Castle Hill


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


Ordnance survey map of Castle Hill
© 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.

East Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SY 21264 99476

Reasons for Designation

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte-and-bai1ey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. Over 600 motte castles and motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. Some 100-150 examples do not have baileys and are classified as motte castles. As one of a restricted range of recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although many were occupied for only a short period of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

The motte castle at Castle Hill represents an unusual mode of construction, being a modified natural feature rather than an artificial mound. If its identification as a fortification of Stephen's reign (1135-54) is correct, then it is a rare survival for the period in which it was constructed. Unlike similar strategically placed sites, Castle Hill has escaped later rebuilding of any fortification on the same site, and will provide information relating to its construction and use as well as the strategic military thinking of the period.


Castle Hill is a motte castle, of possible 12th century date, sculptured from the natural hillside in a commanding position overlooking the ancient settlements of Widworthy and Wilmington, both recorded in Domesday. Mottes are usually constructed as artificial mounds thrown up by means of piling soil and/or stone, but the motte at Castle Hill was created by the scarping of a natural irregularly-shaped knoll which sits on the top of the hill. The knoll, as modified, is sub-rectangular in shape, being near circular on its southern and eastern sides whilst the north and west sides are nearly straight, measuring about 31m and 27m in length respectively. The apex of the knoll has been flattened to provide a platform about 35m across. The resulting platform is about 5m in height with no encircling bank. It slopes at a 45 degree angle on all sides to a ditch which survives as a faint trace, more visible to the north than the south, with a width of about 3m. The tradition of the antiquity and function of the site goes back at least until 1780 when it was known as Castle Hill and its original use as a fortification is possibly confirmed by the adjacent field name `Barbarry' which is perhaps a corruption of barbican. Dr Robert Higham has suggested that Castle Hill may date from the second major period of motte construction, during the civil wars of King Stephen's reign in the 1130s and 1140s.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 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.

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Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: South Devon, (1952), 310
Haydon, E, 'The Devon Historian' in Castle Hill at Widworthy, , Vol. 50, (1995), 18-23
Hutchinson, P O, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in , , Vol. 2, (1867), 373-4
Ramsden, J V, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in The Hill Fort and Castle Hill at Widworthy, , Vol. 79, (1947), 193-6
Higham, R, The Castles of Medieval Devon (unpublished PhD thesis), 1979, Fig 39-40


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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