£1m renovation on Suffolk castle will change the appearance

Orford Castle

English Heritage is to host drop-in sessions for local people to learn more about the conservation work that will take place at Orford Castle - Credit: English Heritage Photo Library

A £1million conservation project to protect Orford Castle has been unveiled by English Heritage.

The 12th century castle is made of mudstone ‘septaria’, which has been slowly eroding, and the proposal is to apply a layer of lime render to the outside of the keep.

Orford Castle renovations

The works also mean that, for the first time in years, visitors will have access to the grounds around the castle, which, due to the crumbling septaria, are currently fenced off - Credit: English Heritage Photo Library

The decision follows 13 years of research, trials and consultation to find the best way to protect the castle’s deteriorating external walls and delicate stonework from the elements.

The castle walls were constructed almost 1,000 years ago using a delicate local mudstone, known as 'septaria', which has been deteriorating since the 16th century. 

The conservation project is expected to begin next year with ongoing support and expertise from Historic England.

Conservation Trials

Conservation trials first began in 2008, and since then, over a decade of research has concluded that it is neither possible nor practical to replace the stone on a like-for-like basis and alternative methods of conservation have had to be considered.

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This is partly due to the difficulty in obtaining septaria – a process which would involve the detrimental environmental impact of dredging estuaries – but also due to the poor attributes of the mudstone for construction.

Orford Castle

While researching, good evidence was uncovered to indicate that, once built, the septaria was covered in a lime mortar, so the conservation work could bring the castle’s appearance closer to its original glory than most people would think - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The Proposal

Now, with support from Historic England, English Heritage has commissioned a project to add lime render to the facing of the keep, for which the charity has submitted a planning application.

If approved, the project will be taken forward by a team of experts within the charity and historic building conservation professionals.

Trials indicate that, while the lime render will initially appear light and creamy in colour, it will deepen and darken over the years, making a more sympathetic appearance to Orford’s environment.

Shelley Garland, senior properties curator English Heritage East, said: “We know how important Orford Castle keep is to local residents in the Orford area, and we are, of course, mindful that the works will lead to a change of appearance to the beloved castle.

"However, if we don’t take action now, future generations will lose this important piece of heritage in Suffolk.

Will Fletcher, development advice team leader for Historic England in the East of England, said: “We recognise it is an important part of the national collection but also a significant local landmark.

"Without this important investment the castle would face an uncertain future.”

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