Dartmouth Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Dartmouth Castle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Hams (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SX 88648 50276

Reasons for Designation

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important.

The defensive function of the promontory overlooking the harbour mouth at Dartmouth continued after the abandonment of the enclosure castle. From 1481 when the chain tower was built, a series of defensive works were constructed on the site and each reflects changing military tactics and strategies. Chain towers are small structures built beside a river or harbour to house the end of a defensive chain of the mechanism for raising and lowering it. Harbour chains were intended to protect estuaries, harbours, and the river mouths from attack from the sea; they were laid from bank to bank and would normally rest on the bottom of the channel, being raised to the waterline when under threat. One end of the chain would always have a tower or building to house the lifting mechanism; the other end could have a similar structure, or a simpler means of fastening the end of the chain. Chain towers were usually, but not always, strongly constructed and capable of being defended, and these were built of stone. They are always situated near the water's edge and accommodation was only for short term use of the chain operators and garrison. Only five chain towers are known to survive in England and every example of this rare class of monument is considered of national importance. The series of more recent defensive structures are all situated on the site known as the Old Battery. Here a sequence of well preserved batteries and other structures were built and remodelled between the 16th century and 1941. Little is known concerning the character of the earlier defences and what survives is a 19th century Royal Commission fortification. The Royal Commission fortifications are a group of related sites established in response to the 1859 Royal Commission report on the defence of the United Kingdom. This had been set up following an invasion scare caused by the strengthening of the French Navy. These fortifications represented the largest maritime defence programme since the initiative of Henry VIII in 1539-40. The programme built upon the defensive works already begun at Plymouth and elsewhere and recommended the improvement of existing fortifications as well as the construction of new ones. There were eventually some 70 forts and batteries in England which were due wholly or in part to the Royal Commission. These constitute a well defined group with common design characteristics, armament and defensive provisions. Whether reused or not during the 20th century, they are the most visible core of Britain's coastal defence systems and are known colloquially as `Palmerston's follies'. All examples are considered to be of national importance.


