The aim of the ‘Phoenix Flies’ project was to repair the East Wing of Highcliffe Castle and create a new public Heritage Centre, together with  further work to the grounds. This was stage seven of a programme of repairs; following on from earlier restoration work completed in the 1990s and 2008. The plan was both to create a lasting legacy for Christchurch and an attraction that would support the  local economy and enhance the experience for the area’s visitors. This work took place in numerous stages, commencing in August 2017 and finishing in Spring 2019. It involved meticulous preservation and conservation of some of the existing fabric of the building which had survived the devastating fires, and also developed brand new areas. Funding for the project came from the Lottery Heritage Fund, with further support from what was then Christchurch and East Dorset Councils. In addition grants were received from Country Houses Foundation, The Pilgrim Trust and The Wolfson Foundation, along with generous donations from individual supporters and local fundraising. Below we take you through the first seven months of the work……


August/September 2017

Open fireplace in brick wall with doorway to the left surrounded by bright green paintwork.

Hidden Fireplaces

Amongst much excitement, Greendale Construction Ltd arrived on site to begin the work. The first step was to strip out the temporary staff offices, volunteers’ room and kitchen, which revealed not one but two hidden fireplaces.

Doorway with ornate marble decorative surround with lilac painted wall on left and green on right.

Original Features and Paintwork

Marble door surrounds were also uncovered along with some original paintwork, including a vibrant lavender and pistachio green wallpaper with contrasting paint, which can now be seen in the Owners’ Gallery.

Doorway with ornate marble decorative surround with lilac painted wall on left and green on right.
Old range stove blackened with age in state of disrepair.

Removing the Range

Context Engineering Ltd began the painstaking task of removing the ‘Eagle’ range, in order that it could be taken away for restoration, ready to be re-installed into the kitchen at a later date. As part of the public consultation process, the decision had been taken to make only cosmetic changes to the range to preserve it, rather than to bring it back to working order.

October/November/December 2017

Room with pile of bricks from knocked down wall and steel props holding up ceiling.

Enlarging the Shop

Work commenced to knock down the modern, internal shop wall, which would double the size of the room. It was a tricky process as it was a supporting wall so needed careful support from above during the process.

Newly built rough wood staircase with scaffold poles as handrail with exposed brick walls.

New Floor Levels and Stairways

December saw two new staircases being installed leading up from the first floor landing to the brand new upper floors, which would become new staff offices and the Education Room. Oak treads and risers would later be added which were encased in a steel frame and coated with a hard wearing oil for protection.

Newly built rough wood staircase with scaffold poles as handrail with exposed brick walls.
Room with exposed brick walls and cables laid on floor for underfloor heating.

Heating and insulation

Underfloor heating was laid in the new shop, as well as in other areas, together with insulation to keep all the precious heat in. New floor levels were added where they hadn’t previously existed, giving access to hitherto inaccessible spaces.

January 2018

Two men in high vis jackets and hard hats looking over a plan standing in room with exposed brickwork and arched windows.

East Wing Mezzanine Floor

For the first time since fires destroyed the floors over 50 years ago, members of the team were finally able to stand at this level in this part of the building. Among the newly created rooms was what will be a stained glass studio, where it is planned a conservator will work on site to repair the Castle’s stained glass collection, along with running workshops.

Newly restored spiral stair case steps.

Restoring the servants’ staircase

Only eight to ten of the original steps for what was once the servant’s staircase survived the terrible fires of the 1960s, so specialist stone masons created extra steps to make it useable once more.

Newly restored spiral stair case steps.
Man in high vis jacket and hard hat kneeling and working on repair to ornate mullion window with leaded panes.

Mullion windows repair

The stonemasons also brought back the mullion windows to their former glory. These windows are original and date back to when the Castle was first built, and due to their construction mostly survived the fires in the Castle. Any repairs necessary have been done to match the original windows. Sadly, windows elsewhere in the Castle, for example in the State Rooms, fared less well in the fires as the frames were made from oak. These were replaced with the windows you see today.

February/March 2018

Open ceiling with rows of metal casing.

Insulation Work

February saw a system of metal casing put in place, ready for the ceilings to be packed with further insulation. The Castle is a big old building to keep warm! New cabling was also laid in readiness for the new fire safety system.

Floor being laid with new wood flooring.

Shop Completion

A new oak floor was laid, and after new till lighting and a spruce up from the decorators, Greendale handed the completed shop back to the team. The excitement was palbable, and the new spacious surroundings drew admiration from everyone. We finally had a shop befitting our grand heritage building.

Floor being laid with new wood flooring.

We hope you have enjoyed reading about the improvements and discoveries that were made in the first seven months of the ‘Phoenix Flies’ project. The following months proved to be equally exciting and we will bring you further updates on the works in our next blog.

If you would like to read more about the Castle in the meantime, why not visit our ‘History’ and ‘Discover the Castle’ pages?