Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Saving Mrs Bankes

No, nothing to do with Mary Poppins, and the Emma Thompson/Tom Hanks film. I suppose it ought to be Lady, not Mrs - for today's post is about a very brave woman who lived 350 years ago. 
Lady Mary Bankes was married to Sir John Bankes- he was Lord Chief Justice at the time of King Charles I. They had 10 children, and Sir John decided to buy a castle in Dorset for them to live in. 
Corfe Castle had been around for nearly 1000 years- the property of the Kings. William the Conqueror started the building. 

Henry I kept his brother Robert as a prisoner in the keep. 800 years ago, King John incarcerated his french niece Princess Eleanor of Brittany - but Henry III and Edward I made lots of home improvements. The Castle was in constant use, and needed a lot of staff - so at the foot of the hill, a little village grew up, providing workers- and the village had a church, and important residents such as a coroner.
But in 1572, Queen Elizabeth sold the Castle to one of her favourites - Sir Christopher Hatton, her Lord Chancellor. And then The Bankes Family took over in 1635. Lord John was loyal to the King, and whilst he was fighting in Oxford, in 1643 during the Civil War, Parliamentary troops besieged the castle. Lady Mary managed to hold out for 6 weeks - but then her husband died, and yet again, Cromwell's men attacked. 
Then again the troops attacked. This time there were treacherous men already inside the Castle, who enabled the Roundheads to capture the stronghold. Lady Mary was allowed to leave - but Cromwell subsequently ordered the demolition of the building. Which proved rather hard- it had been built for Kings, and built strong, to withstand attack. Much of the building remains to this day. Now owned by the National Trust, it was our destination yesterday. 
Parking in the NT carpark at the foot of the hill, a gentle 7 minute walk through dappled woodlands brings you up to the entrance. It was so beautiful, the light through the leaves, sparkling on the stream...

And once at the top, you go through the lower gatehouse and walk up to the castle itself.
This is the official photo from the NT website
There's an area showing stonemason's and blacksmith tools, and a model trebuchet. As usual, plenty for all the tourists and school parties to read and to learn.

We climbed up to the ruined keep - still so very impressive - and tried to imagine what it was like when it was an intact, working building. 
In earlier years, kings and queens dining, and dancing, and duelling - princes and princesses imprisoned, and ordinary men and women serving, and cooking, and gardening, and keeping things going.
And then Lady Mary, listening to the cannon outside, feeling the solid walls starting to shake, wondering if their food supplies would last out. Praying for deliverance.
You can see for miles from the castle walls, or through the arrow slits. The huge pieces of masonry left on the side of the hill where they fell during the onslaught are called 'tumbles' - there are 74 massive pieces [and the sheep and cattle graze peacefully around them now!]
Nowadays, you can look down and hear the toot-toot! as the steam loco pulls into Corfe Castle Station
Hard to imagine on a lovely summer's day that 375 years ago men and women were fighting for their lives, defending their beliefs, and protecting their families here.
After the Civil War, the Bankes family built a new home at Kingston Lacey, a beautiful mansion which is even closer to our home, which we love to visit.
In 1982, the Bankes Family passed the ownership of the castle to the National Trust.
Bob and I enjoyed our day - but I would warn you that there is a fair bit of walking and climbing. And do beware of enthusiastic school parties, and Saga Groups brandishing their Nordic Walking Poles. I was nearly impaled by a NWP as I came out of the loo!

Bob has taken even more pictures- perhaps I'll get the opportunity to post them here later. It was a much needed day off for us, after a busy, and rather fraught few days.


  1. You do go to some interesting places. Thanks for the post

  2. We are determined to get value for money from our NT membership. This year it has cost £108, and we've only had the equivalent of £44 worth of visits so far...


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