The story of the castle starts with a man in search of rare plants; he built a luxurious cliff top mansion here in 1775 and called it High Cliff House. Sadly, in 1792 having suffered a fall of nearly 28ft down the cliff in search of a specimen, he died. All that remains of High Cliff House is the two entry lodges, now the Lord Bute Restaurant.
In the following years there were several owners of the site until 1830 when his Grandson, Lord Stuart De Rothesay built the castle that stands today, known as Highcliffe Castle.
Highcliffe Castle was built between 1831-1836 and was the realisation of one man’s fantasy, that of Lord Stuart de Rothesay. While serving as the diplomatic advisor in Paris he had a large amount of medieval French masonry shipped across the Channel to Steamer Point. The Castle has been described as the most important surviving house of the Romantic and Picturesque style of architecture. Britannica define this style as “having the aesthetic quality existing between the sublime and the beautiful with irregularity, asymmetry and interesting textures.” This style flourished at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.
The castle played host to many important guests during its glittering hayday with royalty from France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Greece, Italy, Sweden and Norway visiting which amounted to six Kings, ten Queens, ten Princes and twelve Princesses visiting.
Other famous visitors include:
- William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister between 1874 and 1892.
- Dame Nellie Melba the Australian soprano whom Peach Melba, the pudding, is named after.
- Nancy Mitford, Author and one of the Mitford Sisters.
- Harry Gordon Selfridge, or Selfridge’s Department Store. He, his wife and his mother are buried in St Marks churchyard across the road from the castle.
- Claude Grahame-White stayed during 1910 so that he could compete in the Bournemouth Aviation Meeting. This is the event where Charles of Rolls-Royce died.
In the 1950’s the Stuart-Wortley family sold all the furnishings of the house before selling the house, it then became a children’s convalesce home.
1952 saw the castle be sold again, this time sections of the grounds were sold off to build housing.
1953 – the castle had been bought for £14,000 by three senior Roman Catholic priests from the Claretian Missionary Congregation
1967 – The castle was again up for sale as the priests could not keep up with the rising costs. This time it was bought by three local business men. Prior to the sale the castle is badly damaged by fire. Further exposure leads the castle to further deteriorate.
1977 – Christchurch council compulsory purchase the castle
1990 – Scaffolding was erected around the castle to keep it from decaying further
1994 – With funding from Christchurch Council and English Heritage work was started to provide new roof and repair the exterior masonry as well a to repair the south wing.
1995 – Saw the Winter Garden open as the visitor centre
2007 – Greendale Construction were awarded a contract to upgrade the Great Hall to allow functions all year round, refurbish the dining room to allow for wedding receptions and to create a level access for those with limited mobility.
2016 – Second Heritage Lottery Fund was awarded. This phase will see the restoration of the East Wing.
2017 – Works have started for the latest phase of the restoration with Greendale starting these works in June.
For years the castle has played host to royalty, the rich and famous. For a period it was fit only for roosting bats but through the support of the public, the heritage lottery fund, Christchurch Council, and many others we now host classes, events, weddings and heritage visitors… and it all came from one man’s fantasy, that of Lord Stuart De Rothesay.