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Channel Islands Mont Orgueil Castle, Jersey

Built on the closest point to Mainland France, this is one of the finest examples of a medieval fortress on Jersey , surrounded by steep cliffs and the sea on three sides.


The headland overlooking Gorey Bay has been settled since the Neolithic times and there was an Iron Age ditch and ramparts here. Originally referred to as Gorey or the King’s Castle, it seems to have been given the name Mont Orgueil Castle in the C15th. It was a the seat of Royal authority until the construction of Elizabeth castle.


Jersey became part of the Duchy of Normandy in the C10th and became a possession of the English Crown when William, Duke of Normandy, was crowded William I of England in 1066. When King John lost Normandy to the French King in 1204, the island chose to remain self governing under the protection of the English Crown.

Being just 14 miles off the French coast, Jersey was very much disputed territory between France and England. A fortress was needed to protect the island from attack by the French. Curtain walls with gateways and defensive towers were built around the headland enclosing the Lower, Middle and Upper wards, with a keep at the top. This contained the Great Hall, with two lodging towers at either end for official visitors. Soldiers were garrisoned in the Middle Ward which also had the kitchens and storerooms.

C13th Mont Orgueil.png

The castle was attacked by the French and changed hands several times between the C14th and C15th at the time of the Hundred Years War, before being finally retaken by the English in 1468.

By the C16th, cannon power was becoming increasingly important in warfare and the castle was transformed into an artillery fortress.

The Harliston Tower designed to take cannon, was built to guard entry through the main gate into the castle. The medieval keep was rebuilt as an impressive two storied Corbelled Tower. A massive D shaped bastion was built rising from the the Middle Ward in front of the old keep as extra protection. The living quarters in the old keep were refashioned. The old Medieval Hall became a kitchen and a new Great Chamber was built. The new structures all had flat lead roofs so cannon could be placed on them.

The Cornish Bastion was built against the curtain wall. Not only gave protection from attack by sea, the downward pointing gun ports also controlled the Lower Ward. A large L-shaped battery, the Grand Battery, protected against any landward attack

C16th Mont Orgueil .jpg

As the development of artillery outpaced the castle builders, many of the modifications quickly became obsolete. During the later part of the C16th, part of the walls of the Outer Ward were eroded by the sea and collapsed. A new wall was built to protect the roadway to the second gate. The Half Moon Bastion was added to help support the wall.

By now, St Helier was a more important harbour than Gorey harbour, and the decision was taken to build a new fortress, Elizabeth Castle, on a tidal island overlooking St Helier. The Governor moved his residence to there and Mont Orgueil was simply referred to as Le Vieux Chateau. There were plans to demolish Mont Orgueil Castle and use the stone to build Elizabeth Castle, but it was saved from demolition by Sir Walter Raleigh, then Governor of Jersey.

In the C17th, it was used as a political prison for enemies of both the Crown and Parliament, including some of the men who signed the death warrant of Charles I,

Repairs were carried out in the late C18th when it was used as garrison accommodation durin g the Napoleonic Wars. .

Although Mont Orgueil Castle was given to the people of Jersey by the English Crown in 1907, it was used as an observation base in World War One and occupied by the Germans during World War Two who refortified the site with observation towers, trenches and gun positions.

The Castle is now managed by Jersey Heritage and is open daily from 10-5. There are guided tours during the day. There is a very informative guide book available in the shop and plenty of information boards around the site. Being on a steep slope there are many steps to climb.

Entry is either from the the land side from the road between Gorey and St Catherine or from the quayside. A steep flight of steps leads to a gateway in the curtain wall into the Outer Ward.

Allow plenty of time for a visit as there is much to explore. The Castle is divided into four main areas, the Outer Ward, Lower Ward, Middle Ward and the Keep with the residential apartments. There are many passageways and stairways to different parts of the building and it can be confusing, especially as the Castle has been added to and modified extensively. It would be very easy to lose adventurous children in here!

It was a dull and overecast day when I visited and not good for photographs...


Mont Orgueil Castle cont...

Mont Orgueil Plan.jpg

The easiest entry is from the land side from the road between Gorey and St Catherine rather than the quayside, A well graded track leads to the main gate into the castle, with views down to the Harbour.



The castle is well defended with five gateways, complete with narrow passageways, steps and dog leg bends between them.

The First gate is impressive and had a drawbridge in front of it. It is overlooked by the Harliston Tower. This has both arrow slits and gun loops and was probably the first part of the castle to be built to take cannon. Steps led up into a guard house.



Beyond a defended roadway lead past the Half Moon Bastion built in the C16th on the seawards side and a flanking tower on the landward side.


This ends in the Scond Gate with the ticket office in what was a stable.


