Conserving the keep

Orford Castle

Orford Castle in Suffolk has reopened to visitors after detailed conservation work – a project 13 years in the making – was completed in January.

The castle was originally built for Henry II between 1165 and 1174, as a royal outpost on the River Ore’s tidal estuary; today it is maintained by English Heritage. While the fortifications would have once included a curtain wall with towers and a gatehouse, only the polygonal keep, standing at nearly 30m tall, survives. It was built from three types of stone – Barnack stone from Lincolnshire, Caen stone from Normandy, and septaria, a local mudstone – but in the intervening 800 years the septaria (which makes up the vast majority of stone used) has significantly eroded due to winds, rain, and sea spray. Because a reliable source of this material is no longer available, it took 13 years of research, trials, and consultation to come up with the best way to conserve the building.

Once a plan was decided, the restoration work itself (undertaken by Paye Stonework and Restoration with technical guidance and support from Historic England) took a year. Small amounts of septaria were sourced from the local area, along with stone salvaged from the crumbling façade, to fill the deepest voids, while a self-coloured render was applied across the entire exterior in order to stabilise the outer surface. Although this has changed the outward appearance of the castle, the render will protect it into the future without having to alter the main fabric of the building.

TEXT: K Krakowka
IMAGES: Historic England Archive