WHEN the Pictorial Guide to Weymouth was published in the 1880s, a great deal of attention was paid to the various castles dotted throughout the county.

Sandsfoot Castle, near Weymouth, receives particular recognition. Described as 'an interesting ruin, picturesquely situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking Portland Roads,' the castle was built by Henry VIII back in the 1550s in response to fears of an attack by Roman Catholic foes.

In 1644 the governor for the king, Colonel Ashburnham, surrendered the castle to parliamentary forces, and the government held Sandsfoot for many years. Eventually, however, the advancing sea rendered it necessary to leave the castle to the ravages of time and the ocean, and the building 'fell into such decay that it wears the appearance of being of great antiquity.'

The area between Bincleaves and the castle was regarded as 'one of the most charming sites for a picnic that can be imagined', while the beauty of Smallmouth Bay is equally heralded. The bay, before the breakwater was constructed, was said to present 'such a breadth of sand that carriages, horsemen and pedestrians were to be seen here, and the beach was a popular resort.' Between 2009 and 2011, Sandsfoot Castle received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund to aid its restoration, and was reopened to the public in 2012.

Of interest also in the 1880s was Lulworth Castle, situated in the east of the village. Home to the Weld family, the castle was said to be 'a great attraction to strangers, who are permitted to inspect the interesting and valuable objects of vertu it contains, and to roam through the well-kept gardens.'

The castle was built out of materials from Mount Poynings and Bindon Abbey around the year 1600, upon the site of an ancient fortress. The guide reports that James I was entertained at the castle when he came to hunt in the park and the Isle of Purbeck in 1615; it was then garrisoned by Charles I and later by parliament. Cause for celebration is found in the fact that "when the rebels departed, they simply carried away five tons weight of lead piping, and did not further demolish this beautiful pile of buildings."

The third castle to receive a mention in the pictorial guide is Corfe Castle, situated over a gap in the Purbeck Hills on the route between Wareham and Swanage. Before the invention of artillery, the castle "must have been one of the most impregnable fortresses in the kingdom." Founded in all probability by King Edgar, the castle has a rich history. Sometimes the residence of the West Saxon princes, it was also the site where King John kept the crown regalia, and the building within which Edward II was imprisoned. During the parliamentary wars, the castle was one of the last places to hold out for the king; after its capture in 1645, the rebels undermined the fortification and blew it up with gunpowder.

Pennsylvania Castle, on the Isle of Portland, is described as a fortification "in the midst of magnificent trees and grounds that are thrown open to the public during the summer months." Built by the grandson of William Penn, who founded the American state, the castle was officially opened in 1800 by King George III's daughter, Princess Elizabeth. In 1950, the castle was converted into a hotel, which operated until the 1990s. It was then reverted into a private residence and sold for £4 million in 2011.

The final reference goes to Maiden Castle, which is located near Dorchester. Although styled as a castle, the ancient encampment is actually not one, and its other name is a corruption of Mew Dun, meaning Great Hill. Maiden Castle is a vast oval hill, irregular in shape, which was fortified by the Britons in very early times as a stronghold; hill forts were built across the country during the Iron Age, with Maiden Castle dating back to around 600 BC. Of the fortification's significance, the guide says the following: "The importance of such extensive earthworks is obvious, and their effectiveness for warfare is attested by the large number of barrows [burial mounds] that cover the hills and the plain, and perpetuate the barbaric idea of sepulchral pomp."