Site of a medieval fortified house at Leigh Barton, including the south and west ranges, a gatehouse, section of curtain wall and fishpond


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014608

Date first listed: 15-May-1939

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Jul-1996


Ordnance survey map of Site of a medieval fortified house at Leigh Barton, including the south and west ranges, a gatehouse, section of curtain wall and fishpond
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: South Hams (District Authority)

Parish: Churchstow

National Grid Reference: SX 72013 46707


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers, gunports and crenellated parapets. Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables, brew houses, granaries and barns were located. Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.

Despite later additions and alterations, Leigh Barton farmhouse survives comparatively well and contains a number of significant architectural features illustrating the development of a typical Devonshire house. The ranges are an unusual adjunct to such a house and despite their conversion to barns, much important architectural information survives. Gatehouses and associated curtain walls were once a relatively common feature of fortified houses in Devon, but most were destroyed in the 18th century and the survival of such a fine example at this site is significant. Fishponds are relatively rare in Devon with only 62 examples currently recorded.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


This monument includes the site of a fortified medieval farmhouse at Leigh Barton, including the south and west building ranges of the house, a gatehouse, section of curtain wall and fishpond in addition to buried remains beneath the Grade I Listed house. The monument lies in a narrow valley drained by a small unnamed stream that runs north to join the River Avon. The medieval house formed a U-plan with the present farmhouse range to the north. The farmhouse itself, which is Listed Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling, has surviving fabric dating from the late medieval period up to the 20th century. The house has a rectangular, three room through-passage plan, and appears to have followed a fairly typical pattern of development for a Devon farmhouse. Recently, limited excavation and a detailed fabric analysis during consolidation work has revealed a complex sequence of alterations and additions. Eight major phases have been identified: the first is known only from archaeological excavation and the evidence includes a trench and several large post holes, along with a number of stakeholes, found within the service room of the farmhouse, together with stakeholes and a wicker-lined pit in the hall. These appear to represent two phases of substantial wooden buildings which presumably pre-date the earliest surviving stone built phase. The second phase saw the construction of a stone building and is considered to belong to the late medieval period. Masonry belonging to this phase survives through most of the western service end to a point just east of the cross passage. From this evidence it is clear that the through passage is an original feature. At least part of the western service end was floored over and the roof level was at least as high as at present. The third phase also belonged to the late medieval period and included the insertion of a garderobe into the south western corner of the building and a window let into the southern wall. The fourth phase was the final medieval one, when a stone stair was added together with a first floor partition and a window to light the new stair. The western wall of the through passage was also widened and heightened. All these changes were associated with a new first floor room over the eastern services. The fifth phase witnessed the insertion of the fine 16th century timber screen, together with flooring over the passage, and the addition of a two storey porch. The screen was intended to be viewed from an open hall, since its elaborately ornamented portion rises to a rail more than 0.9m above the present first floor level. Above the rail the screen is built of daub and, although very different in character, both parts are considered to have been constructed at the same time. The insertion of the screen created a narrow room above the cross passage which was entered from the stair, to which two additional steps were added. Entry to the first floor of the porch was through this narrow room via a doorway cut through the outer walling. The insertion of this doorway together with the other alterations associated with the building of the porch appears to have caused a structural weakness which very quickly led to movement in the area. The sixth phase probably dates to the later part of the 16th century and seems to have been primarily concerned with altering the developments made during the earlier part of the same century. The narrow room above the cross passage was enlarged by the removal of the western wall to create two equally sized chambers and the entrance to the first floor room within the porch was blocked. The abandonment of the upper floor of the porch was probably associated with the structural problems within this area. Other works associated with this phase include the raising of the floor over the eastern services. In phase seven, which probably dates to the mid-17th century, practically the whole of the structure east of the cross passage was rebuilt. The open hall and any room or rooms beyond were replaced by two rooms on each of two floors. Fireplaces were provided in all four rooms, and a projecting stair on the north gave access to the upper floor. The eastern room on the first floor still retains remnants of a fine plaster frieze, indicating that this became the principal chamber. The roof was entirely replaced at this time by the structure which survives in large part today. Phase eight dates from the 18th century and included numerous minor alterations amongst which were: the enlargement of some window embrasures and the insertion of at least two new windows; the insertion of three new doors and the narrowing of two others; the construction of leanto outbuildings against