“One of the most remarkable keeps in England”
– R. Allen Brown, Historian
Orford Castle was built in between 1165 and 1173 by Henry II to consolidate his power in the region against East Anglian barons, such as Hugh Bigod of nearby Framlingham Castle.
The financial records of the Crown, known as the Pipe Rolls, list the total cost of the Castle build of £1,413. When completed the Castle keep was surrounded by a curtain wall. Development of the town of Orford probably followed when the current street plan was laid down.
More information can be found in Orford Museum’s publication, The Building of Orford Castle.
Orford Castle remained in royal hands until 1336, when it was sold by King Edward III (1327 – 1377). The castle then gradually decayed with the curtain wall collapsing and the stone lost or stolen. The tall keep survived principally because it was a useful landmark for shipping.
In the nineteenth century the Castle’s picturesque qualities were recognised and it became a summer house for the owners of the Sudbourne Estate. The Marquises of Hertford (owners from 1754 – 1870) and Sir Richard Wallace (1871-1884) furnished the Upper Hall.
After Sir Richard Wallace there were seven more private owners before it was purchased by the Woodbridge MP, Sir Author Churchman who presented it to the nation. The Orford Town Trust acted as custodian trustee.
In 1962 the Trust transferred the castle to the Ministry of Works and then later to the Department of the Environment. It is now in the care of English Heritage. The keep is perfectly preserved and one of the best of its kind in the country.
The Wildman of Orford
Orford Castle is associated with the legend of the Wildman of Orford. According to the chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall, a naked wild man, covered in hair, was caught in the nets of local fishermen around 1167. The man was brought back to the castle where he was held for six months, being questioned, or tortured. He said nothing and behaved in a feral fashion throughout.
His captors even took him to a service at Orford Church and were perturbed to discover the sacraments meant nothing to him.
The Wildman finally escaped from the castle and returned to the sea. He was never seen again. It has been suggested that this legend prompted the carvings of wild men or ‘woodwoses’ found in many Suffolk churches including on the font in St. Bartholomew’s Church in Orford. Most of these, however, were created very much later in the 15th century. You can read about them in an article by Matt Salisbury in The Orford & District Local History Bulletin, Issue 32, published in Summer 2019.