There are actually two castles here, the 'Old' Castle and the 'New' Castle. Old Sherborne Castle’ was built in the early 12th century as the fortified palace for Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury who was also the Chancellor of England. He served as Chancellor to King Henry I, but after Henry’s death there were great conflicts as to the ownership of the castle, it was seized for the crown before finally being repurchased by the church who kept it until the late 16th century. Queen Elizabeth persuaded the church to relinquish the estate to the Crown in 1592 after Sir Walter Raleigh fell in love it and petitioned her to acquire it for him. The castle was leased for 99 years to Sir Walter but he decided that the old castle did not meet his needs so he built a new home ‘Sherborne Lodge’ on the south side of the lake in the deer park. The castle was used for the last time during the civil war when it was twice held for the King, on the second occasion it managed to hold out for over two weeks against General Fairfax. Finally, in the following year the castle’s defenses were partially dismantled to prevent further use and it was left abandoned.
After passing through Sherborne on the way to Plymouth, Sir Walter Raleigh fell in love with the castle, and Queen Elizabeth relinquished the estate, leasing it to Raleigh in 1592. Rather than refurbish the old castle, Raleigh decided to construct a new lodging for temporary visits, in the compact form for secondary habitations of the nobility and gentry, often architecturally sophisticated, that was known as a lodge. The new house, Sherborne Lodge, was a four-story, rectangular building completed in 1594. The antiquary John Aubrey remembered it as "a delicate Lodge in the park, of Brick, not big, but very convenient for its bignes, a place to retire from the Court in summer time, and to contemplate, etc." It had four polygonal corner turrets with angled masonry as if they were actually to serve for military defence, which Nicholas Cooper suggests "may be an obeisance to the old building". Its most progressive feature for its date was the entrance, disguised in one of the corner towers so as not to spoil the apparent symmetry of the facade, which was centred on a rectangular forecourt. The entrance vestibule also contained a winder stairwell and gave directly on the hall. During Raleigh's imprisonment in the Tower, King James leased the estate to Robert Carr and then sold it to Sir John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol in 1617. In the 1620s, the Digby family, in order to suit the lodge to a more permanent seat, added four wings to the house in an architectural style similar to the original, retaining the original corner towers.
Through the early and mid-18th century William, 5th Lord Digby, who laid out the grounds praised by Alexander Pope, and his heirs Edward, 6th Lord Digby, who inherited in 1752, and Henry, 7th Lord, created Earl Digby, laid out the present castle gardens, including the 1753 lake designed by Capability Brown, which separates the old and new castles. The ruins of the old castle are part of the gardens, being conspicuous amongst the trees across the lake. King George III visited the house and gardens in 1789, shortly before awarding Henry Digby with a peerage. When Edward, 2nd and last Earl Digby died in 1856 the house was passed to the Wingfield Digby family. The house was modernised by the architect Philip Charles Hardwick. In the First World War the house was used by the Red Cross as a hospital and in the Second World War as the headquarters for the commandos involved in the D-Day landings. Castle viewing takes place over three floors, with four sets of stairs to encounter between the floors. New Castle: Only the ground floor is accessible to wheelchair/scooter users, however this floor does include some of our most notable rooms. There are resting chairs for visitors in most rooms. A photo slide show is running constantly on the ground floor to show portraits, furniture and porcelain on display in the inaccessible rooms. Assistance dogs are welcome. Old Castle. The site is wheelchair accessible (all surfaces are grassed). There are 15 steps to the Barbican. Carers admitted for free to both sites.
Location : Sherborne Castle, New Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 5NR
Transport: Sherborne (National Rail) 12 minutes. Bus Routes : First 57, 58 & 58A and Damory services 74, 216 & 368 or South West Coaches 34 & 42 stop at Sherborne.
Opening Times Old Castle: Daily 10:00 - 17:00; until 18:00 July/August.
Opening Times New Castle: Daily 10:00 - 17:00.
Tickets New Castle: Adults £11.00; Children Free; Seniors £10.00
Tickets Gardens Only: Adults £6.00; Children Free; Seniors £6.00
Tickets Old Castle: Adults £4.00; Children £2.40; Concessions £3.60
Tel: 01935 812072