It was once a vision of opulence which housed the rich and influential.

Highcliffe Castle, a Gothic Revival castellated mansion situated on the cliffs in Highcliffe, was built between 1831 and 1836 by Charles Stuart, 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay.

It was constructed near the site of High Cliff House, a Georgian Mansion designed for the 3rd Earl of Bute - a founder of Kew Gardens - with the gardens laid out by Capability Brown.

William Donthorne, a Royal Institute of British Architects founder member, incorporated carved medieval stonework salvaged from the ruined Benedictine Abbey of St Peter at Jumieges and the Grand’ Maison des Andelys, both in Normandy. He even utilised some of their stone gargoyles and coloured glass windows.

The castle was never finished, and was abandoned in 1845 after the death of its owner.

Bournemouth Echo: The ruins of Highcliffe Castle  after a major fire in 1967

In 1916, the Echo reported that the castle had been purchased by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridges department store.

Selfridge lived in the castle for a few years before selling it in 1922.

In the 1950s, the castle was used as a children’s home before closing and becoming a Roman Catholic seminary.

Then, in 1967, the seminary was closed and the castle bought for £21,000 by three local businessmen.

A fire badly damaged the Great Hall, and another blaze the following year was responsible for even more devastation. The staircase had to be removed and development or demolition became difficult and expensive.

The castle, now exposed to the elements, lay empty before quickly deteriorating into ruins.

Bournemouth Echo: Highcliffe Castle and beach in 1976. Aerial picture by Kitchenhams Ltd.

A decade later and Christchurch Council purchased the castle for with plans to began a program of restoration.

The restoration work was completed in 1990 and the castle opened to the public.

Today, Highcliffe Castle is a popular tourist destination. It is known for its stunning views of the English Channel, the Isle of Wight, and the Needles. The castle is also home to a variety of gardens, including a rose garden, a kitchen garden, and a Japanese garden.

The Bournemouth Echo has continued to report on Highcliffe Castle over the years. In 2007, the Echo reported that the castle had been featured in the BBC television series Mr Selfridge.

In 2012, the Echo wrote that the castle had been awarded a £1 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help with further restoration work.

Highcliffe Castle is a fascinating and historic building. It is a testament to the power of imagination and the human spirit. It is a reminder that even the most ambitious dreams can be realized, even if they are not always completed.

Bournemouth Echo: