I visited Corfe Castle over the weekend. It’s one of the most iconic landmarks we have: perched on a rocky outcrop, with commanding views of the landscape all round, it proved truly impenetrable during the Civil War, where it was besieged not once, but twice, finally falling to an act of treachery not material failing.
Today the walls lie ruined, the Keep, atop the mound, mainly collapsed, with a few walls isolated and dramatic, reaching up three storeys into the sky. It’s a truly epic scene of architectural dereliction and downfall. As you walk up, through the outer curtain wall, up towards the inner sanctum, you pass through a fortified gatehouse: the arch above your head is split into: the whole left hand side of the building is slumped maybe three metres down from the right. Both halves still intact, still vertical, just the one side much lower than the other, giving the arch a staggered profile.
This was bought about after the castle fell: the damage we see isn’t caused by trebuchet and cannon, but rather by deliberate demolition in peacetime, to prevent the castle ever being used again as a holdout against authority. Punishment on an architectural scale. Tunnels were dug under the walls, under the Keep, under the gatehouse, and packed with explosive, which was then detonated, bringing the structure crashing down. Or at least remodelling it slightly.
Because castles are massive: even such draconian punishments as dynamite and pickaxe can only reduce them so far. The lime mortar that binds the stones reacts with carbon dioxide in the air, literally turning back into stone. The lumps of wall that have tumbled down the hillside, each the size of a decent sized truck, are solid, immovable now, and will be there in another thousand years, only slightly diminished by wind, rain and time.
Castles are built to last, but they are not the only thing: ideas last too. Like castles, we can attack them, besiege them and try to pick them apart one grain at a time, but some of them are just too massive, just too embedded in our psyche, to shift. Some ideas are here to stay: perpetual jagged ruins in the landscape.
To effect true change in an organisation, we cannot seek to obliterate the past: it’s the source of much pride and investment. Instead, we have to find it’s natural space: recognised, acknowledged, given a due amount of respect and regard, but ultimately adapted to be relevant to the present.
The castle today is very different from the one build eight hundred years ago: today it has a gift shop, toilets that flush and electric lights for starters. It’s adapted: ruined, but not forgotten. The efforts of the me who burrowed and tore, mined and detonated came to nothing: symbolically they may have scored a victory, rendering the castle uninhabitable, but it was not destroyed in memory, story or landscape. It persisted, much as do notions of culture and stories of shared identity and truth. Try to change an organisation by dynamite, deny the past or try to wipe it from the skyline and we may create a ruin, but it may be one we have to live in.
A true model of change is one co-created and co-owned: a community invested in the change, taking forward the best of what it’s proud of, the best of what it achieved, and shaping the future together.