Weymouth-Dorset.co.uk Local History

 Isle of Portland

The Isle of Portland is just four and a half miles long and one and three-quarter miles wide. For a small island it certainly has some outstanding features. It is of course world famous for its quarrying of Portland stone, limestone, renowned for its hardness and durability. When Sir Christopher Wren was rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of London of 1666, it was Portland Stone that was used. Wren also used Portland stone for the rebuilding of many of London's churches.

Other places which have utilised Portland stone are: the National Gallery, the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, New Scotland Yard, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Whitehall cenotaph. Around the world it has been used for the building of the United Nations building in New York and government buildings in New Delhi. Naturally, the island itself uses its own raw materials for its buildings.

Portland has three castles. The oldest is Rufus Castle otherwise known as Bow and Arrow Castle, standing on the cliff edge at Church Ope Cove. The castle is in ruins and much of it lies scattered on the shore beneath it.

Rufus Castle otherwise known as Bow and Arrow Castle, Portland, Dorset

Rufus Castle otherwise known as Bow and Arrow Castle

The only remaining part of it still intact is the archway that spans the pathway down to Church Ope Cove. The archway is though of Tudor origin from when the castle was partly rebuilt. Rufus Castle is probably so called because it was built for King William Rufus. It is thought to actually be the keep of a former more dominant castle on the site. The walls of it are approximately seven feet thick and built of Portland stone. Rufus Castle and Church Ope Cove is to be found just off Wakeham Street by the Portland Museum on the corner and along Church Ope Road.



Portland Castle, Portland, Dorset

Portland Castle

Henry VIII built Portland Castle as part of his coastal defences, along with Sandsfoot Castle on the opposite shoreline of Weymouth. The castle was built with walls fourteen feet thick as a defence against the French in the event of invasion. This was at the time of the change of the established religion in England from Roman Catholic to the Protestant Church of England. During the Civil War the castle was one of only three Royal strongholds in the county. At the Restoration in 1660 the Coat of Arms of Charles II was carved over the gateway. By 1826 the castle had declined and William IV granted it to Charles Augustus Manning who spent his life restoring it. The castle is situated on Portland Harbour and alongside the former naval air station now known as Osprey Quay.



Pennsylvania Castle, Portland, Dorset

Pennsylvania Castle

Nearby to Rufus Castle on the appropriately named Pennsylvania Road, is Pennsylvania Castle. James Wyatt designed Pennsylvania Castle and the building was completed in 1800 during the reign of George III. It was built for John Penn the grandson of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania in the USA. The flag of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was presented by the US senate, hangs in the hall. It is alleged that Churchill and Eisenhower planned part of the D-Day invasion here.


The lighthouse at Portland Bill, a famous landmark on the promontory for mariners, stands 135 feet high and was built around 1903. Some of the most treacherous currents meet at Portland Bill and all around it is very rocky, so making it one of the most hazardous shipping areas of England.  Many a ship has foundered around these parts over the centuries and the coastline around Portland and Chesil Beach is littered with shipwrecks.

Portland Bill Lighthouse, Portland, Dorset

Further inland from the end point of the Bill, though still on the coastline is the old lower lighthouse which is now a bird sanctuary. There is also another lighthouse, the higher lighthouse, which is now a guest house.

The rocky coastline around these parts and sheer drops down to the sea make for some splendid and dramatic scenes. The wildness of the untamed sea hitting upon the huge rocks, the splashing of the water in huge waves crashing and spraying all around give a sense of drama. Even on a calm, sunny day as the waves are gentler elsewhere, they still thunder upon the rocks at Portland Bill. Yet even amid this, there is a kind of tranquillity to be found in the presence of nature.

I shall leave this page with a picture of the start of sunset at Pulpit Rock at the end of Portland Bill.

Pulpit Rock at Portland Bill, Dorset at Sunset


Historical Parish Information


Parish Registers begin:


Hundred or Liberty:

Portland Isle Liberty

Poor Law Union & Registration District:


Online Parish Clerk Project (external link):

Portland OPC

Nearby Parishes and Places




Portland Breakwater and Harbour (with Nothe Fort)

Wyke Regis





Local Attractions and Places to Visit



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Links to other websites

Exploring Portland - A fantastic resource for Portland including many obscure things

World Heritage Coast


All photographs on this page are my own and I therefore hold the copyright of them. Please respect this and ask permission if you wish to copy or use them elsewhere.