Sherborne Old Castle () is the ruin of a 12th-century castle in the grounds of the mansion. The old castle was built as the fortified palace of Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury and Chancellor of England, and still belonged to the church in the late 16th century.
Sherborne Lodge After passing through Sherborne on the way to Plymouth, Sir Walter Raleigh fell in love with the castle, and Queen Elizabeth relinquished the estate, leasing it to Raleigh in 1592, Rather than refurbish the old castle, Raleigh decided to construct a new lodging for temporary visits, in the compact form for secondary habitations of the nobility and gentry, often architecturally sophisticated, that was known as a lodge. The new house, Sherborne Lodge, was a four-story, rectangular building completed in 1594. The antiquary John Aubrey remembered it as " a delicate Lodge in the park,, of Brick, not big, but very convenient for its bignes, a place to retire from the Court in Summer time, and to contemplate, etc." It had four polygonal corner turrets with angled masonary as if they were actually to serve for military defence, which Nicholas Cooper suggests "may be an obeisance to the old building". Its most progressive feature for its date was the entrance, disguised in one of the corner towers so as not to spoil the apparent symmetry of the facade, which was centered on a rectangular forecourt. The entrance vestibule also contained a winder stairwell and gave directly on the hall.
During Raleigh's imprisonment in the Tower, King James leased the estate to Robert Carr and then sold it to Sir John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol in 1617. In the 1620s the Digby family, in order to suit the lodge to a more permanent seat, added four wings to the house in an architectural style similar to the original, retaining the original corner towers.
In the Civil War Sherborne was strongly Royalist, and the old castle was left in ruins by General Fairfax of the Parliamentary forces in 1645. The name "Sherborne Castle" was then applied to the new house, though today the term Sherborne New Castle is generally used to refer to it, in the same manner as "Sherborne Old Castle" is used for the ruins.
Through the early and mid-18th century William, 5th Lord Digby, who laid out the grounds praised by Alexander Pope, and his heirs Edward, 6th Lord Digby, who inherited in 1752, and Henry, 7th Lord, created Earl Digby, laid out the present castle gardens, including the 1753 lake designed by Lancelot Brown, which separates the old and new castles. The ruins of the old castle are part of the gardens, being conspicuous amongst the trees across the lake. King George III visited the house and gardens in 1789, shortly before awarding Henry Digby with a peerage. When Edward, 2nd and last Earl Digby died in 1856 the house was passed to the Wingfield Digby family, who still own the house. The house was modernised by the architect Philip Charles Hardwick.
The gardens are open to the public much of the year, and the house is open to the public most Saturdays. The estate often hosts special events, such as concerts and firework displays. The old castle was purchased by English Heritage and is now separate from the rest of the estate.
- Stroud, Dorothy. Capability Brown
- Waymark, Janet, "Sherborne, Dorset" Garden History 29.1, (Summer 2001), pp 64-81.