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Norris Castle


Norris Castle is an early-19th-century park and woodland with fine marine views. At its most extensive the grounds covered 88 hectares. Some areas are now (1986) in separate use and ownership.


The south-western half of the site occupies level ground which falls north-eastwards, gently at first and then, from the site of the Castle itself, precipitously to the Solent.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

Ornamental pleasure grounds and a park laid out at the turn of the 18th century, possibly by Humphry Repton, as a landscaped setting for a castellated gothic castle and ferme ornée designed by James Wyatt and further embellished with exotic trees in the later 19th century.

Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting

Norris Castle is situated at the northernmost tip of the Isle of Wight, on the east side of the River Medina and immediately north-east of the A3021 and the town of East Cowes. The south-western half of the 58ha site occupies level ground which falls north-eastwards, gently at first and then, from the site of the Castle itself, precipitously to the Solent, the shoreline of which forms the entire north-eastern site boundary. A high rubble-stone wall encloses the western and part of the southern boundary from scattered houses on the edge of East Cowes while to the east, the woodland and meadowland of the Norris estate merge with that of the neighbouring estate of Osborne.

Entrances and Approaches

The present principal entrance to Norris is on New Barn Road, at the southern tip of the estate. The drive enters between stone gate piers beside South Lodge (listed grade II), a two-storey building faced with rusticated imitation stone erected probably in the early C20 (it does not appear on OS maps before 1908). The drive runs some 400m north-north-east to pass the principal, north-west front of Norris Castle Farm (whole complex listed grade I), a vast oblong ensemble comprising a range of farm buildings with a kitchen garden enclosed by a high embattled wall on its south-east side. Built as a ferme ornée by James Wyatt c 1800, its principal front contains a central bailiff's house flanked by an embattled wall, then a pair of squat towers with round-headed cart archways, further lengths of embattled wall, and two more towers, each forming a cottage.

Immediately beyond the farm, the drive describes a great oval loop through the park, curving first to the north to serve the forecourt on the south-west, entrance front of the Castle, then to the south-west to connect with a further entrance on the western boundary on Millfield Avenue. This latter is guarded by stone gate piers and a second lodge, known as Fort Norris (formerly known as West Lodge, listed grade II), which was also built by Wyatt c 1800. Constructed in stone rubble, it consists of a small, circular three-storey tower with a castellated parapet and a single-storey C20 addition to the west. This entrance probably formed the original principal approach to Norris and remained thus throughout the C19; westwards, beyond the estate boundary wall, the drive appears to have extended west along the present course of Millfield Avenue to a further lodge (shown on the OS 1st edition map surveyed 1863-4) which stood at the junction with Old Road (outside the boundary of the registered site).

Principal Building

Norris Castle (listed grade I) stands centrally and towards the north-east edge of the park, its garden front overlooking lawns which `plunge straight down from the castle to the sea' (Pevsner and Lloyd 1967). Built by James Wyatt (1747-1813) in 1799 in stone rubble with flint galletting and to a linear plan, the main residential portion stands at the south-east end and is dominated by a great four-storey round tower with a castellated parapet which rises from its north-east corner. The residential end is entered on the south-west front beneath a porch with a gothic doorway. To the north-west is a service wing, of a single storey on the entrance front, and north-west again, stables, these and the residential wing forming one building without a break which terminates at the north-west end in a vast projecting bastion. On the garden side, the residential wing stands on a terrace retained by a high wall which projects as a rounded bastion below the great tower at the extreme south-east end.

Gardens and Pleasure Grounds

The residential wing with its tower opens east and north onto the paved surface of its top terrace, the parapet walls of which are overgrown with the remnants of ornamental planting. Below the terrace walls, the whole castle complex stands on a further broad grassed terrace extending along its entire north-east elevation and around each end and from which fine views are gained over the Solent. The grassed bank supporting the terrace is now (1999) overgrown with clumps of bramble and thorn. Below the terrace bank, a lawn of meadow turf, dotted with islands of encroaching scrub, slopes away north-eastwards, gently at first and then more steeply, towards a belt of scrub woodland which cuts off the lawns from the shore. An engraving of the upper slopes made by William Cooke in 1808, soon after the grounds were laid out, shows the lawns open in character with occasional small trees and an island shrubbery.

The upper slopes are enclosed on the west side by a loose belt of ornamental trees which survive from the extensive planting on this side of the lawns shown established by 1863-4 (OS). The slopes are referred to in 1898 (CL) as featuring a pinetum with 'fine examples of cedar'. The belt contained a drive (now, 1999, largely derelict) which curved seawards to connect with, and branch off into, two areas of woodland, West Copse and East Copse, which frame the lawns' lower slopes. This woodland is shown established as a continuous shoreline belt on Andrews' map of 1769 and appears to be still in place in George Brannon's view, taken from the sea, which was published in 1844. Brannon's view also shows a walk laid out along the raised sea wall which has now (1999) been virtually demolished by landslips and storm damage. At some time in the mid C19 (print, nd; OS 1863-4) the belt seems to have been opened up to allow the lawns to run down to the shore. This arrangement, and an accompanying summerhouse, survived into the C20 (OS 1908, 1938). A few ornamental species of trees survive on the copse fringes.

On the south-west, entrance front, the Castle opens onto a gravelled forecourt and beyond it into the remnants of pleasure grounds. These are framed by the curving arms of the drive and enclosed at their south-western limit (some 150m from the Castle) by a line of fencing. The grounds are laid to rough-mown lawn dotted with the occasional ornamental tree. Within the south-western half of the pleasure grounds, the lawn merges into a loose belt of mature trees which includes a number of exotics and, on the eastern side, remnants of shrubberies planted beneath the trees. The OS map of 1863-4 shows the grounds covering the same extent but more open in character and planted informally with trees and with two large enclosed planted areas on the south-western boundary, one marked as a rookery. This layout still appears to survive within the undergrowth.


