Reasons for Designation
Blockhouses are defensive structures of widely varying design built
specifically to house a small artillery garrison and to protect the gunners
and ammunition from attack. Usually stone built, each structure was designed
and built to protect a particular feature or area; typically they were located
to command a river, harbour entrance or anchorage. The main components of
blockhouses were a tower and bastions or gun platforms, although in some cases
only the tower or the bastion was present.
The earliest known blockhouse dates to 1398, but the majority were built in
the first half of the 16th century by Henry VIII. Distributed along the east,
south and south west coasts, there are 27 examples which are known to survive
in various states of repair, mostly now destroyed or incorporated into later
military constructions. Surviving examples will illustrate the development of
military defensive structures and of tactics and strategy during this period
of rapid change following the introduction of firearms. They will also
preserve something of the life and experience of the common soldier who was
required to live and work within them. All examples with substantial
archaeological remains are considered to be of national importance and will be
worthy of protection.
Bayard's Cove Castle survives well and forms part of a series of coastal
defences designed to protect the large natural harbour at Dartmouth. The
monument is a popular visitor attraction within Dartmouth. It includes both
upstanding and buried evidence for its construction and use.
This monument includes an early 16th century artillery blockhouse situated on
the coastline overlooking Dartmouth Harbour. The blockhouse 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 the blockhouse was constructed sometime after 1509 and was
certainly in existence by 1537 when it is mentioned as the New Castle in a
Dartmouth corporation lease. In 1553-54 Leland described it as a fair
bulwark, built of late. During the English Civil War the blockhouse was held
by both sides, but in 1646 following its capture by the Parliamentarians, it
was described as containing five great iron guns which commanded the river.
From this date, Bayard's Cove Castle was probably used for storage purposes,
although it was pressed into active service for a short time during World War
II, when it was used as a machine gun post.
The blockhouse, which is also a Grade I Listed Building, survives as an
irregular shaped platform cut into the cliff face, enclosed by a 1.5m thick
and 4.9m high local limestone rubble mortared wall. The original access to the
blockhouse was through an entrance situated in the northern wall. This
survives as a distorted arched passageway above which on the exterior is a
square moulded arch which may be the original shape of the entrance. The
interior measures 16m east to west by 15.5m north to south and is defined on
the western side by a 6m high cliff. At ground level the wall is pierced by 11
equally spaced gunports, each with an internal splay, and externally rebated
for shutters. One of these gunports has been enlarged to allow entry to the
blockhouse and its neighbour has been partly blocked by the building of a set
of steps climbing the hillside immediately south of the monument. Access to a
wall walk was gained by a stone stairway built against the inner face of the
northern wall; where removed, the position of the lower part of this stair is
shown by wall scarring. There is surviving evidence for external rendering
near the top of the steps. The wall walk itself is protected by a projecting
parapet providing shelter to musketeers. This wall walk also gives access to a
small area immediately west of the rockface on which gunners' accommodation
may have been sited.
The irregular shape of the blockhouse has been seen as a response to the
local topography, but the structure retains evidence for more than a single
construction phase, (the use of different materials in the parapet, a straight
butt joint east of the present gunport, and the marked change in the direction
of the wall at this point) which may equally well explain the present shape.
The first phase building may have been a small circular tower similar to that
planned for nearby Dartmouth Castle.
Within the blockhouse wall scars visible on the rock face indicate buildings
either contemporary with the active military use of the structure or belonging
to a time when it was used solely for storage. These may survive partly as
Excluded from the monument are the paving within Castle Steps House garden,
and the recent concrete surfaces within the main body of the blockhouse, but
the ground below both is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.