Fort Charles


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


Ordnance survey map of Fort Charles
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
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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 73372 38055

Reasons for Designation

Artillery castles were constructed as strong stone defensive structures specifically to house heavy guns. Most date from the period of Henry VIII's maritime defence programme between 1539 and 1545, though the earliest and latest examples date from 1481 and 1561 respectively. They were usually sited to protect a harbour entrance, anchorage or similar feature. These monuments represent some of the earliest structures built exclusively for the new use of artillery in warfare and can be attributed to a relatively short time span in English history. Their architecture is specific in terms of date and function and represents an important aspect of the development of defensive structures generally. Although documentary sources suggest that 36 examples originally existed, all on the east, south and south east coasts of England, only 21 survive. All examples are considered to be of national importance.

Despite some damage by coastal erosion and possible slighting during the Commonwealth period, the surviving remains of Fort Charles are well-preserved. The walls, buried remains and rock cut features contain information relating to the construction and use of the monument, and will add considerably to its future understanding.


This monument includes Fort Charles, an artillery castle constructed in the 1540s by order of King Henry VIII, and sited on a natural rock island near the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary. Local views of the estuary from Salcombe to the sea are visible from the fort. The fort was later reconstructed and strengthened in 1643 on the orders of Prince Maurice. It was then besieged by Parliamentary forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax between 15th January and 7th May 1646, when its Royalist garrison, under the command of Sir Edmund Fortescue, surrendered. A small watch tower was built onto the ruins of Fort Charles in the 18th or 19th century. The monument survives as a ruin, best preserved on the landward side, where a large semicircular, four storey tower of dressed slate rubble on the south west side of the site is flanked a short distance to the north east by the remains of a narrower rectangular tower. The two are connected by a straight section of wall facing the cliff. Large quantities of earth and rubble lie against the interior, preserving remains of several rooms. On the seaward side of the fort, traces of a semicircular battery of at least two storeys survive, with six gunports facing across the estuary at ground floor level. These are visible as cuts in the rock, with one pier surviving between the gunports; a shaped corbel which supported the gunport lintel survives on its south west. A door connected the south west tower with the battery. Low walls projecting from the now buried rear part of the fort show that a rectangular kitchen with an oven on its west side abutted the straight wall on the landward side, while rooms on either side lay within the two flanking towers. The only identifiable entrance is a sally port at the north east end of the main gun battery. This had a narrow `L'-shaped passage 1.2m wide, with doors at its inner end into the basement of the north tower and the seaward gun battery. A large stone pier at the south west corner of the kitchen partly supported the first floor, with a recess for a newel stair alongside, leading to a second gun deck above the first. The monument is a Listed Building Grade II.

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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Parker, R, Archaeological Recording At Fort Charles, Salcombe 1994 and 1997, (1998)
Parker, R, Archaeological Recording At Fort Charles, Salcombe 1994 and 1997, (1998)


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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