This monument includes a medieval enclosure castle, mansion, chain tower, and post-medieval coastal battery situated on a rocky peninsula protruding into the entrance to the Dart estuary. The enclosure castle is Listed Grade I and is believed to date from the 14th century when a series of documents indicate that various local gentry were commissioned to construct a fort to defend Dartmouth harbour. The castle is believed to have taken the form of a ring of towers connected by a curtain wall, which was entered through a rectangular stone gate tower. Two lengths of curtain wall standing about 12m high and 2m wide, a circular tower and a substantial rock cut moat are visible, although the other towers and lengths of the curtain wall may survive as buried features. The character of the seaward defences and the buildings erected within the enclosure is not known. Documentary and antiquarian sources, however, confirm that there was a substantial domestic building within the castle enclosure, which at times has been referred to as a manor house and mansion. This building was built by the Carew family who were the lords of the manor of Stoke Fleming. Their building is no longer visible but will survive in the form of buried remains. A flight of steps leading into the remaining curtain wall tower is considered to be contemporary with the mansion and may have been inserted to make it into a garden feature or lookout tower. The chain tower is Listed Grade I and includes a circular stone tower (a part of which may have formed a section of the original enclosure castle) onto which a square tower was added during the building work. The round tower was built first of large rubble, mostly limestone. Work stopped before the round tower was completed and the square tower was built beside it. The stones used here are different in size and almost entirely composed of slate. Ultimately this material was used for the upper portions of the round tower when the two parts were completed together. The chain tower is a three storeyed building with an entrance leading directly to the ground floor. The replacement floor within the square room is 1m higher than the original. This room was probably used for defence and accommodation. Eleven small, splayed, square openings facing the sea may have been used for hand guns. Most of the other openings in this room are probably later. The three large openings facing the river are considered to have been for cannon and may have been inserted in the second part of the 16th century. The other two lower openings may belong to the late 17th century. The floor within the round tower has not been replaced, though this room also has several openings for musketeers. A large opening in the seaward side of this room is the hole through which the chain, which stretched across the harbour mouth, passed over a roller. The marks of successive slots for the axle of the roller can be seen in the jambs. The chain seems to have been hauled in by means of ropes, with the aid of a capstan or two wheels on an axle. The housing may have been in the holes in the back wall of the room. The internal layout of the tower is not known, although clearly it may have varied through time as military practices and customs changed. Within the basement there are seven ports for guns in the walls facing the sea. They are considered to be the earliest surviving examples of this type of gunport in England. They are rectangular and splayed internally to allow a degree of traversing for the gun within the external opening. Shutters were provided on the outside, hinged on one of the jambs. The fireplace at the back of the room in the square tower suggests that men may have been quartered there; in the 19th century this part was used as a guardroom, though in later years it became a coal store. Within the round tower are four musket openings and three gunports. The gunports were inserted through the existing masonry and indicate that they were an afterthought in the defence design. In later years this room was converted into a gunpowder storage area. The first floor room is considered to have been the main living quarters. There may originally have been one large room in the square tower, perhaps a common hall. The fireplace at its back has the remains of an oven in one side which suggests that cooking was done here. The windows in this room, though primarily designed to provide light, could also have been used to discharge muskets at an enemy. In later years this floor was divided up into at least three rooms. Leading from this floor and built into the body of the wall is a spiral staircase which gave access to the roof. The parapet surrounding the roof space was crennellated to provide protection for the defenders. Sometime after the original construction, the parapet on the landward side was heightened to provide greater security against a landward attack and to protect the entrance below. On the southern side of the roof space is a two storeyed turret which must have served as a lookout point. The chain tower is flanked on both sides by gun platforms. The southern gun platform was designed for three guns whilst that to the north is capable of providing a base for five. The surviving openings in the platform walls (embrasures) are 18th century remodellings. In them now sit cast iron guns of the 17th-19th centuries, all mounted on reproduction garrison gun carriages. These artillery pieces were recovered from Dartmouth Quay where they were being used as bollards. The chain tower forms part of a series of defensive positions built from the latter part of the 15th century to protect the important natural harbour at Dartmouth. Documentary evidence suggests that building of the chain tower began in 1481 and was modified between 1509-1547 to take artillery. An iron chain was stretched across the estuary from this tower to a cliff near Gommerock, where there is a hole in the rock for fixing the chain. When raised, this chain would have prevented shipping passing through to Dartmouth Harbour. In 1491 and 1492 four watchmen were employed, the hawsers and winding cable were purchased and the chain itself, which was probably stolen some years earlier from Fowey, was being maintained. The coastal battery at Dartmouth, known as the Old Battery, is Listed Grade II* and is a 19th century artillery fort built on the site of earlier 16th and 18th century fortifications. In its present form the Old Battery is a small two tier work of 1861. The guns on the upper tier were in open embrasures on a level space behind a rampart, whilst the guns in the lower tier are in three bomb proof vaulted chambers built into the thickness of the ramparts (casemates). The upper tier included two embrasures and provision for latrines, side arms and magazines. The building now used as the ticket office was built on top of the western embrasure in around 1940 to provide shelter for a 4.7 inch gun. The eastern embrasure has not been significantly altered and now contains one of the cast iron guns issued to Dartmouth in the 1890s. It is a 64 pounder rifled muzzle-loader converted from a smooth bore piece in 1874 and mounted on a reproduction traversing siege carriage. The three casemates lie immediately below the upper tier and behind them are the magazines and a lighting passage. Artillery pieces have been placed in each of the casemates for presentation purposes, although only the 64 pounder in the western casemate was part of the battery's armament. The magazines in which the ammunition was stored were separated from the casemates for safety reasons, with the shells being issued through hatches. Lighting for the magazines was provided by a lighting passage which was added in 1868. The magazine lamps were serviced from and vented into this passage, away from the magazines. The lanterns shone through glazed hatches and thus lit the magazines but avoided the danger of direct flames or sparks. The final main area within the Old Battery is the guardhouse which was entered from the upper tier and includes two separate rooms. The smaller room was the officer's quarters and the other the guardroom. Ammunition for the upper battery was brought up through hatches in the floor of the guardhouse. Three holes in the floor situated immediately above the main entrance to the battery are murder holes for defending the main door against attackers approaching the battery from the rear down an incline. The detailed history of the Old Battery is known from a series of military documents. The first specific mention of a gun battery on the site is in 1545 when Lamberd's Bulwark is referred to. The only description of this battery was made by a Spanish spy in 1599 who described it as a bastion of earth with six or eight pieces of artillery. The bulwark may have been modified during the English Civil War, during which time the castle saw action for both sides. In 1690 in response to a threat from the Dutch the battery was rebuilt in stone and provided with a new guardhouse and magazine. There then followed a period of neglect but in 1747 it was again remodelled as a two tier stone battery for 12 guns. In 1861, a perceived threat from the French resulted in the building of the surviving coastal battery, whose plan was determined to some extent by incorporating part of the earlier stone fort and resulted in the squinted gun ports which are considered a unique feature. Excluded from the scheduling are the modern road and path surfaces, the tea rooms, the timber public shelters, the public lavatories, the 19th century lighthouse, signposts, telephone kiosk, the artillery pieces except for the two 64-pounder rifled muzzle loaders and the flag pole, though the ground or masonry below these features is included. Important archaeological deposits lie within the churchyard and under St Petrox Church, but these are not included within the monument because they come under ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

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
Saunders, A D, Dartmouth Castle, (1993), 22
Saunders, A D, Dartmouth Castle, (1993), 17-22
Saunders, A D, Dartmouth Castle, (1993)
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX85SE37, (1992)
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX85SE37-01, (1991)
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX85SE7, (1992)


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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