Bayard's Cove Castle: a blockhouse in Dartmouth


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


Ordnance survey map of Bayard's Cove Castle: a blockhouse in Dartmouth
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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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 87857 50964

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 buried features. 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.

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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Cathcart-King, D J, The Castle in England and Wales, (1988), 174
Saunders, A D, Dartmouth Castle, (1993), 24-5
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX85SE-011, (1986)
MPP fieldwork by S. Gerrard, (1995)


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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