In the civil parish of Sturminster Newton.
In the historic county of Dorset.
Modern Authority of Dorset.
1974 county of Dorset.
Medieval County of Dorset.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST78471349
Latitude 50.92052° Longitude -2.30769°

Sturminster Newton Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a probable Fortified Manor House.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 2* listed building protected by law*.


The principal object of interest is an ancient fortification, or camp, called the Castle, situated on an eminence in Newton, near the south bank of the river, supposed to have been constructed by the Romans, or not later than the Saxon era: it consists of a vallum and deep foss, in the shape of the Roman letter D, and on the top, near the centre, is a small artificial mount, or keep, near which are the ruins of an ancient house, where the courts were formerly held. (Lewis 1831)

Sturminster Newton Castle stands on a steep-sided triangular spur of Corallian Limestone and commands the crossing of the R. Stour. Within the area of the 'castle' stood the manor house of the manor of Newton, which Glastonbury Abbey acquired in 968 A.D. and retained until the Dissolution (Hutchins IV, 336; The Great Chartulary of Glastonbury ). A roofless building of three storeys, with rubble walls with ashlar dressings, probably of the C14 appears to be the service range at the S. end of the former manor house hall, perhaps with the solar in the upper storey. Level ground to S.W. of the ruin may well be the site of the manor house garden. On the other hand, the massive crescent-shaped bank and ditch, which separate the angular spur from the land to the W., are almost certainly prehistoric; they probably represent the defences of an Iron Age promontory fort with an area of about 4 acres.
The crescent-shaped bank is 40 ft. wide and 6 ft. to 10 ft. high with a flat top 15 ft. to 20 ft. wide. The external ditch is 50 ft. to 60 ft. wide and 16 ft. to 20 ft. deep, with a flat bottom 10 ft. to 15 ft. wide. The spur to the N.E. of the bank and ditch is divided into two parts, separated by a gully which runs back into the spur from the centre of the S.E. side. The gully, in part natural and much disturbed by modern quarrying on the S.W., was the mediaeval entrance to the site, and is still so used. S.W. of the gully is a level area intersected by slight scarps of no significant pattern. The area N.E. of the gully is divided into two parts; in the S.W. is an approximately rectangular yard, bounded on the S.W. and N.W. by low banks and on the N.E. by a ditch or sunken footpath, 2 ft. deep, with a slight bank inside it; in the S.E. is a circular flat-topped mound, 55 ft. in diameter and 3 ft. high. An entrance to the yard passes through the bank on the S.W. side. On the N.E. side of the yard, the remains of the 14th-century manor house consist of four massive walls of coursed rubble rising almost to the level of the former roof. The S. wall of the building, 3 ft. thick and rising to a gable, retains near the centre of the ground floor a doorway with a chamfered two-centred head, continuous jambs and a segmental rear-arch. On the first floor, immediately over the doorway, the presumed solar had a fireplace with a segmental head and a rough relieving-arch: to the W. of the fireplace is a doorway with a chamfered two-centred head; to the E. is a blocked opening with a chamfered square head; above these openings are the beam holes for the second floor. The E. wall, 2 1/2 ft. thick, has on the ground floor a small square-headed window with a holow-chamfered stone surround; on the first floor are traces of another window. At the S.E. corner is the stump of a 2 1/2 ft. wall which formerly continued the line of the S. wall; 15 ft. to the N. is the stump of another wall, parallel with the first and 1 1/2 ft. thick. Further N., the E wall is slightly less than 2 ft. thick and contains a doorway with a two-centred, chamfered and hollow-chamfered head and continuous jambs; this appears to be the E. doorway of the hall, now gone, presumably opening into a screens-passage. A similar doorway occurs at the W. end of the supposed screens-passage. Further S., the W. wall of the building contains a fireplace with a four-centred head, on the ground floor, and traces of a blocked doorway in the upper storey. The N. wall, which divides the supposed screens-passage from the service range, has four doorways with chamfered two-centred heads and continuous jambs. The easternmost doorway, taller than the others and with a step in the threshold, probably gave access to a stair leading to the upper storey. The other doorways presumably led in the usual way to buttery, pantry and kitchen.
N.E. of the building, near the N.E. tip of the spur, is an area in which several low banks and scarps indicate former buildings. Quantities of 17th-century and later pottery have been found on the site. A trench cut in 1960 cross the interior of the spur and through the bank and ditch was not deep enough to show any walls; early post-mediaeval pottery was found. (PastScape–ref RCHME)

Probably the southern service end of a former manor house hall, possibly with a solar over. Probably C14. Rubble with ashlar dressings. Roofless and rained but stands almost to roof height. Originally 2 storeys. Rectangular plan with possible remains of screens passage to the north. Remains of several archways and openings. (Listed Building Report)

Some earlier authorities suggest a motte castle here, but more recent writers have dismissed this. The interior of the earthworks has altered by farmworkings. It seems likely that there was a manorial site here earlier than the C14 although how well defended is questionable. The C14 building is on the Heritage at Risk register and is in very bad condition.
Piddlewood is a castle listed by Harvey as being known to exist but having no remains. Wilton considers this to be another name for Sturminster Newton. Harvey does list Sturminster Newton separately. However, as Piddles Wood is 1km SE of Struminster Newton it seems likely that Wilton is correct.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:28

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