History and Heritage
The Isle and Royal Manor belong to the Crown, and the governing body of the ancient Court Leet still meets annually to guard the rights and privileges of the islanders. The Court Leet comprises of representatives of the Crown Estate, landowners and residents.
Local traditions and customs are just waiting to be explored, shipwreck and smuggling stories waiting to be told, quarrying, literary connections, history and heritage are all just waiting to unfold in Portland Museum.
Portland has a legacy of castles and churches, Rufus Castle, Found high on the cliffs overlooking Church Ope Cove, is the oldest castle. Constructed of local stone, and built to prevent invasion, only as ruin remains today.
Nearby to the west of the castle, lie the remains of St Andrew’s Church, Portland’s first parish church and one of Portland prime historical sites. Many of the original stones are in the gargen of the museum. Also in this same area is Pennsylvania Castle which is now a private home.
It is said that St George’s Church at Reforne “is the most impressive 18th century church in Dorset”. Built by local masons and surrounded by stone quarries, the west tower capula can be seen from afar. St Peter’s Church, at the Grove, was built by convict labour and has beautiful mosaic works and superb medievil style timber roof. Other churches of note are All Saint’s and the Methodist churches at Easton, St John’s at Fortuneswell and Avalanche Church at Southwell.
Memorials worth a visit are the American D-Day Memorial in Victoria Gardens, Fortuneswell and the Royal Naval Cemetery at East Weares
Portland Castle, on the fringe of Portland Harbour is an impressive Tudor fortress which saw much action in the Civil War. Built as part of a chain of defensive fortresses along the south coast, it is now in the custody of English Heritage and a popular tourist attraction.
Thomas Hardy used Portland as the location for his novel “The Well Beloved”, calling it the Isle of Slingers – the name derived from the islander’s skill of slinging stones at strangers to keep them away! He also described Portland as “carved by time out of single stone”. The quarrying and masonry of this stone has been carried out for centuries and was once the main source of employment for local people. Portland stone is readily quarried and eaily worked, yet strong and durable. Weathering to a distinctive silvery-white, it has been used in the construction of many prestigious buildings worldwide including St Paul’s Cathedral, Scotland Yard and the United Nations Building in New York. Although the ‘boom’ years of quarrying have gone, the stone industry still remains an essential and integral part of Portland’s history.
To protect ships from vicious storms Victorian engineers devised a scheme to turn the Portland Roads into a "harbour of refuge." The result was two great stone breakwaters sweeping northeast from the Isle of Portland. Built between 1848 and 1872 they created the largest deep water port in Europe. Later, after 1900, two more arms were added to completely enclose the harbour. The majority of the Breakwaters were built by convicts and a staggering 5,731,376 tons of stone had been taken from Portland Quarries in order to build the breakwaters. H.R.H Prince Albert laid the foundation stone of the first Portland Breakwater in the twelfth year of the Queen Victoria's reign.