CORFE CASTLE, a town in the eastern parliamentary division of Dorsetshire, England, in the district called the Isle of Purbeck, 129½ m. S.W. by W. from London by the London & South-Western railway. Pop. (1901) 1440. The castle, through which the town is famous, guarded a gap in the line of considerable hills which rise in the centre of Purbeck. It is strongly placed on an eminence falling almost sheer on three sides. Its ruins are extensive, and date for the most part from the Norman period to the reign of Edward I. There is, however, a trace of early masonry which may have belonged to the Saxon house where, in 978, King Edward the Martyr was murdered. Corfe Castle was held for the empress Maud against King Stephen in 1139, was frequently the residence of King John, and was a stronghold of the barons against Henry III. Edward II. was imprisoned here for a short period. The castle withstood a protracted siege by the Parliamentarians in 1643, and fell to them by treachery in 1646, after which it was dismantled and wrecked. The church in the town, almost wholly rebuilt, is dedicated to St Edward the Martyr. The quarrying of Purbeck stone and the raising of potters’ clay are the chief industries.
Probably Corfe Castle (Corfes geat, Corf geat, Corve, Corph) was an early Anglo-Saxon settlement. According to William of Malmesbury the church was founded by St Aldhelm in the 7th century. In 1086 the abbey of Shaftesbury held the manor, which afterwards passed to the Norman kings, who raised the castle. Its date is disputed, but the town dependent on it seems to have grown up during the 13th century, being first mentioned in 1290, when an inquisition states that the mayor has pesage of wool and cheese. The rights of the burgesses seem to have been undefined, for frequent commissions attest to encroachments on the rights of warren, forest and wreckage belonging to the royal manor. In 1380–1381 at an inquisition into the liberties of Corfe Castle, the jurors declared that from time immemorial the constable and his steward had held all pleas and amerciaments except those of the mayor’s court of Pie Powder, but that the town had judgment by fire, water and combat. The tenants, or “barons,” elected themselves a mayor and coroners, but the constable received the assize of ale. Elizabeth in 1577 gave exclusive admiralty jurisdiction within the island of Purbeck to Sir Christopher Hatton, and granted the mayor and “barons” of Corfe the rights they enjoyed by prescription and charter and that of not being placed on juries or assizes in matters beyond the island. Charles II. incorporated Corfe Castle in 1663, the mayor being elected at a court leet from three nominees of the lord of the manor. Corfe Castle first returned two representatives to parliament in 1572, but was disfranchised in 1832. A market for each Saturday was granted to Corfe in 1214, and in 1248 the town obtained a fair and a market on each Thursday, while Elizabeth granted fairs on the feasts of St Philip and St James and of St Luke; both of these still survive. As early as the 14th century the quarrying and export of marble gave employment to the men of Corfe, and during the 18th century the knitting of stockings was a flourishing industry.
See T. Bond, History and Description of Corfe Castle (London and Bournemouth, 1883).