Castles & Fortified Houses


Besides the castles erected soon after the Conquest to control the four boroughs, motte-and-bailey earthworks were thrown up in several places across the open country by new Norman lords who took possession amidst a sullenly hostile English popu­lation. A motte could be raised quite quickly by the forced labour of peasants, and its steepness ruled out most forms of assault. But it took many years to settle and consolidate before its timber stockade could be safely replaced with a stonewall, and this hardly ever happened in the countryside. Most rural castles seem to have been abandoned for more comfortable manor houses as soon as it was safe to do so. Winkleigh has two, the headquarters of separate manors, and good examples remain in re­mote spots near Bridestowe (Burley Wood) and Wembworthy (Heywood Wood). In some places, as at Chuimleigh and near Loddiswell, Iron Age earth­works were re-used for the bailey.

Judhael’s castles at Tomes and Barnstaple, and the Earl of Devon’s at Plympton, are good examples of motte-and-bailey construction, with shell-keeps and walls replacing the original timber. Though the masonry at Barnstaple has long been demolished, much remains of the other two. Square tower keep of Norman style survive at Okehampton, Lydford (the Stannary prison), and, on a small scale, at Gidleigh. Exeter still has much of its inner ward, crowning an embankment thrown up onto a natural hillock in the angle of the city wall, and surrounded by an impressive ditch. Its original but long-disused gatehouse remains intact.

Changing building-styles, with the keep replaced by massive wall-towers and gatehouses, are shown at Berry Pomeroy and Tiverton, as well as the small castle at Hemyock. The fourteenth century pro­duced a number of fortified houses, like Compton, which could be defended against a sudden raid but were not intended to withstand a serious siege. As comfort replaced defence as the first consideration inland, some mansions were given impressive gate­houses built mainly for prestige; but on the coast the increasing threat of cross-Channel raids led to the building of artillery blockhouses covering’ the har­bours of Plymouth and Dartmouth. Artillery castles like those at Dartmouth (adjoining an earlier castle built a century before) and Kingswear, were both built about 1490, and were joined by a chain across the harbour mouth which could be raised by a windlass to block the entrance.

Fort Charles in the Salcombe estuary was one of Henry Viii’s line of coast defences, built in 1540, and like the others obsolete as soon as constructed. Such forts had been designed immediately before it was appreciated that concentrated long-range gunfire, as well as close-range flanking of the de­fences, required a fort to have straight face” s and angular bastions, and not the round stone towers derived from earlier castles.

The plan of Tomes Castle shows the great motte and the heavily-ditched earthworks of the inner bailey, erected across one corner of the Saxon burh, and the stone shell-keep and walls of a later re­building which replaced the original timber. The motte dominates the town, and in Judhael’s time it bore a square timber tower whose stone foundations remain visible. A small area inside the keep was roofed, but most of the living quarters, with the hall and chapel, were in the inner bailey. There are also faint traces of an outer ward, probably a cattle enclosure, but not enough to reconstruct its line. Unlike most castles of this early type, Tomes was kept in repair right up to the end of the Middle Ages: and the keep battlements, with their arrow-slits, are of late-medieval type.