A brief introduction to Sherborne Castle
In 1969, Sherborne Castle opened its doors to the general public. Visitors from all over the world have been attracted to its outstanding collections of art and furniture, connection to Sir Walter Raleigh and to admire Capability Brown’s landscape. Sherborne Castle remains the family home of the Wingfield Digby Family.
Sherborne in Dorset has had a castle since the 12th Century. Roger Bishop of Salisbury built a castle to the east of the Town to administer the western part of his large diocese. In early Tudor times the Bishops built a small Hunting Lodge in the deer park attached to the Old Castle from which to observe the chase.
Sir Walter Raleigh acquired the Old Castle in 1592. At first he tried to modernise it, but then he built a new house in 1594 in the deer park. It was on the site of the Hunting Lodge which he incorporated into the foundations. His house was rectangular and four storeys high, with large square-headed windows filled with diamond pane glass. In 1600 he added hexagonal turrets to the four corners of his house, topped with heraldic beasts. The house was rendered from the outset, in the latest fashion.
In 1617 the diplomat Sir John Digby acquired Sherborne Castle and he added four wings to Raleigh’s building, giving the house its present H-shape. He copied the style adopted by Raleigh, of square-headed windows, and balustraded roofs with heraldic beasts, and added hexagonal turrets at the end of each wing, so the house looks of one piece.
A Quick Tour of the Castle today
Visitors tour the Castle on a ‘self-guided’ basis following from room to room in their own time (or take a guided private tour). Room Stewards are on hand throughout the Castle to assist and to answer any queries you may have and in addition, information sheets are located in each room giving details of the furniture and paintings.
A full colour guidebook is available giving a comprehensive history of the Castle, its owners and a room by room tour through the Castle.
In the Civil War the Digbys fought for the Royalist cause and the Old Castle was garrisoned and suffered two sieges. After the second siege in 1645 Col Fairfax and his Parliamentarian army systematically demolished the Old Castle. Thus the name ‘Sherborne Castle’ came to be applied to the new house in the park.
In the eighteenth century later generations of the Digby family modernised the Tudor house, adding Georgian sash windows, panelled doors and white marble fireplaces and filling the house with fine furniture.
In 1787 an extension was added to the west side of the house which provided more bedrooms and improved staff accommodation and kitchens.
The Victorian period saw only one major re-modelling, in the Solarium (Raleigh’s Parlour), reflecting the respect the Wingfield Digby owners held for the antiquity and historical associations of the house. In the First World War the Castle was used as a Red Cross Hospital and it was requisitioned by the Army in the Second World War.