Built between 1608-1610 to serve as a hunting lodge, Lulworth castle and estate became the property of Humphrey Weld when he purchased it in 1641. It has been in the Weld family ever since.
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Situated a few miles from Dorset’s World Heritage Jurassic coast (home to Durdle Door) the building’s exterior remains much the same as it originally was (apart from the terrace).
However the interior saw the ravages of a fire in 1929 that completely gutted it. English Heritage began restoration to return the exterior to its original state, while the interior was consolidated to serve as a conference and banqueting venue. The estate includes 12,000 acres of woods, farmland, and rolling parkland.
The estate was the property of Thomas Howard, made Viscount Bindon by Queen Elizabeth I. His nephew eventually inherited and established the deer park and built the castle. James I visited in 1615 when the Earl of Suffolk was the owner. The first member of the Weld family, Sir Humphrey became Lord Mayor of London, High Sheriff, and a member of the Privy Council. It was his grandson, another Humphrey, who purchased the estate and castle after selling his Hertfordshire estate.
King Charles II visited Lulworth in 1665. When Sir Humphrey died William Weld inherited a bankrupt estate but parlayed it into a debt free state before he died in 1698. Ensuing generations of Welds kept the estate mostly in good mettle. When Edward (1741-1775) died from a fall, his second wife married Thomas Fitzherbert who died. Then she became the secret wife of the Prince of Wales (George IV), but the marriage was not recognized in law.
Thomas Weld inherited in 1775 and brought much prosperity to the estate with agricultural ventures. He made extensive changes to the castle’s interior converting it to the neo-classical style. He also removed the stables (building new ones) and village and enclosed the park and built a chapel. The castle was rented out by Thomas Weld in 1817 as he began his studies for the priesthood.
The lake at Lulworth was built by Joseph Weld (1777-1863) to test his yacht models). He was the first Catholic high sheriff of Dorset. His son, Edward, held the same position. Herbert Weld (1852-1935) was an explorer, archaeologist, and naturalist. Two lots of death duties had put the estate in a poor situation when he inherited. Herbert’s wife died in 1928 on Christmas eve and the following July the great fire left the castle a shell. Sir Joseph Weld (1909-1992) was High Sheriff of Dorset and sold other estates to modernise Lulworth and bring it back to financial security. Queen Elizabeth II visited the estate in 1984. The present owner is Wilfrid Weld.
The castle was never used for defense as it was designed as a hunting lodge only. High, with battlements, the symmetrical architecture reflects the Jacobean style. A walled courtyard was guarded by a gatehouse. On the ground floor the rooms were a great hall, parlour, chapel, and a few service rooms. On the first floor were a great chamber and suites of state apartments.
The second floor contained more suites, while the towers housed banqueting rooms. Humphrey Weld refurbished the interior as it had been damaged by the Parliamentarians in the Civil War when they occupied the building. Wooden frame doorways replace stone ones and rooms were sub-divided. His youngest son had architect John Tasker enlarge the chapel, replace the main stairs, and create a new entrance hall. His style of decorating was neo-classical. During the 1860s the back stairs were rebuilt and a corridor made to link two ground floor entrances. More fireplaces and central heating were installed.
The architecture of the Catholic chapel of St Mary, designed by John Tasker, is Georgian. It was built in 1786 although it wasn’t until 1791 that Catholics were, by law, allowed public worship services in England. The king at the time, George III, gave permission to Thomas Weld to build a mausoleum and do whatever he wished with the interior. The chapel was the first free-standing Catholic one built for public worship in England since the time of the reformation. North America’s first bishop, John Carroll, was consecrated at the chapel in 1790.
The chapel interior was designed to resemble a classical garden building. The painted ceiling is domed with clear glass windows. The organ was made in Bristol in 1785, while the candlesticks, altar, and crucifix came from Rome. Inside the chapel are Weld family hatchments, vestments, and church silver.
Lulworth Castle House
The house was completed in 1977 by Wilfrid Weld as the castle had not been made habitable since the 1929 fire. The site of the old castle gardens was picked to build it on. In the house are survivors of the fire that include a collection of pictures, sculpture, and furniture. There is a collection of hydrangeas in the garden.
For visitors there are picnic areas, a playground, walks, and pay parking. The castle is also a wedding venue. Holiday cottages are located in the park grounds.
East Lulworth, Wareham, Dorset
Off the B3070
Tel. 0845 450 1054
Open: Park and castle, 10.30am-5pm, Sun-Fri
Lulworth Castle House: open May by appointment. Privately owned property.
Web: Lulworth Estate
Photos by Barbara Ballard
Information courtesy Lulworth Estate