Upton Castle, 500m SSW of Upton Barton Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1012044

Date first listed: 12-Aug-1949

Date of most recent amendment: 04-Dec-1992


Ordnance survey map of Upton Castle, 500m SSW of Upton Barton Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Lewannick

National Grid Reference: SX 24542 78965

Reasons for Designation

Bodmin Moor, the largest of the Cornish granite uplands, has long been recognised to have exceptional preservation of archaeological remains. The Moor has been the subject of detailed archaeological survey and is one of the best recorded upland landscapes in England. The extensive relict landscapes of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval date provide direct evidence for human exploitation of the Moor from the earliest prehistoric period onwards. The well-preserved and often visible relationship between settlement sites, field systems, ceremonial and funerary monuments as well as later industrial remains provides significant insights into successive changes in the pattern of land use through time.

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended area, containing buildings, which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a substantial ditch and, usually, by a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, by a stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military operations or in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60 with baileys. Of these, only five are known to have survived in Cornwall, four associated with major post-Conquest landholders and one, the only example on the periphery of Bodmin Moor, with a lesser land-holder. As a rare monument type and as one of a limited number and very restricted range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular significance to our understanding of the period.

Upton Castle has survived well and has not been excavated. It is the only surviving example in Cornwall of a ringwork built as a defended manorial residence by a lesser landowner during the Norman period. It is a rare and well preserved example of a ringwork with stone-built defensive walls and internal buildings, providing the only such ringwork in Cornwall not to have been substantially destroyed during subsequent phases of re-fortification and development. The surviving documentary sources for the family associated with its construction place the monument in its historical context, while its mention by antiquaries and archaeologists from the 19th century onwards reflects its importance in modern studies of the development of medieval settlement in Cornwall.


The monument includes a small medieval ringwork, with stone-built defensive walling and internal structures, situated on the northern side of the broad, deep valley floor of the River Lynher as it skirts the NE edge of Bodmin Moor. Upton Castle was constructed on the crest of a rocky knoll which rises gently from the edge of the river channel, 90m south of the monument, and ends at a steep natural scarp, which descends 6m to a broad natural gully along its northern side. The ringwork uses this scarp as its natural northern defensive line; the other sides of the Castle's site are marked by much slighter scarps, up to 3m high, defining a sub-circular, almost level area measuring 32m NW-SE by 34m NE-SW. This lesser scarping is at least partly artificial along the western, eastern and south-eastern sides of the Castle where its situation was rendered more defensible by cutting a single ditch, up to 3.5m wide and still visible up to 0.5m deep, immediately beyond the scarp slope. Within these earthwork defences, a continuous perimeter wall of coursed, unmortared and undressed rubble survives up to 1.5m high and 2m thick along the scarped edge of the knoll's levelled crest. Short tumbled breaks are located in the wall's SE and NW sectors, neither showing clear evidence for having been original entrances. At the NE corner, the lower courses of a small, ovoid structure extend down the upper slope of the northern scarp from the course of the perimeter wall. Within the perimeter wall are the lower courses of two sub-rectangular buildings, also constructed with unmortared coursed rubble walling. The larger building, considered to be the hall, is situated slightly north of the ringwork's centre and measures, internally, 14m maximum east-west by 8m north-south. Its walls survive up to 1.5m high and 1m thick, incorporating a short tumbled break near the centre of each long side. These breaks occupy opposing positions in the hall's plan and are considered to mark the sites of original entrances. The smaller building is situated between the hall and the southern sector of the perimeter wall, to whose inner face the building is attached. This building measures, internally, 7m maximum north-south by 3.5m east-west, with walls surviving up to 0.5m high and 1m thick. Tumbled breaks in the NW and eastern sectors of its walling show no evidence to determine whether they were original entrances. The ringwork of Upton Castle is considered to have been the 12th century defended manor house of a lesser landholder, the only example of its type to have survived in Cornwall. The place-name associates this ringwork with the residence of the Upton family, also recorded in this vicinity in a 12th century charter. A tradition claims that Upton Castle was subsequently used as a monk's cell by Launceston Priory. This ringwork was visited and described by several 19th century antiquaries and its uniqueness has ensured its inclusion in more recent comprehensive reviews of the medieval fortified residences in Cornwall.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

Legacy System number: 15176

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Latham, B, Trebartha: The House by the Stream, (1971), 35
Malan, A H, 'Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall' in , , Vol. 9, (1888), 344-5
Pattison, S R, Rodd, , 'Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall' in , , Vol. 4, (1872)
Peter, D B, 'Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall' in , , Vol. 15, (1902), 114
Preston-Jones, A, Rose, P, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Medieval Cornwall, , Vol. 25, (1986), 135-185
Andrew, C K C, AM7 scheduling description for CO 317, Upton Castle, 1940,
consulted 1/1992, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 1042,
dated 22/1/1992, Sheppard, P A, FMW report (AM107) for CO 317, Upton Castle, (1982)
General Description, Quinnell, N V, RCHME Field Report Form for SX 27 NW 35; Upton Castle, (1983)

End of official listing