The History Of Highcliffe Castle

LocationHighcliffe, Dorset, England (Google Maps)
Open for VisitorsYes
Owned byChristchurch Council
Official WebsiteHighcliffe Castle
Rooms AvailableYes (Weddings, Events, Filming)

Highcliffe Castle is a Grade I listed building situated on the cliff-top Highcliffe in England’s beautiful County of Dorset. The beauty and the historic significance attract visitors from across the country to visit the lavish castle, grounds, and beach. The visitors can even stroll through Steamer Point Nature Reserve to Mudeford.


Lord Stuart de Rothesay built Highcliffe Castle in the early 1830s. However, how his grandfather came upon the land is interesting. John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, was a botanist and horticulturalists and went to the New Forest area in the 1770s in search of rare plants. He was so fascinated by the views of Christchurch Bay, the Isle of Wight, and The Needles that he began work on a Georgian mansion in 1775. He called the castle ‘High Cliff’ to conduct his research while living there. What started as a modest house was extended in 1778 and again in 1787, making it a glorious castle. The Earl called in Capability Brown to help layout the surrounding coast and countryside as a picturesque landscape garden. However, the Earl tragically died after falling from the cliffs. Lord Stuart’s fourth son, later General Sir Charles Stuart, inherited Highcliffe Castle in 1792. However, he found the castle huge and too expensive to maintain on an army salary. Therefore, in 1795, Charles sold the castle but retained a small house and farm at Bure, near Mudeford.

The castle was later purchased by a London Chancery Court Official of Dutch descent, Gerard Levinge van Heythuysen. He demolished the west and east wings of Highcliffe Castle. Following his death in 1797, the castle was sold to a London surgeon, Dr James Penleaze, in 1799. He restored the centre part of the house after it collapsed in 1808. Later the edge of the cliff started moving closer to the mansion due to erosion leading the property to abandonment. When the castle was demolished, a smaller house was built further inland.

In 1831 the Earl’s grandson, Lord Stuart de Rothesay, embarked on an ambitious project to build a new family home on the estate. He employed the help of architect William Donthorne and created a Gothic Revival castellated mansion on the site. The new Highcliffe Castle incorporated a complete 16th-century oriel window and a stained glass window from the earlier buildings.

Famous visitors to Highcliffe Castle over its 180 years include six kings – German Kaiser William II in 1907, ten queens, ten princes, twelve princesses, William Gladstone, Nancy Mitford, and Dame Nellie Melba. Major-General Stuart Wortley rented it out to several people to raise funds to maintain Highcliffe Castle, including Gordon Selfridge from 1916 to 1922.


Highcliffe Castle
Highcliffe Castle”, by Mike Searle, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Georgian Architecture of Highcliffe Castle is L-shaped and built in the Gothic Revival Style. Though most of the interior furnishings owned by the Stuart family are long gone, one thing they brought to Highcliffe is still very much in existence; a superb collection of stained glass, spanning over seven centuries from the 12th century to the Victorian era. Highcliffe once had thirty bedrooms and a forty-foot saloon as one of the living rooms. It also housed libraries, a laboratory, and a room for storing natural history exhibits. The stunning interiors reflect how the house would have appeared at the height of its 19th-century opulence.

Movie Features

Antiques Roadshow (1979-2007)– Highcliffe Castle is featured in Episode: Highcliffe Castle (2007) in the Reality TV Show ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and stars Michael Aspel.

The Secret Life of Arnold Bax (1992)– The TV biopic movie directed by Ken Russell features the castle in its plot to depict the life of composer Sir Arnold Bax.

Mr. Selfridge (2013-2016)– The TV Drama focusing on the real-life of American founder of Selfridge’s, London’s department store features Highcliffe Castle. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Highcliffe Castle famous for?

The Grade I listed building, Highcliffe Castle, is famous because it is known as the most prominent surviving house of the Romantic and Picturesque style of architecture.

Can you walk around Highcliffe Castle?

Yes, you can walk around Highcliffe Castle and enjoy the castle’s grounds and the beautiful views across Christchurch Bay to the Isle of Wight. The spectacular grounds also give access to the beach and coastal path.

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He is a versatile E-Learning Support Officer and former Academic Officer at the University of York, United Kingdom. Not just an expert in education and technology, Debayan also has a deep love for castles and mountains. With a passion for travel, having explored 168+ cities worldwide, and a keen eye for photography, He brings a unique blend of experiences to the table. Specializing in E-learning content, IT support, AR development, and software engineering, Debayan has made a significant impact, educating over 200,000 students on Udemy.

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