Welcome to my web site which contains maps, stories, history, advice and over 800 photographs to help you explore Portland, Dorset - The Jewel of the Jurassic Coast

Church Ope Cove and the

Pennsylvania Castle Area,

Portland, Dorset

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All the pictures on this page showing a thick border are thumbnails. Clicking on the picture will produce a larger version. Use your browser BACK button to return to this page.

The above image is copyright Dorset County Council 2000 and is reproduced here with permission.

The aerial photograph shows the approximate area covered by this map.

This is dominated by Pennsylvania Castle - now a private house - sitting above another castle - the long-ruined Rufus (or Bow and Arrow) Castle. 

This in turn sits high above Church Ope Cove which was, for many years, a favourite sheltered beach for swimming and launching fishing boats.

Please click here for a detailed street map. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to this page.

Please click here to visit the satellite image of this area on Google Maps. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to this page.

Please click here to see this area on Google Street View.

Hidden under many year's growth of brambles is John Penn's Bath, a stone bathing pool carved into the rock two centuries ago.

Piled up in Perryfields Quarry were the rotting and rusting remains of Weymouth's once-glorious Jubilee Hall; a structure which was supposed to be carefully preserved by the Council but which became a pile of rusty ironwork and rotting wood.

PENNSYLVANIA CASTLE

The picture shows Pennsylvania Castle in the late 1980s when it was a hotel run by Paul and Indu Fransham.  It was then owned by local businessman John Hannah.

It was built by John Penn, grandson of the founder of the State of Pennsylvania using land given by his friend King George III. 

By 1800 John Penn had spent 20,000 on his 'castle' and enclosed land containing St Andrew's Church and Rufus Castle - much to the dismay and animosity of the local Portlanders. 

In 1800 the King and Queen visited the castle and enjoyed their wedding anniversary in festive style.

An unusual design of sundial in the grounds of Pennsylvania Castle.

The gnomon which casts a shadow on the dial is formed by the two outside straight edges which align with the celestial pole.

 

In about 1989 I was invited to do some modelling work. Well, it was actually two publicity pictures taken for a brochure to be produced for the Pennsylvania Castle when it was a hotel. The hotel was sold and turned into a private home before the brochures were published. So, these two picture are the sum total of my photographic modelling experience!

In June 2010 this property was offered for sale open to offers in excess of 4 million - please click here for details. The building has 7 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms and 6 reception rooms.

    

These views were taken during the 2010 Summer Fete held in the gardens of the Castle.

ST ANDREWS CHURCH

By following a footpath alongside the northern edge of Pennsylvania Castle's garden you will pass through a wood; a rare feature on Portland's windswept landscape. This then opens up into St Andrew's church yard.

Once the main place of worship for Portlanders and built in the 13th century, it has been destroyed by landslips and invasions of French pirates. 

This picture dates from 1989 before the area was tidied up.

The entrance to Penn's Bath is in the far left-hand corner of this picture.

These pictures are from August 2007

In March 2003 I discovered this massive candle hidden behind a wall in St Andrew's Church. I placed my backpack near it to show the scale.

It consists of a large wooden vessel filled with wax and having a thick length of rope as a wick.

What strange practices could this be associated with?

On April 8th I had another look but - the candle was gone! 

On April 3rd 2003 I received an e-mail from a visitor to this page who sent the following information:

"That candle you discovered behind a wall at St Andrews, well I myself also discovered the candle about two years ago and after a bit of research (mainly talking to old locals) it appears that the candle has been in use in one form or another for the last twenty years by a local coven during their black art ceremonies."

Despite this bloodcurdling story, I was told in January 2004 that the candle had been stolen from a Portland garden and that it is now back where it belongs with its fellow candles - all of which were bought from a shop in London as garden ornaments. 

All very spooky...

The entrance to the ancient church ruins and graveyard is through this arch. Who called me a poser? Rufus - or Bow and Arrow - Castle sits high above St Andrew's Church ruins.

Jacki Bowler is a talented artist with a love of Portland. Two of her paintings are reproduced here.

St Andrew's Church

Church Ope Cove

Please click here to visit Jacki's portfolio of paintings which are for sale.

In the Autumn of 2003 there was great consternation because a bonfire had been lit in the graveyard as part of a party.

The scorch mark can be seen in this picture.

It could have been a lot worse - the fire was lit as far from the wall and gravestones as feasible - but it is still inappropriate to do this in a graveyard.

There are many fascinating gravestones in St Andrew's ruined church yard. Now that it has been 'tidied up' these are more visible.

This stone has the skull and crossbones emblem.

