Plympton Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Plymouth (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 54407 55784


Motte and bailey castle with a shell keep known as Plympton Castle.

Reasons for Designation

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprise a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In the 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 and as strongholds. In many cases they were aristocratic residences and the centres of local or royal administration. Between the Conquest and the mid-13th century, usually during the 12th century, a number of motte and bailey castles and ringworks were remodelled in stone. In the case of mottes, the timber palisade was replaced by a thick wall to form a `shell keep'. If the tower on the motte was of timber, this may also have been replaced in masonry and, if a bailey was present, its ramparts were often strengthened with a curtain wall. Within the keep, buildings for domestic or garrison purposes were often constructed against the inside of the keep wall. Although over 600 motte castles or motte and bailey castles are recorded nationally, examples converted into shell keeps are rare with only about 60 sites known to have been remodelled in this way. As such, and as one of a restricted range of recognised post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. The motte and bailey castle with a shell keep known as Plympton Castle survives comparatively well and was clearly of critical strategic importance during the first Civil War between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda. It will contain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, development, military and domestic use, social significance and subsequent abandonment.


See Details.


This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 13 October 2015. This record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.

The monument includes a motte and bailey castle with a shell keep situated in the heart of Plympton St Maurice. The castle survives as a circular steep-sided mound or motte surrounded by a partly buried ditch; a roughly rectangular bailey to the west defined by a substantially constructed rampart, with some visible walling and an outer ditch; and on the summit of the motte the remains of a circular upstanding masonry shell keep. The walls of the keep measure up to 3m wide and 4m high and several putlog holes are visible. There is evidence for a doorway on the southern side with a deep draw slot.

The castle was established near to 1100 by Richard de Redvers or his son Baldwin and surrendered to the royal army of King Stephen in 1136. In 1141 it was rebuilt by Baldwin de Redvers when his estates were restored by the Empress Matilda. It was confiscated by King John in 1204 but returned to Earl William de Vernon in 1205. The masonry castle probably dates to the 13th century and at some stage an inner tower was built in the centre. It was besieged by Robert Courtenay on behalf of the Crown in 1224 and seems to have remained part of the Barony of Plympton and the Earldom of Devon until 1539 when the Courtenay estates fell to the Crown. Unusually the castle and its internal buildings are recorded on a 14th century illustration and depicted on several maps and in other documentary references. It may also have been the site of a Civil War fort. Local tradition says the castle was abandoned in 1647.

The castle is Listed Grade II*.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
PY 78
Legacy System:


PastScape Monument No:-438419


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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