Okehampton Castle: a motte and bailey castle with associated earthworks north of the West Okement River.
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- West Devon (District Authority)
- Okehampton Hamlets
- National Park:
- National Grid Reference:
- SX 58317 94253
Reasons for Designation
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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.
Okehampton Castle is situated in a bend of, and to the north of, the West
Okement River, about 500m south-west of the town of Okehampton. The site
commands the valley through which the road from Devon into Cornwall ran, prior
to the construction of the later road cut higher up the valley side to the
The original castle was of motte and bailey construction and was built by
1086 AD, when it was recorded in the Domesday book as belonging to Sheriff
Baldwin. The castle includes a large mound, the motte, on which is situated
the keep. Part of this keep is believed to have been built by Sheriff Baldwin
and is the oldest of the stone structures surviving. The 11th century keep was
square but was added to in the 14th century to create a rectangular building
which survives as a ruined structure three storeys high. The motte on which it
sits has a summit of c.25m by 30m in diameter while at its widest point the
base is over 60m across. The motte is partly made up of the natural spur of
land on which the castle sits and partly of artificially built-up deposits
giving it a height of about 8m.
To the north-east of the motte is the main bailey of the castle, which
contained buildings essential to the housing and feeding of the castle's
occupants. The surviving buildings are mostly of 14th century date and many of
the original buildings in the bailey would have been demolished to make way
for them. The bailey buildings provided shelter for the inhabitants of the
castle, store rooms and activity areas including domestic rooms, a great hall,
stables, a chapel and kitchens. The defence was provided by curtain walls
along the north and south sides of the bailey while a double gatehouse
connected by a corridor provided a formidable entrance to the castle at the
north-eastern end. Recent research suggests that the curtain walls follow the
line of the earlier bailey defence and are probably of late 12th century date.
To the west of the quarry ditch which surrounds the motte there is a spur on
which an earthwork survives running roughly north-south before turning east
along the top of the steep slope overlooking the West Okement River. This
earthwork is probably the boundary of an earlier bailey than the one to the
east and its construction is similar to that of the motte, both being built of
quarried shale and soil. The castle site also contains further ruins to the
north-west of the motte, within a compound north of the stream which runs
through the site. These survive as a number of dispersed stretches of wall
c.0.75m wide and varying from less than 1m to several metres long. These
visible remains appear to be part of further buildings buried below the
surface. The stream runs into the West Okement River north-east of the castle
and is abutted by a number of slight earthworks which are thought to represent
an additional defence on the northern side of the castle and a number of
later structures built after the castle went out of use. Okehampton is the
only castle in Devon mentioned in the Domesday book and was later acquired by
the Courtenays who were responsible for the majority of the stone buildings
which survive today. Excluded from the scheduling are the steps set into the
side of the motte, the compound north of the stream and the custodian's hut,
although the ground beneath all of these features is included in the
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Higham, R A, Allan, J P, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Excavations at Oakhampton Castle Part II: The Bailey, Interim, , Vol. 38, (1980)
Higham, R A, Allan, J P, Blaylock, S R, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Excavations at Oakhampton Castle Part 2: The Bailey, , Vol. 40, (1982)
Higham, R A, 'Proceedings Of The Devon Archaelogical Society' in Excavations At Okehampton Castle Part 1: The Motte And Keep, , Vol. 35, (1977)
SMR OFFICER, Okehampton Castle, Earthwork,
SMR OFFICER, Okehampton Castle: - A Motte with Bailey of Elongated Form to North East, (1981)
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