The John Helie tower guarded the and South Postern Gate with access to the foreshore.,


The Parade Ground in the Lower Ward contained a number of administrative buildings including that of the sutler (quartermaster) and courthouse. These were demolished in the early C19th to make the parade ground. Only the former Guard Room survives and is now the cafe. There are views across Gorey Bay.


The Lower Ward is overlooked by the gun loops in the Cornish Bastion above it, which can only be accessed from the Middle Ward.


Steps lead up from the Lower Ward. A rampart was built to create a barbican for the Third Gate with a courtyard in front of it.




The steps continue up to the Queen Elizabeth, or Iron Gate (the Fourth Gate). Off is the entrance to the de Carteret Garden.


The Fourth Gate was defended with a strong wooden door and Portcullis




This contains a small Porter’s Lodge in the wall. Just beyond the gate, a doorway through the wall leads into Paul Ivy’s Bulwark behind the fourth Gate. The steps turn through a right angle bend and continue up to the Middle Ward.


Mont Orgueil Castle cont...

The Middle Ward is a grassy area and had stable buildings and stores. The holes in the walls supporting the Upper Grand Battery are known as Putlog Holes and were used to support the scaffolding and building platforms while the wall was being built. They also help water to drain out of the rubble filled wall.


It is overlooked by the Paul Ivy Bulwark with the remains of a Magazine.


The Middle Ward is in front of the Keep with the D Shaped Bastion in front of it. The mid C16th Residential apartment with gun holes and accommodation above looks very different to the earlier building. The D Shaped Bastion is on the left and the Medieval keep on the right with the round south east tower and square Corbelled Tower.




At the far end is what is referred to as The Long Cellar.
This dates from the C14th or C15th and had two stories. On castle plans from the C18th it is marked as the Old Chapel or the Ruins of St George’s Chapel. The lower part was vaulted like an undercroft and was reconstructed in the early C20th to look like a C13th building. It has been consecrated as a Chapel and used for weddings. The stone altar top was one of several found around the castle where they had been used as infill. It still has the original five consecration crosses on the top. The large opening may have been a gun port preceeding the Cornish Battery.



The Great Stairway curves up from the Middle Ward between the Upper Grand Battery and the D Shaped Bastion.


In the thickness of the wall is the well. Water was raised in a bucket by turning a wheel on the windlass. The well is over 60’ deep and was dug down through solid granite. When the Grand Battery was built, the well was covered with a vaulted stone roof.


At the top of the Great Stairway is the Keep, which is protected by the massive Somerset Tower on the the north westside.



There is access to the Upper Great Bastion.In the corner overlooking Le Petit Portelet Bay to the north, is the angular Rochefort Tower, one of the earliest to be built.


The Upper Great Battery is L shaped and the cannons gave cover over the sea to the north of the castle as well as inland.


At the end is the Paul Ivy Bulwark which overlooked the town and harbour. The bell is one of the few bells on the Island that was not sold for scrap during the Commonwealth. It was used to warn the population of threat of French attack. There is model of a trebuchet which was used before cannons.


Mont Orgueil Castle cont...

Entry to the keep is through Mount Gate, the fifth and final gate, which was built in the C15th as a two storey tower giving access to the keep.


Inside on the right is a small room for the Porter. This was an important job as he controlled entry to the castle.


Displayed here are the two keys of the castle given to Queen Victoria when she visited as well as the key given to Queen Elizabeth II.


Beyond is the stone vaulted undercroft. The windows were added later.


A passageway leads into the Corbelled Tower with a small room with a display of coins.

At the end of the passageway a few steps lead up to the Medieval Hall above the undercroft. Dating from the C13th, this was at the centre of the original keep. Its usage has changed over the years and it may also have been a kitchen or even a chapel. In the late C18th it was a barrack rooms. it haas been restored to its late Medieval appearance.


There are smaller residential rooms near it. One had a display of medieval weapons.

More stairs lead up to the Great Chamber which replaced the Medieval Hall as the most important room in the Castle in the mid C16th. The walls would originally have been covered with plaster. It was in a ruined condition by by end of the C18th. It has been made water tight with a new roof, but little other restoration work.


Spiral Staircases lead up from the Residential apartments onto the flat roof with its gun deck. The highest point is the Mount Battery. In the C18th this was part of a chain of signal stations relaying messages between warships and Guernsey.


During the Occupation, German Soldiers modified the tops of the towers to serve as observation points.



There are very good views down to the Middle and Lower Wards as well as the harbour and town.



Rather than leaving the castle by the main gateway, it is worth dropping down through a gateway near the ticket office into the Outer Ward. This was originally much larger as part of it was lost to coastal erosion in the C16th.


A steep flight of steps drops down from here to the quayside.

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