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
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This copy shows the entry on 22-Feb-2019 at 18:31:26.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
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
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)
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