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Restormel Castle: motte, bailey and shell keep

A Scheduled Monument in Lostwithiel, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.4219 / 50°25'18"N

Longitude: -4.6708 / 4°40'14"W

OS Eastings: 210373.559214

OS Northings: 61410.872032

OS Grid: SX103614

Mapcode National: GBR N5.QS1D

Mapcode Global: FRA 173Y.24S

Entry Name: Restormel Castle: motte, bailey and shell keep

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 22 May 1991

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017574

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15004

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Lostwithiel

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Lanlivery

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle of the Norman period and a
shell keep dating to c.1200. The motte, built c.1100, was extensively re-
modelled during construction of the shell keep but remains as a circular mound
c.52m diameter at its base, and rising 6m from the base of the surrounding
flat-bottomed ditch. The ditch is 15m wide and 4m deep, and encircled
externally by a flat-topped bank crowning the summit of the hill. A further
bank is visible below the scarp edge to the N and NE of the castle. The lower
part of the stone gate-tower, set into the WSW side of the motte, is
considered to be contemporary with the initial construction of the motte.
The rectangular bailey is sited on the gently sloping land extending WSW from
the motte. Much of is NW boundary is still marked by a surviving earth bank
running WSW-ENE along a scarp edge; the course of the bank along its SW and S
sides can be considered to have followed the course of the modern field
boundaries in those areas. The area thus defined contains earthworks traces
of stone building foundations, confirmed by discoveries made during tree-
planting in this area, which indicate the siting in the bailey of a hall,
chapel, kitchen and offices mentioned in a 14th century survey of the castle.
The circular shell keep is sited on the earlier motte. It comprises a curtain
wall 38m diameter, 2.4m thick, butted against the earlier gate tower, and
surviving to the full height of the wall walk 7.6m above the courtyard at
ground level; the battlemented parapet is also extensively intact. A series
of quarries visible in the scarp face NE of the castle are considered to have
provided the slate for the keep's construction. The visible internal
structures of the keep date to later in the 13th century. The keep contains
an inner courtyard bounded by a circular wall concentric with the curtain
wall; the castle's domestic buildings were formed by the radical subdivision
of the space between the courtyard and the curtain walls. These domestic
buildings have been identified as including: guardhouses to each side of the
gate tower; the kitchen; the great hall; the solar; the ante-chamber; the bed-
chamber and the guest chamber. The chapel is also a 13th century addition
projecting beyond the curtain wall on the NE side. It has a blocked window
and related alterations considered to be the site of a Civil War gun
No formal excavations are recorded at this monument, but limited ground
disturbance has been noted in the area of the bailey.
The monument stands on the summit of a spur projecting into the W side of the
River Fowey valley, c.1.5 miles N of its present tidal limit and above the
valley's lowest bridging point in the 12th century. The spur has a steep
scarp to the immediate N of the castle, with less severe slopes to its E and
S. The gentle slope on the W runs to a saddle linking the spur to the rising
land to the W of the valley.
All of the modern signs, fittings, fences and service trenches, the admission
kiosk and worksheds, and the concrete base and barbeque near the N corner of
the bailey area are excluded from the scheduling, but the land beneath them is

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the
Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the
motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority
of examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the
bailey, adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte-and-bailey castles
acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as
strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and the centre
of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open
countryside, motte castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating
their immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive
monuments of the early post-conquest period surviving in the modern
landscape. Over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded
nationally with examples known from most regions. As such, and as one of a
restricted range of recognised early post-conquest monuments, they are
particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development
of feudal system. Although many were occupied for only a short period of
time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the
13th centuries after which they were superseded by other types of castle. A
shell keep is an enclosure of masonry, extending round the top of an earlier
motte or castle ringwork and replacing the existing timber palisades. Shell
keeps are generally small, usually round or rounded, and contained few
internal buildings. They were sometimes provided with gate towers and mural
towers. They held the same functions and siting characteristics as motte
castle. Only 71 shell keeps are recorded nationally, with examples known
throughout England though a concentration occurs in the Welsh Marches.
Consequently they are rare monuments of particular importance in the study of
the development of medieval fortifications. They were built for only a short
period of time, mostly during the 12th century and a few in the early 13th
century, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.
Restormel Castle is a particularly well-preserved motte and bailey castle
with one of the most intact of all known shell keeps, complete with its
near-contemporary internal structures surviving to most of their wall
height. It has great historical importance as one of the four major castles
of the Earls of Cornwall and was their principle residence in the later 13th
century. The castle is still a clear and well-visited landmark in the local
landscape and retains considerable potential for future contributions to the
study of this important class of monument.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Halliday, F E, A History of Cornwall, (1975)
Radford, C A R, Restormel Castle, (1986)
Radford, C A R, Restormel Castle, (1986), 6
Irwin, M M, 'Cornish Archaeology' in An Earthwork At Restormel, (1975)
Irwin, M M, 'Cornish Archaeology' in An Earthwork At Restormel, (1975), 84-6
Ancient Monuments Terrier, AA 76275,
Ancient Monuments Terrier, AA 76275,
Ancient Monuments Terrier, AA 76275,
Cornwall SMR entry for Restormel Castle, PRN 6730.02,
Photographic archive held by Cornwall SMR for PRN 6730,

Source: Historic England

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