This has nothing to do with pirates as is mistakenly but frequently written in local guides. The skull and crossbones symbol was once common on tombstones representing Death.

The people buried here were respectable citizens of Portland.

 

In 1992 I worked with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers to build this handrail and rebuild the overgrown and damaged steps that go from the old church down to Church Ope Cove.

JOHN PENN'S BATH

King George III made sea bathing popular around the start of the 19th century and John Penn, the builder and owner of Pennsylvania Castle, decided that he would join in this healthy pursuit.

However, he was not so keen that he wanted to climb all the way down from his Castle to Church Ope Cove. So he had this huge carved stone bath built halfway between the Castle and the sea. His servants were to struggle with buckets of sea water to fill it.

 

John Penn was very unpopular with Portland's governing Court Leet. So, the Leet members watched and waited as the bath was built. 

When finished they announced that Penn had built his wonderful bath on Common Land and that he would have to pay to use it - an exorbitant 2 shillings and 6 pence per year!

Outraged, Penn abandoned his bath - probably much to the relief of his servants!

Here we see my best friend Sandra posing in the bath in the mid-1990s.

The bath is heavily overgrown and can only be visited by a very precarious struggle through brambles over a precipitous drop. A visit is for the strong-hearted and adventurous only.

However, should you ignore my warnings then please click here for instructions on how to find the bath, more pictures and a plan of the bath I made in 2003.

AN ANCIENT RESERVOIR

A path descends from the ruined St Andrew's Church towards the main stepped path up from Church Ope Cove.

To the left of this path is an area of thick brambles. Hidden behind this thicket is a small opening known only to a tiny number of locals. Rumour has it that this was a Roman reservoir. It is younger than that but of unknown age.

In 1989 I struggled through the brambles, pointed my camera into the totally dark chamber and took a flash photograph. This is what I saw when the picture was developed.

Clearly this is some sort of reservoir. Did it feed the small cafe that existed on Church Ope Beach in the first half of the 20th century? The two pictures below were taken in 2004 and kindly supplied by Liam Deeney. This is clearly a place into which nobody should enter.

 

RUFUS OR BOW AND ARROW CASTLE

Below Pennsylvania Castle yet high above Church Ope Cove are the decaying remains of Rufus - or Bow and Arrow - Castle.

This is the entrance to Rufus Castle - now blocked off as the structure is very dangerous.

The area around Rufus Castle is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). However, this did not stop it being allegedly destroyed by a bulldozer in November 2003, as reported in the Dorset Echo.

 

The approach to Rufus Castle is particularly attractive with the archway framing a view of Penn's Weare and the wide sweep of Weymouth Bay beyond.

It is not known when it was built but the original structure of Rufus Castle is probably nearly 900 years old and it had additional fortifications added in 1238 by Richard de Clare who owned it at that time.

According to an article in the Free Portland News (May 2010) what we now see may be a folly built by John Penn sometime in the early 1800s - certainly the building was nothing like the 'Castle' seen in the late 1700s.

PORTLAND'S MERMAID AND VEASTA

There is a story that a mermaid was washed ashore near this point some time in the 18th century - and that is how the Mermaid Inn got its name; this being the closest pub to Church Ope Cove. 

The Mermaid Inn, Portland in happier days

Please see the story of Portland's mermaid by clicking here. There have been many stories of sea monsters - some nothing like as pretty as the mermaid shown on that website! 

Another sea monster was washed ashore along Chesil Beach during the nineteenth century. It was described as having a very long neck and a snake-like head. However, the 'monster' was a camel!

The Holinshed's Chronicle reported a strange creature seen emerging from the sea near Portland. The account is as follows: -

"In the moneth of November 1457, in the Ile of Portland not farre from the town of Weymouth, was seen a cocke coming out of the sea, having a great creast upon its head and a red beard, and legs half a yard long: he stood on the water & crowed foure times, and everie time turned him about, and beckened with his head, toward the north, the south and the west, and was of colour like a fesant, & when he had crowed three times, he vanished awaie."

Please click here to visit the Weymouth and Portland Council web site of mystery and frightfulness.

Portland's most famous monster which has appeared many times since 1757 - and again as recently as 1995 - is VEASTA as seen at left.. Please click here for a detailed history of these sightings.

For many more tales of weirdness and monsters please click here - an excellent site which covers all of Dorset.

Returning to the Mermaid Inn, this was the scene of some interest in September 2007 when, according to a report in the Dorset Echo, an Environmental Health Officer was grabbed around the throat when he followed up a complaint about the pub's kitchen hygiene. Click here to read the full story.

