Bishop's Palace, Bishopsteignton


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Bishop's Palace, Bishopsteignton
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Teignbridge (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 91523 74356

Reasons for Designation

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 courtyards. 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 at Bishopsteignton is a good example of one of the smaller and more compact forms of this class of monument in which both an inner and outer court remain in existence. The buried remains appear to be extensive and relatively unharmed by subsequent activity.


The Bishop's Palace is situated at the head of a small valley on the north side of the Teign estuary, just to the north east of the village of Bishopsteignton. The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of a palace of the bishops of Exeter in use from the second half of the 13th century until 1550. The visible remains exist in the form of a number of ruined and adapted structures terraced in two levels into the hillside and incorporated into the more recent buildings of a working farm. They include an outer court of irregular shape, the north west corner of which incorporates a square inner court defined in part by the remains of buildings. Small streams border the site to its immediate east and west. The walls are constructed of random-rubble utilising local red sandstone and breccia, with carved details in contrasting white Beer stone. The layout of the inner court indicates that buildings were grouped around a central open space on the upper terrace. The principal standing remains are those of St John's chapel, forming the south east corner of the court, of which the east gable-end and the south wall survive, the former to a height of 8.1m. The chapel is 20m by 7m overall, with buttressed walls pierced at a high level by lancet windows in carved Beer stone. There are three windows in the gable-end and seven in the south wall. The south wall has a stoup, a recess for holding holy water, made from Beer stone set into its inner face, and two doors, devoid of decorative stonework, that open into the outer court which is up to 2m lower. Extending westward from the south west corner of the chapel is a length of wall built to over 4.5m high externally and including part of the string-course of the coping. The inner court measures 38m east/west by 34m north/south overall. Towards its north east corner medieval walls are incorporated within later structures and comprise a 3m high fragment of a dwelling which includes an eternal corner, fireplace, buttresses, and a shallow rectangular stone-lined pit, half filled with water. The west wall of the court is of equivalent height and similarly incorporated, its northern limit having a return to the east. The outer court measures 94m east/west by 55m north/south. It would have originally contained ancillary buildings and the main gateway. The east wall is the best surviving section, 44m in length, 3.5m high, and retaining a triangular, stepped coping. Its southern end is much lower and marked by a buttress and a wall return, rendered internally, which is indicative of a building in that area, although it is now badly overgrown. The north wall only survives as foundations. The north side of the palace is terraced into the hill-slope by up to 3m. The western wall of the outer court has been exposed in the past as a line of foundations extending south from the corner of the inner court. On the south side there are no identifiable remains, the substantial bank and hedge adjacent to the road are presumed to follow the line of the outer court. Fragments of carved Beer stone were built into the wall of a modern farm building on the east side of the inner court. These indicate a range and quality of architectural decoration not exemplified in the surviving structures. Within the area of the palace the buried remains appear to be extensive and not covered to any great depth. The manor of Bishopsteignton belonged to the bishops of Exeter before the Norman Conquest. There is no evidence of a dwelling until the episcopal registers commence in the second half of the 13th century which record that Bishop Bronescombe (1257-80) was present in the manor for several days in each of nine different years. The principal reference to structural work occurs in the will of Bishop Grandisson (1327-69) which states that he obtained the appropriation of the chapel from Rome in 1331/2 and, `... erected convenient and sumptuous buildings there..'. The institution of priests in the chapel in 1373/4 is the first entry in the registers referring directly to the site, but it is not until Bishop Lacy (1420-55) that it is regularly mentioned as a place where official acts were undertaken. The registers of subsequent bishops have not been published, but a survey undertaken after the bishopric of Redman (1495-1501) states that the buildings had become ruinous. In 1550 Edward VI compelled Bishop Vesey to dispose of the manor which was conveyed to Richard Duke through Sir Andrew Dudley. Subsequent changes in ownership have been traced down to the present. In the mid 18th century Dean Milles recorded that the site was badly ruined. In 1795 the site was being used as a farmyard with the inner court containing barns and linhays. It was at this time that the ruins were first described as a palace rather than a manor. At the time of the 1840 Tithe Map the site was in use as an orchard, and later reverted to more active farm use which continues at present. The standing remains are listed Grade II*. The chapel and the south wall of the inner court were consolidated in 1987 following a structural survey which included a plan and partial description of most of the recognisable medieval features on the site. Some reconstruction was undertaken on the buttresses and tops of the walls of the chapel. Other limited excavations and clearance work have been undertaken in recent years. The following are excluded from the scheduling: all modern farm buildings, structures, permanent farm fixtures, concrete hard-standings, gate and fence posts, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

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.

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Books and journals
Blaylock, S, Westcott, K, 'Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report' in The Bishop's Palace at Bishopsteignton a Survey of the S Range, , Vol. 88.02, (1988)
Laithwaite, M, Blaylock, S, Westcott, K, 'Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings' in The Bishop's Palace at Bishopsteignton, , Vol. 47, (1989), 53-69


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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