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The Bishop's Palace, Tower Road

A Scheduled Monument in Roundham-with-Hyde, Torbay

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Latitude: 50.4362 / 50°26'10"N

Longitude: -3.5698 / 3°34'11"W

OS Eastings: 288613.468979

OS Northings: 60768.251278

OS Grid: SX886607

Mapcode National: GBR QT.RSKX

Mapcode Global: FRA 37DW.YYB

Entry Name: The Bishop's Palace, Tower Road

Scheduled Date: 22 November 1950

Last Amended: 16 October 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020764

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33048

County: Torbay

Electoral Ward/Division: Roundham-with-Hyde

Built-Up Area: Paignton

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Paignton St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes the standing and buried remains of the medieval
walled palace of the Bishop of Exeter in Paignton (the medieval walls of
which are Listed Grade II*) and the standing and buried remains of what is
considered to be part of the private palace chapel, Listed Grade II. Apart
from the fragmentary remains of the chapel, none of the original internal
buildings of the palace stand above ground although the walled enclosure,
rebuilt in places, stands to full height over part of its circuit and one
corner tower survives and is Listed Grade II*. The palace, which had much
open ground to the south until at least the mid-19th century, lies within
the urban spread of the town, and its walls enclose an early 20th century
vicarage (Listed Grade II). The palace has been the subject of a survey
conducted in 2001 by English Heritage.
The Bishop's Palace comprises the residual remains of the Bishop of
Exeter's episcopal residence at Paignton. The property was used as a
manorial centre and occasional residence of the bishops from the 11th
century until the early 16th century when it was reported to be in a state
of advanced decay. Bishop Osbern has sometimes been credited with the
erection of the palace around 1100 but no building work of such an early
date is known to survive. However, Bishop Grandisson is recorded as having
used the palace as a place of residence in the years of his bishopric
(1327-1369) during which time the full panoply of buildings typically
associated with a medieval episcopal house of the period are likely to
have been erected. These would include, apart from the main residence
itself, a hall for receiving guests, various ancillary buildings, and a
chapel. Excavations carried out in the late 19th century are believed to
have revealed the footings of some of the main palace buildings, but the
records of these investigations are unfortunately lost. A consequence of
the excavations appears to have been a rise in the level of the ground
surface within the walled enclosure due to the spoil having been left on
site; some importation of soil may also have taken place to level the
area in advance of new building work. More recent archaeological recording
undertaken by English Heritage has shown that there is evidence to suggest
the presence of major stone buildings of probable 13th century date within
the later walled enclosure. The same programme of recording has
demonstrated that the crenallated curtain wall as it stands represents a
number of different builds and repairs with the earliest walling examined
dated to the 14th century. The curtain wall was proved to have
incorporated existing buildings within its circuit. This shows clearly on
the northern precinct wall where an 18m stretch of walling has an internal
face displaying joist sockets and the scarring of a return wall at its
eastern end. This wall was part of a building of at least the 13th century
which underwent a varied and complex history of development before its
outer face was employed as a section of the enclosure, the curtain wall
being butt-joined to its outer corner. Medieval work is thought to be in
evidence in three of the four walls of the enclosure and it is
distinguishable by the consistent use of red/pink breccia sandstone and
the regular occurrence of putlog holes and slit loops for the firing of
arrows; the whole of the west wall is of post-medieval work as well as
those parts of the other three sides not clearly identifiable as medieval.
The policy of fortifying bishops' residences was the result of unrest in
the country as a whole and stemmed from the gradual increase in the wealth
and power of the bishops who needed to maintain control and authority over
their manors. The resulting defences were designed and built therefore to
serve against civil discontent. A date sometime in the 14th century for
the erection of the curtain wall coincides with this period of unrest and
would accord well with the licence to crenellate which was granted to The
Bishopric of Exeter in 1379, apparently for a rural residence, although it
is uncertain whether this relates directly to Paignton.
Located in the south east corner of the precinct is a tower which rises
well above the 3.5m height of the curtain wall. This tower, which is
variously called the Bible Tower or Coverdale Tower, is so named after
Bishop Miles Coverdale whose translation of the Bible was mistakenly