In December 2009 the owner was sent to prison - please click here for story. He was declared bankrupt in 2009 - please click here - gave up the Mermaid pub and moved out of the area. After a long time standing boarded up work began in 2010 to turn this into a house as shown below.

 

The old Mermaid pub in June 2010

CHURCH OPE COVE

The broad sweep of Church Ope Cove. 

Beach huts here are much sought after - despite the Council's plans to close the public toilets!

In the summer of 2003 the beach hut in the centre of this picture was put up for sale for no less than 18,000 with another being offered for 30,000 in the winter of 2003.

That latter price is more than ten times the cost of the first house I bought in Weymouth!

In Burton Bradstock a few miles along the coast, beach huts have been changing hands for six figure sums.

This rusting hand winch on the beach at Church Ope Cove is decaying evidence of the times when dozens of fishing boats sailed from here every day.

Now it is a bathing beach - albeit somewhat uncomfortable with those large pebbles!

The coastline around Church Ope Cove is very rugged and here we see a huge block of stone that is slowly sliding towards the sea.

THE JUBILEE HALL SAGA

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council pursued a grandiose scheme in the 1980s for a huge new shopping centre in the heart of Weymouth. Nothing wrong with that except that, having demolished many old and interesting buildings, the site lay unused - Weymouth's infamous 'bombsite' - for over a decade.

One of the buildings demolished was the Victorian Jubilee Hall - one of the finest surviving iron-framed buildings in the country - which had served as a cinema in St Thomas Street.

In response to a huge public outcry, the Council agreed to dismantle the Jubilee Hall and store it safely until it could be re-erected to house some worthy project, possibly a museum. 

This was the 'safe storage' - the cast iron girders elaborately decorated in the Egyptian Style lay exposed to the rain, wind and stone dust in a quarry at Perryfields opposite Pennsylvania Castle.

The magnificent hall was reduced to a pile of junk.

Please click here for a fuller story with more pictures.

In 2007 the wreckage was removed and has reappeared in Poundbury - click here for the story.

THE RAILWAY LINE

   

The railway was opened to Easton in October 1900. It climbed steadily from Castletown along East Weares where the abandoned track can still be walked. Near the back of the Mermaid Inn the line turned inland and passed under the main road from Wakeham to Southwell at the point shown here.

In the 1980s and 1990s the track was used by heavy lorries associated with the nearby quarries and it never recovered. It is now a permanent and disgusting quagmire as shown by my friend Sandra as she struggles to get free of the mud above left. Even in dry summers it never quite dries out - see above right.

PORTLAND MUSEUM

Near the point where the road through Wakeham bends to avoid Pennsylvania Castle lies a row of very old cottages.

In the early 1960s these could be bought for under 1,000. The right-hand pair of cottages form Portland Museum.

These were bought and presented to the people of Portland for use as a museum in 1930 by Dr Marie Stopes, a pioneer of birth control in Britain.

The end cottage was called Avice's Cottage and is mentioned in Thomas Hardy's novel "The Well-Beloved".

Another view of Portland Museum, like the picture above, recorded in 1989.

One of the two cottages dates from 1640.

Please click here for old pictures of Portland Museum and for pictures associated with Marie Stopes when she lived at Portland.

A Roman stone coffin found locally. An Ammonite - many like this are found locally.
Old tools of the quarrying industry. The casing of the 500 kg German bomb discovered under the Portland FC pitch in 1995. 
More Roman Coffins Examples of Reeves' Staffs used to record the accounts of the Court Leet.

THE 'CENOTAPH' QUARRY

At this point opposite Portland Museum once stood a small disused quarry where some allotments had been created - a quiet place deliberately left unspoiled by building works.

This is where the stone was taken to produce the thousands of gravestones for the War Graves Commission as well as the stone for the War Memorial in London's Whitehall.

It was agreed to leave this small quarry untouched as a tribute to the dead of two World Wars.

Now we have an estate of houses - see picture - built in the late 1990s!

WAKEHAM'S SOAPBOX DERBY

Soapbox Derby - Wakeham 1989. 

Sadly now discontinued.

AN OLD CRANE ROTS AWAY
The remains of a smashed and rotting hand-operated quarry crane.

This one lies in ruins near Rufus Castle above the old railway line.

So much of Portland's history has just been allowed to rot away.

This picture was taken in 1990.

These next four pictures show the crane in October 2005.

GOING POTTY!

And finally...

                         ...let's go potty! 

A fine collection of chimney pots sits on this garage roof close by the Mermaid Inn.

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