Repairs have been completed at Merton Castle. The ruined 12th-century fortification was at risk of collapse, but thanks to £288,840 in funding the site has been stabilized.
Historic England and several partners came together to help fund specialist repairs to the castle, which is located in the southern English county of Hampshire. Over the years, the ruined had become overgrown with plants and stonework had become loose.
The repairs included adding soft capping (a protective layer of earth and grass) to the remains of its walls as well as consolidating an approximately 400-foot ‘bottomless’ well. These improvements have stabilised the structure and will allow it to be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.
It is believed that Merdon Castle was built between 1129 and 1138 by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, during the reign of his brother Stephen, the last Norman king of England. The castle was partly demolished in 1155 on the accession of Henry II but was used as a bishop’s palace until at least the 14th century. The medieval castle was built within the ramparts of an earlier hillfort, which probably dates back to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (8th to 5th centuries BC).
The total cost of the restoration was £288,840, with £240,700 coming from a grant by Historic England and the rest provided by the private landowner on which the castle resides. The work was led by Conservation Accredited professionals at The Goddard Partnership and carried out by Conservation Contractors PIERRA.
With support from the landowner, Merdon Castle is being used to develop important skills within the heritage sector. Last year, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) used the site as part of a practical session on traditional building limes and their uses. Working with older and historic buildings requires specialist knowledge, so hands-on training is vital for these methods to be passed on. The University of Winchester is now using the site for teaching students survey skills, including laser scanning and ground penetrating radar, project management, and analysis.
“Merdon Castle has spent many years on the Heritage at Risk Register and it was critical that a programme of repairs was undertaken now to avoid further loss,” says Elspeth Faulkner of Historic England. “A new partnership with the University of Winchester holds exciting possibilities for discovering more about this historic site while helping students develop important skills.”
Merdon Castle is on private land and is usually closed to members of the public. However, regular community walks are arranged by the landowner to allow people to see the site up close and understand its rich history. A recent village open day gave 70 people access to the site.
A collection of local people and interest groups, including WARG, the Society for Winchester Archaeology and Local History, are working with the landowner to help maintain the site into the future.
“We’re delighted that, together with the owners and Historic England, we have been able to introduce Merdon Castle to our students through their study of archaeological field techniques,” comments Dr Monika Knul of the University of Winchester. “We’re excited to expand this programme so that students, and the monument itself, benefit in the long term.”