Orford Museum, suffolk
Orford  Museum
Orford Museum

A brief history of the Orford area – the castle

Norden castle curtain wall
Castle furnishings
Gedgrave hoard
Opening of castle 1930

Opening of Orford Castle to the public 1930

item4Before the castle was built
Bronze Age artefacts from the villages of Boyton and Butley and elsewhere indicate a prehistoric presence. Other finds in Orford and Gedgrave suggest Iron Age and Roman activity. This evidence shows that the area was used continuously from an early date, although permanent habitation may have begun later.

ThrymsaAnglo-Saxon gold and silver coins and a bronze stylus (writing implement) have been found at Sudbourne, known to have been an important Anglo-Saxon manor. Iken was almost certainly the site of St Botolph’s 7th century monastery (Icanho). This is supported by the discovery of part of an Anglo-Saxon cross shaft in Iken church, now on display there. Evidence from an excavation at Burrow Hill, Butley shows a significant Anglo-Saxon presence.

Orford documents from the first half of the twelfth century, predating the construction of the castle, refer to a market and a causeway (a road built up over marshy ground – probably modern Quay Street), indicating a village, probably based around fishing, with a market from at least 1100.


The castle
Orford changed dramatically when King Henry II (1154-1189) chose it as the site on which to build a new castle. The building accounts (the Pipe Rolls) list all the expenditure between 1165-1173. The total cost was £1,413. When completed the castle keep was surrounded by a curtain wall. Development of the town followed when the current street pattern was probably laid down. For Orford Museum publication The Building of Orford Castle go to Publications page

Orford Castle remained in royal hands until 1336 when it was sold by King Edward III (1327-1377). After this the castle gradually decayed, the curtain walls collapsed and the stone was sold 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.

Following Sir Richard Wallace there were seven more private owners, after which in 1928 it was purchased by the Woodbridge MP, Sir Arthur Churchman and presented ‘to the nation’, with the Orford Town Trust as custodian trustee.

In 1962 the Trust transferred the castle and responsibility for its upkeep to the Ministry of Works, later the Department of the Environment. It is now in the care of English Heritage.

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Bronze Age spearhead part of a small hoard found at Gedgrave

Upper Hall with furnishings 1901

The Castle from a survey by John Norden c. 1601 showing the curtain wall


Saxon silver