Restormel Castle: motte, bailey and shell keep


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


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 10391 61415

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-bailey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and the centre 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 or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally with examples known from most regions. As such, and 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 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries after which they were superseded by other types of castle. A shell keep is an enclosure of masonry, extending round the top of an earlier motte or castle ringwork and replacing the existing timber palisades. Shell keeps are generally small, usually round or rounded, and contained few internal buildings. They were sometimes provided with gate towers and mural towers. They held the same functions and siting characteristics as motte castle. Only 71 shell keeps are recorded nationally, with examples known throughout England though a concentration occurs in the Welsh Marches. Consequently they are rare monuments of particular importance in the study of the development of medieval fortifications. They were built for only a short period of time, mostly during the 12th century and a few in the early 13th century, after which they were superseded by other types of castle. Restormel Castle is a particularly well-preserved motte and bailey castle with one of the most intact of all known shell keeps, complete with its near-contemporary internal structures surviving to most of their wall height. It has great historical importance as one of the four major castles of the Earls of Cornwall and was their principle residence in the later 13th century. The castle is still a clear and well-visited landmark in the local landscape and retains considerable potential for future contributions to the study of this important class of monument.


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle of the Norman period and a shell keep dating to c.1200. The motte, built c.1100, was extensively re- modelled during construction of the shell keep but remains as a circular mound c.52m diameter at its base, and rising 6m from the base of the surrounding flat-bottomed ditch. The ditch is 15m wide and 4m deep, and encircled externally by a flat-topped bank crowning the summit of the hill. A further bank is visible below the scarp edge to the N and NE of the castle. The lower part of the stone gate-tower, set into the WSW side of the motte, is considered to be contemporary with the initial construction of the motte. The rectangular bailey is sited on the gently sloping land extending WSW from the motte. Much of is NW boundary is still marked by a surviving earth bank running WSW-ENE along a scarp edge; the course of the bank along its SW and S sides can be considered to have followed the course of the modern field boundaries in those areas. The area thus defined contains earthworks traces of stone building foundations, confirmed by discoveries made during tree- planting in this area, which indicate the siting in the bailey of a hall, chapel, kitchen and offices mentioned in a 14th century survey of the castle. The circular shell keep is sited on the earlier motte. It comprises a curtain wall 38m diameter, 2.4m thick, butted against the earlier gate tower, and surviving to the full height of the wall walk 7.6m above the courtyard at ground level; the battlemented parapet is also extensively intact. A series of quarries visible in the scarp face NE of the castle are considered to have provided the slate for the keep's construction. The visible internal structures of the keep date to later in the 13th century. The keep contains an inner courtyard bounded by a circular wall concentric with the curtain wall; the castle's domestic buildings were formed by the radical subdivision of the space between the courtyard and the curtain walls. These domestic buildings have been identified as including: guardhouses to each side of the gate tower; the kitchen; the great hall; the solar; the ante-chamber; the bed- chamber and the guest chamber. The chapel is also a 13th century addition projecting beyond the curtain wall on the NE side. It has a blocked window and related alterations considered to be the site of a Civil War gun emplacement. No formal excavations are recorded at this monument, but limited ground disturbance has been noted in the area of the bailey. The monument stands on the summit of a spur projecting into the W side of the River Fowey valley, c.1.5 miles N of its present tidal limit and above the valley's lowest bridging point in the 12th century. The spur has a steep scarp to the immediate N of the castle, with less severe slopes to its E and S. The gentle slope on the W runs to a saddle linking the spur to the rising land to the W of the valley. All of the modern signs, fittings, fences and service trenches, the admission kiosk and worksheds, and the concrete base and barbeque near the N corner of the bailey area are excluded from the scheduling, but the land beneath them 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:
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Books and journals
Halliday, F E, A History of Cornwall, (1975)
Radford, C A R, Restormel Castle, (1986)
Radford, C A R, Restormel Castle, (1986), 6
Irwin, M M, 'Cornish Archaeology' in An Earthwork At Restormel, (1975)
Irwin, M M, 'Cornish Archaeology' in An Earthwork At Restormel, (1975), 84-6
Ancient Monuments Terrier, AA 76275,
Ancient Monuments Terrier, AA 76275,
Ancient Monuments Terrier, AA 76275,
Cornwall SMR entry for Restormel Castle, PRN 6730.02,
Photographic archive held by Cornwall SMR for PRN 6730,


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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