the north and east walls; and changing the access to the ground floor of the porch so that it could be entered from the east instead of the south. The pair of ranges associated with the farmhouse are also Listed Grade I. They represent part of a programme of enlargement and upgrading in the 15th century or early part of the 16th century when the curtain wall and gatehouse were also added. Both ranges are built in the local greeny-grey schist, and the western range is butted onto the south western corner of the farmhouse, whilst the southern range is aligned east to west. The western range includes a floor level store together with a first floor chamber. This is the smallest of the first floor chambers, although it has its own garderobe turret and two windows. Access to this chamber was via an external staircase and gallery leading to a reconstructed internal gallery which may have also served as a lobby or waiting space. The roof of this chamber is of four bays, with slightly tapering principals and cambered collars supported by arch braces, each in two pieces, the lower running down into a slot in the wall faces. The southern range includes a store and kitchen at ground level, together with two chambers above which were entered via an external staircase and gallery. The western chamber is taller than its neighbour, has a jointed cruck roof with arch-braced collars which has been largely rebuilt, and a fireplace. The fireplace is built into the western wall and has an unadorned schist head. The eastern chamber is the larger of the two, but has a less elaborate roof with tied principals and has no fireplace, its heating being derived from the kitchen below. Both chambers share half of a double garderobe turret built within the southern wall of the range. The kitchen lies across a yard from the screen's passage and its interior must have been dominated by a huge hearth which occupied the whole of the east wall. The great arch which supported the front of this hearth no longer survives, having been removed when the eastern part of this range was demolished, the floors and partitions removed and the resultant spaces converted to agricultural uses. At the back of the hearth are the remains of two large ovens, both of which have also seen limited damage. Other original features surviving within the kitchen include a small single window on the south side, two wall presses in the north wall and a channel in the south wall which led in from a stone basin outside. The southern range originally continued eastward, as discovered by a small exploratory excavation in 1982, which located the original construction trench and surviving masonry denoting the southern wall. However, it is not known exactly how far this range extended. The gatehouse together with lengths of curtain wall lie immediately north of the farmhouse and are also largely built in the local greeny-grey schist. The gatehouse is two storeyed. The gateway itself has round headed arches to front and rear and the outer gateway has pintles for a pair of doors. On the east side a newel stair gives access from the passage to a chamber occupying the whole upper space. This has a fireplace on the east side, a garderobe in the north west wall corner, and mullioned and transomed windows on both north and south walls. There is a cockloft or store accessible through a trap door in the wall above the door at the head of the stairs. The roof is modern, replacing the original one which collapsed in the 1950s. Four fishponds are known to have survived in the vicinity at least until 1937. Two of these fishponds survive but only the one lying adjacent and south west of the ranges forms part of this monument, and this is visible as an irregular hollow measuring 18m north to south by 12m east to west. There is a considerable body of historical documentation relating to Leigh Barton. The property was held from at least the late 13th century by the family who, as free tenants of Buckfast Abbey in their manor of Churchstow, took their name from Leigh. The earliest solid evidence comes from a late 13th century charter in which Thomas Leigh was granted a portion of wood by the Abbot of Buckfast. Through the 15th and 16th centuries a sequence of documents clearly confirm that the property remained in the hands of the Leighs. Of particular interest is one document where mention is made of the `two chambers over the Kechen'. In later years the property passed through several families, and by 1768 Leigh Barton was a tenant farm. In recent years there has been discussion concerning the status of the farm. Some historians have seen the site as a grange of Buckfast Abbey but, although the buildings do have an institutional character, historical documentation provides no evidence to support the idea. Excluded from the scheduling are the Grade I listed farmhouse (north range) all modern footpath surfaces, wooden fences, scaffolding and the bull pen, although the ground below all of these is included. A second fishpond lying 110m south east of the monument is not considered to be of national importance.

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: 24134

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Fox, S P , Kingsbridge and its Surroundings, (1874), 217
Fox, S P , Kingsbridge and its Surroundings, (1874), 217
Kerr, J B, Leigh Barton, Devon: Results of the Excavation 20th June, (1988), 1-3
Everett, A W, 'Buckfast Abbey Chronicle' in Leigh, , Vol. 7, (1937), 154
Morley, B M, 'Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings' in Leigh Barton, Churchstow, South Devon, , Vol. 41, (1983), 98-100
Morley, B M, 'Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings' in Leigh Barton, Churchstow, South Devon, , Vol. 41, (1983), 81-106
Morley, B M, 'Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings' in Leigh Barton, Churchstow, South Devon, , Vol. 41, (1983), 85
Brown, S.W., The farmhouse at Leigh Barton, Churchstow, Devon, Unpublished paper
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX74NW-001, (1992)
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX74NW001.1, (1989)
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX74NW001.2, (1982)
Manco, J, Leigh Barton, Churchstow, Devon, 1994, Unpublished paper

End of official listing