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Totnes Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Totnes, Devon

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Latitude: 50.4325 / 50°25'57"N

Longitude: -3.6912 / 3°41'28"W

OS Eastings: 279984.160659

OS Northings: 60552.950115

OS Grid: SX799605

Mapcode National: GBR QL.MCD4

Mapcode Global: FRA 374X.CSB

Entry Name: Totnes Castle

Scheduled Date: 30 August 1922

Last Amended: 16 July 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014607

English Heritage Legacy ID: 22356

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Totnes

Built-Up Area: Totnes

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Totnes St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


This monument includes those parts of the shell keep, motte and two baileys
together forming Totnes Castle which have not been affected by modern
development. It is situated on high ground commanding the head of the
navigable reaches of the River Dart and overlooks Totnes town. The castle
intrudes into the earlier Anglo-Saxon street plan and therefore almost
certainly overlies part of the earlier town (burh). The nature, extent and
character of the surviving Anglo-Saxon features is unknown.
The motte, which is the earliest known defensive feature on the site, survives
as a 58m diameter mound of earth and rock standing 17.5m high, covered with a
waterproof layer of puddled clay, and is thought to date to the latter part of
the 11th century. The ditch, from which material was excavated during the
construction of the motte, surrounds its base and now survives as a buried
feature. On the summit of the motte, a timber tower with a square ground plan
stood on a dry stone foundation which has been traced down for 3.4m into the
body of the motte and may have reached down to its base. This foundation was
built at the same time as the motte and its interior was filled with loose
rubble to encourage drainage. The upper part of this foundation survives at
ground level as a 0.75m wide mortared wall. It is likely that the timber tower
was removed before the shell keep was added in the early part of the 13th
The shell keep, which is Listed Grade I, is nearly circular and the interior
measures 21m in diameter. The walls, of hard limestone rubble, are 2m thick,
with a batter (inwardly sloping wall), and carry their footings somewhat lower
on the outer face than within, as they act as retaining walls to the top of
the motte. The keep was rebuilt early in the 14th century. The red sandstone
dressings and probably all the present facing belong to this date. At the same
time, a length of wall immediately east of the entrance was straightened out
to form a right-angled projection with sandstone quoins, thus giving a better
lookout point. The entrance arch was also rebuilt with a double ring of
chamfered, wedge shaped, sandstone blocks. At a later date this entrance was
remodelled by adding a false jamb and narrowing the passageway.
A garderobe built into the thickness of the western wall is entered from
within the keep and projects slightly beyond the line of the original wall.
This chamber was lighted by a pair of arrow slits, one of which was
subsequently made into a window. The roof of the passage leading to the
garderobe is roofed with stone slabs which helped provide strength to the
wall. The garderobe chamber itself, however, was not so strongly built and at
some date partly collapsed before being rebuilt. Only one building was built
against the inner face of the shell keep. This lies against the north western
wall, its position being indicated by six corbels protruding from the upper
part of the wall, a partial wall scar and one side wall which survives as a
2.2m long and 0.7m wide mortared wall protruding through the surface. The
corbels would have originally supported the roof of the building and it is
considered that this building belongs to the 14th century refurbishment.
Access to the wall walk is via two stairways made in the thickness of the
northern wall and each is entered from ground level by a passage with a
typically 14th century segmented arch. Surrounding the wall walk is an almost
complete parapet which is predominantly of 14th century date, although the
northern length was probably remodelled at a later date. Thirty three
crenellations consisting of alternating merlons (raised parts) and embrasures
(indentations) survive. Many of the merlons are pierced with narrow arrow
slits, some of which are plain and others have a cross slit which splays
The inner bailey is attached to the north west side of the shell keep from
which it is separated by the moat. This bailey is of horseshoe shape plan,
measures 63m long by 54m wide, is defined on three sides by a curtain wall and
outer moat and on the fourth by part of the ditch surrounding the motte.
Within the bailey are a series of earthworks which are confined to the edges.
These may be the result of later landscaping or may indicate the position of
buildings backing onto the curtain wall. The most obvious of these is a 14m
diameter and 1.4m high mound situated immediately north of the visitor
entrance. This may represent either a curtain wall tower or a dump of rubble.
The inner bailey was originally constructed at the same time as the motte and
was protected by an earthen bank surmounted by a timber palisade. In the 14th
century, the palisade was replaced by a stone curtain wall of which only the
north western quadrant remains standing above ground level. The remainder
probably survives as a buried feature and was used as a foundation for the
later, much thinner, garden wall which follows the line of the earlier