thought to have been undertaken whilst he was in residence at Paignton; it
was later shown to have been completed in Antwerp some years before he
became Bishop of Exeter. The tower, which is built of random breccia
rubble which matches the curtain wall, is believed to have been built in
the mid- to late 14th century, probably within a few years of the curtain
wall. The windows are indicative of a first phase in the 14th century
followed by a partial refenestration in the 15th century. The tower was
restored extensively, probably during the late 19th century or the early
20th century, perhaps both. Almost certainly incorporated into the walled
enclosure of the 14th century was the building which survives as a ruin in
the south west corner of St John the Baptist's churchyard. The position
and form of this building make it very likely to have been the private
chapel of the Bishop of Exeter and thus part of the palace complex. The
construction of a road in the post-medieval period, which necessitated the
demolition of part of the northern and eastern curtain walls, appears to
have destroyed part of the chapel and to have divided what did remain from
the main palace buildings. The present precinct wall shows post-medieval
walling at the points where the road was driven through, suggesting that
at some stage after 1840, when the road is shown to exist on a tithe map,
a decision was taken to reinstate the walled enclosure, perhaps for the
privacy of the new vicarage of 1910, but omitting the chapel which is
known to have been a ruin by that date. The English Heritage studies of
2001 have supported the view that the visible ruins in the churchyard
represent the eastern end of the chapel of the 13th century together with
an associated sacristy (room for storing vestments and sacred vessels) on
its north wall. Contemporary documentary records indicate that the chapel
at the bishops' residence at Paignton was dedicated to St Mary.
The palace precinct returned to being a place of ecclesiastical residence
in 1910 with the construction of a vicarage within the walls. The
vicarage was constructed on a purpose-built mound and therefore stands
above and seals any earlier medieval building foundations. A 20th century
parish hall also stands within the grounds.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the
vicarage together with its underlying and associated turf mound, the
Parish Hall and all modern buildings and structures within the former
walled enclosure, all modern gateways and fencing and all modern surfaces
(notably those surfaces which comprise Church Path and Palace Place where
these lie within the scheduling). The ground beneath all these features
is, however, included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Bishops' palaces were high status domestic residences providing luxury
accommodation for the bishops and lodgings for their large retinues; although
some were little more than country houses, others were the setting for great
works of architecture and displays of decoration.
Bishops' palaces were usually set within an enclosure, sometimes moated,
containing a range of buildings, often of stone, including a hall or halls,
chapels, lodgings and a gatehouse, often arranged around a courtyard or
The earliest recorded examples date to the seventh century. Many were occupied
throughout the medieval period and some continued in use into the post-
medieval period; a few remain occupied today. Only some 150 bishops' palaces
have been identified and documentary sources confirm that they were widely
dispersed throughout England. All positively identified examples are
considered to be nationally important.

The Bishop's Palace in Tower Road in Paignton survives as a clearly
defined walled area with part of its medieval walling still standing, as
well as a corner tower of the 14th century still standing to its full
height. Only a small number of bishops' palaces were built within any one
See. Of the palaces provided for the Exeter bishops only the fragmentary
remains of those at Bishop's Clyst and Bishopsteignton bear comparison
with Paignton, but later development has impacted upon the survival of
both sites. Thus, the Bishop's Palace at Paignton with its surviving
curtain walling and largely undisturbed interior, together with the ruins
identified as a chapel attached to the palace, provides a well-preserved
example of this class of monument. The palace will provide archaeological
evidence relating to the lives of its inhabitants and of the bishops who
stayed there, the role of the palace in relation to the local contemporary
community, and the wider ecclesiastical influence exerted in medieval

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Alexander, J J, 'Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries' in Paignton and Miles Coverdale, , Vol. 19, (1936), 128
Couldrey, W G, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Memories And Antiquities of Paignton, , Vol. 64, (1932), 223
NBR No: 106896, Jones, B V, The Bishop's Palace, Paignton, Devon, (2001)
NBR No: 106896, Jones, B V, The Bishop's Palace, Paignton, Devon, (2001)

Source: Historic England

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