The park comprises largely open grazed grassland interspersed with belts and copses of trees. Beyond the pleasure grounds to the west, south, and east, occasional individual parkland trees and a few small clumps survive from the pattern recorded in 1863-4 (OS), although even at this date, the parkland was not densely or extensively planted. Views of the park can be obtained from the pleasure grounds and main drive to their west and east, the view to the east open to the wooded boundary of the Osborne estate.

The high rubble-stone wall which encloses the park along its western boundary, and the western 200m of the southern boundary as far as South Lodge, are lined intermittently within by a narrow belt of mature trees. The wall terminates at its most northerly point, where it meets the East Cowes Esplanade, in a high square stone tower, similar in appearance to the towers on the sea wall shown on Brannon's 1844 view. The tower is recorded as a bathing house on the OS 1st edition map. A further north to south belt of connected copses runs parallel to the western wall some 100m to the east. This appears to mark the western boundary of the park in the early C19 (OS 1813) before it was extended (by 1863-4, OS) westwards to the present wall and south-eastwards from Fort Norris. The southern boundary was further extended to its present position at South Lodge in the early C20 (OS 1938). The park contains a number of small stock shelters and dewponds, all constructed in stone rubble.

Kitchen Garden

The kitchen garden lies within the c 120m x 28m enclosure backing onto the south-east side of Wyatt's c 1800 Norris Castle Farm, which stands adjacent to the main drive 300m south of the Castle itself. The embattled wall of the farm continues around the perimeter to form the garden wall (listed grade I as part of the farm complex) and is embellished with square turrets at the angles. The entrance to the garden lies on its north-east side through a round-headed doorcase with double doors flanked by square turrets. Now no longer in use and considerably overgrown, the OS 1st edition (1863-4) shows the garden divided by paths into rectilinear plots and containing three glasshouses, the largest of these attached to the south-east wall of the farm. Country Life refers in 1898 to the kitchen garden being abutted by a terrace garden, apparently within the farm complex, which `has walls on either side and ... with herbaceous and fruit borders on either side [and] with unmatched views also'.


  • J Andrews, A topographical map of the Isle of Wight in Hampshire, 1769 (Isle of Wight Record Office)
  • OS Surveyor's drawing, 2" to 1 mile, surveyed 1793 (British Library Maps)
  • OS Old Series 1" to 1 mile, published 1813
  • OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1863-4; 2nd edition 1898
  • OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1863-4; 2nd edition revised 1896, published 1897; 3rd edition published 1908


  • William Cooke, Norris, Lord Henry Seymour, Isle of Wight, drawn and published 1808 (ECO 185), (Isle of Wight Record Office)
  • George Brannon, Norris, The Seat of the Right Hon Lord Seymour, drawn, engraved and published 1822 (ECWS 230), (Isle of Wight Record Office)
  • George Brannon, Norris, engraved and published 1844 (ECWS 219), (Isle of Wight Record Office)
  • George Brannon, Norris Castle Isle of Wight, engraved and published 1844 (ECWS 227), (Isle of Wight Record Office)
  • H Bartlett, Norris Castle the seat of Lord George Seymour, no date (ECWS 223), (Isle of Wight Record Office)

Description written: June 1999

Edited: January 2005, January 2022

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

18th Century

Norris Castle was built in 1799 by the architect James Wyatt for Lord Henry Seymour, on or close to the site of the former buildings of Norris Farm. A park covering approximately the north-eastern two-thirds of the present estate and an oval loop of carriage drive had been created from former fields by the early 19th century (OS Surveyor’s drawing, 1793).

19th Century

The inclusion of a watercolour view of Norris by Humphry Repton in the 1805 edition of Peacock’s Polite Repository suggests his likely involvement in the design (Carter et al 1982). A similar view, published in the edition of 1800, of Nash’s adjacent East Cowes Castle (built in 1798 for Repton’s then partner, the architect John Nash), supports the view that Repton was already working on the island (Basford 1989). The Prince Regent visited Norris in 1819 and Princess, later Queen Victoria stayed at the Castle with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, in 1831 and again in 1833.

Queen Victoria was even considering its purchase in 1839 and 1843 (Girouard 1979). Lord Henry Seymour died in 1830 and in the mid-19th century Norris was in the ownership of Lord George Seymour (an undated mid-19th-century print by H Bartlett refers to him as the owner). The estate was purchased in 1880 from a Mr Bell by the ninth Duke of Bedford, Country Life referring in 1898 to Norris being 'a favourite home for the late Dowager Duchess of Bedford'.

20th Century

Little structural change appears to have occurred subsequently to the Castle or its grounds. After the Bedfords, the estate passed to Lord Ampthill; it was offered for sale in 1898 (Country Life), was sold to a syndicate in the early 20th century (Victoria County History 1912), and was later owned by a Mr A Birkbeck (Phibbs et al 1983) to whom, in 1924, the Office of Woods sold the piece of Osborne estate land lying between the present east boundary of the site as here registered site and Pier Road. Norris changed hands again in the late 1950s and it remains (1999) in private ownership.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: GD1924
  • Grade: II


  • Non-defensive Castle (featured building)
  • Description: The castle was built for for Lord Henry Seymour.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Boundary Wall
  • Description: A high rubble-stone wall encloses the western and part of the southern boundary.
Key Information


Landscape Park



Principal Building






Civil Parish

East Cowes