Within the inner bailey a range of domestic buildings were constructed between
the 11th and 14th centuries, and cropmarks visible within this area during dry
weather represent a number of buried structures. The great hall probably
survives near the west wall and the chapel at the north end.
The outer bailey lies immediately north of the moat protecting the inner
bailey and, because part of its northern and eastern defences can no longer be
traced on the ground, it is not possible to establish its original extent. The
part of this bailey which survives includes a triangular area measuring 64m
east to west by 40m north to south defined by a 10m wide and 3m high scarp. A
second scarp lies 4m to the north west of the first, measures 6m wide by 2m
high and may also have had a defensive function. It is not known exactly which
type of buildings lay within this bailey, though stables, smithy, brewery and
other industrial structures are amongst the more likely.
The motte at Totnes was built on the orders of Judhael of Brittany who held
Totnes together with over a hundred Devonshire manors immediately after the
Norman Conquest. However, in 1088 the estate passed to Roger de Nonant and
remained with his family for three generations. In 1196 the castle passed to
the de Braose family and it is considered likely that Reginald de Braose was
responsible for the construction of the earliest shell keep and the rebuilding
of the great hall. From 1230 the de Cantilupe family controlled the castle
before being succeeded in 1273 by the de la Zouche family who had considerable
power and influence. It is considered likely that William de la Zouche was
responsible for much of the 14th century rebuilding at the castle. Ironically,
although that family completed the refortification of the castle, it does not
appear to have been lived in by the family and instead was occupied by a
sequence of stewards or constables. During this time the condition of the
castle appears to have deteriorated, as witnessed by a court case in 1466
which indicates that trees were growing on the motte. The castle finally
passed from the de la Zouches in 1485 following the defeat of the Yorkists at
Bosworth Field. For a short time during the 16th century the castle belonged
to Richard Edgecombe of Cothele and during this time the town was visited by
Leland the antiquary, who noted that the keep was well maintained but that the
buildings were completely ruinous. Around 1559 the castle was purchased by Sir
Edward Seymour of Berry Pomeroy, an ancestor of the present Duke of Somerset.
From this date until the present, apart from a short interlude, the castle has
remained the property of the Seymours. The castle was not fortified during
the English Civil War and as a result was not demolished or damaged by the
victorious Parliamentarians. In 1947 the castle was placed in the care of the
Secretary of State.
Excluded from the scheduling are modern visitor services, such as hand
rails, the guard rails around the shell keep wall walk, reception hut,
signposts, modern laid surfaces, custodian's toilet and tool shed, but the
ground or masonry beneath these is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A shell keep castle is a masonry enclosure, extending around the top of an
earlier motte or castle ringwork, and replacing the existing timber palisades;
there are a few cases where the wall is built lower down the slope or even at
the bottom. The enclosure is usually rounded or sub-rounded but other shapes
are also known. A shell keep is relatively small, normally between 15 and 25m
diameter, with few buildings, and perhaps one tower only, within its interior.
Shell keeps were built over a period of about 150 years, from not long after
the Norman Conquest until the mid-13th century; most were built in the 12th
century. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading
families and occur in both urban and rural situations.
Shell keep castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a marked
concentration in the Welsh Marches. The distribution also extends into Wales
and to a lesser extent into Scotland. They are rare nationally with only 71
recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two
examples being exactly alike. Along with other castle types, they are major
medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society,
frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for
developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and
evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable education resource, both
with respect to medieval warfare and defence, and to wider aspects of medieval
society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are
considered to be nationally important.

The shell keep, motte and baileys at Totnes Castle survive well and are known
from part excavation to contain important architectural and archaeological
information concerning the development and use of this strategic site from the
Anglo-Saxon period onwards. The shell keep in particular survives well, with
the original parapet retaining many original features. Although the buildings
within the inner bailey have been partly levelled, earthworks together with
cropmark evidence suggests that the lower levels of these structures and
associated deposits remain intact. The stone tower built within the motte is
an unusual feature.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, The Buildings of England: Devon, (1989), 869-870
Rigold, S E, Totnes Castle, (1992)
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX86SW20, (1984)
MPP fieldwork by S. Gerrard, (1995)

Source: Historic England

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