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Devizes Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Devizes, Wiltshire

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Latitude: 51.3509 / 51°21'3"N

Longitude: -1.9979 / 1°59'52"W

OS Eastings: 400239.718017

OS Northings: 161315.886244

OS Grid: SU002613

Mapcode National: GBR 2V0.CP3

Mapcode Global: VHB4G.B94Q

Entry Name: Devizes Castle

Scheduled Date: 18 February 1953

Last Amended: 2 February 2005

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021375

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28887

County: Wiltshire

Civil Parish: Devizes

Built-Up Area: Devizes

Traditional County: Wiltshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Wiltshire

Church of England Parish: Devizes St John

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle, lying on a hill with steep
sloping sides, on the south west side of Devizes. The castle, as it appears
today, is a Victorian folly. However, the folly is built on the motte of the
original castle, whose moat still survives together with part of the inner
bailey. Beyond the ditch is a grass sward and gardens which belong to the
modern dwellings which lie around the castle. The east side of the castle
grounds encompass the bailey, and enclosing the whole area is a stone-built
wall. The castle keep stood on the highest part of the motte. Adjoining the
keep on the west side was an aisled hall of six bays, which was first
mentioned in 1236-7. Around the hall were several other buildings.
The castle was originally protected to the north east and the south by four
concentric ditches. The outer two later formed the town fortifications. Near
the Corn Exchange the ditch was double with steep sides 6m (20ft) deep. As
the town expanded the bailey was reduced to the area between the inner and
outer castle ditches. This area was reached by the road which is today called
the Brittox, a corruption of the word Bretasche, meaning a timber structure
associated with the defence of a gateway. The road passed through an outer
gate and entered the inner precinct on the north side by the inner gate.
Inside the gate was a courtyard called the inner ward out of which a postern
led to the south west. The road crossed two bridges, between which was a
barbican. The earthen bank above the inner castle ditch had a stone curtain
wall, which is thought to have been repaired in 1240.
From about 1837 there was gradual redevelopment of the castle motte on the
east side, with the gradual construction of what is now known as Devizes
Castle, a house in the Victorian Gothic style, which is believed to sit on
the site of the stone keep. This house is a Listed Building Grade I and is
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. It is
thought that the stone keep stood on the south east part of the motte, which
is the highest part, and was the earliest building on the site, although it
may have had a timber precursor. The aisled hall was to the west of the keep,
and was presumably a later addition. Surrounding the motte is a ditch, which
varies in depth and width, but is approximately 4m deep and varying between
10m and over 30m wide. The ditch has been partially landscaped and also
affected by the construction of a railway tunnel. References contemporary
with the tunnel construction suggests that the tunnel was dug through the
fill of the ditch, whilst leaving the base of the ditch untouched. This
indicates that the archaeologically sensitive lower levels of the ditch
survive. On the east side of the ditch are the remains of the inner bailey.
Map evidence shows that it originally extended further east, and beyond it
was a second bailey which has since been incorporated into the town. The
scheduling has been drawn to include as much of the bailey as is known to
have been unaffected by later developments and where archaeological evidence
will survive.
The whole of the site is surrounded by a curtain wall which may lie on the
line of an original medieval wall. This wall is a Listed Building Grade II,
and bears evidence of ex-situ medieval masonry, particularly in the gateway,
but appears to be a largely Victorian construction and is therefore excluded
from the scheduling. The ground beneath is, however, included.
Map evidence indicates that the original entrance to the castle was an
approach from the NNW. There is evidence of what is described as a sally
port, but this is a Victorian structure on the south east side, which is
thought to have provided access to the deer park. The entrance alignments
have now been changed, and the site is now approached along Castle Road and
through the gatehouse which is a late 19th century structure and a Listed
Building Grade II. The sally port, together with the modern additions to the
gatehouse are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is
As the castle was built on a naturally defensive site with access to water it
is possible that the motte and bailey had a prehistoric precursor, but the
first documentary evidence for the castle is in 1106 when Robert of Normandy
was imprisoned there. In 1113 the castle was burnt, but was virtually rebuilt
by Bishop Roger in about 1138. Between 1139 and 1141 the castle was
fortified, but fell to King Stephen. By 1140 it was in the hands of Matilda.
From her it passed to the future Henry II who was holding it in 1152.
Thenceforth until the 17th century it remained in the hands of the Crown. The
town grew up and by 1141 became a `borough'. The first known constable was
Guy de Diva in 1192. During and after the Civil War there were several
changes in custody. Throughout the 13th century a number of kings and
notables stayed in the castle, including King John who often visited between
1204 and 1216 and later Henry III and Edward I. Part of the castle was also
used as a prison, and by the late 13th century the castle was becoming less
of a fortress and more an administrative centre.
During the Civil War Devizes was Royalist, and the castle was probably
pressed into service. The defences were ordered to be slighted in 1646 and
this was completed by 1648. The stone was subsequently used for local
buildings. The keep and aisled building were first excavated in the 19th
century. Excavations in 1858 revealed a number of lesser buildings
surrounding the hall. The castle ditch, or moat, was excavated in 1860, and
was found to be 14m (45ft) deeper than the exposed portion.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are the building
known as Devizes Castle, The Gate House, Moat Cottage, all walls and
gateways, the bridge, sheds, the surfaces of all roads, and all garden
features and ornaments. The ground beneath all these features is, however,

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Motte and bailey 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 as centres of local or royal
administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte and
bailey 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 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 the 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.

The motte and bailey castle at Devizes survives well and is a good example of
its type. Despite part of the remains of the original castle having been
built over, the motte and the ditch are imposing features, and the
relatonship between castle and town can still be seen. Additional evidence
relating to the castle has been revealed by excavation, and the unexcavated
parts of the castle motte, moat and bailey will contain archaeological
information and environmental evidence relating to the castle and the
landscape in which it was constructed.
There is good documentary evidence to show the history of the castle. Devizes
Castle had its origins in about 1080 as an early Norman motte and bailey with
wooden pallisade and tower. The wooden castle was burnt down, but its
successor, built in stone, became an important castle, and was described by
contemporary chroniclers as `the finest and most splendid in Europe'. The
castle subsequently played a significant part in the history of this country,
particularly during the wars between King Stephen and Empress Matilda in the
12th century. Thereafter its importance can be gauged by the number of
English kings who paid visits to the castle. These included King John, who
left Prince Henry, the future Henry III, in the care of the castle governor;
and Edward I. The castle has had a varied history and during its later years,
it became less of a defensive structure and fulfilled a more domestic role,
being used as a prison and a treasury. In the Civil War Devizes was Royalist,
and the castle was ordered to be slighted in 1646. From approximately the
mid-19th century a castellated folly was built on the motte in the Victorian
Gothic style. The castle was used as an Italian prisoner of war camp in WWII.
The castle has left its mark on the plan and development of the town of
Devizes, where elements of the defensive system, and the way in which the
town was laid out around the castle, can still be seen in the town plan
today. The castle is private property, but is occasionally opened for public
events, and provides a resource and focal point for the people of Devizes.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire237-245
Haycock, L, The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire238
Haycock, L, History and Guide Devizes, (1993), 16-17
Stone, E H, Devizes Castle Its History and Romance, (1920), 32-3

Source: Historic England

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