Ruins and buried remains of the medieval great house at Dartington Hall


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020167

Date first listed: 26-Jun-1924

Date of most recent amendment: 24-Jul-2002


Ordnance survey map of Ruins and buried remains of the medieval great house at Dartington Hall
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: South Hams (District Authority)

Parish: Dartington

National Grid Reference: SX 79701 62621, SX 79814 62635


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Medieval great houses were the residences of high-status non-Royal households. They had domestic rather than military functions and show little or no sign of fortification, even of a purely cosmetic nature. Great houses share several of the characteristics of royal palaces, and in particular shared similar characteristics of size, sophistication, and decoration of the architecture. Great houses usually consist of a group of buildings, including a great hall, service rooms, one or more kitchens, several suites of chambers for the owners, the household and its guests, and a gatehouse. Other ancillary buildings are known to have been present but very rarely survive. Earlier examples typically comprised a collection of separate buildings, but through the 14th and 15th century there was increasing integration of the buildings into a few larger buildings. By the later medieval period, such complexes were commonly laid out around one or more formal courtyards; in the 16th century this would occasionally be contrived so that the elevations were symmetrical. Many great houses are still notable for the high quality of their architecture and for the opulence of their furnishings. Several examples contain substantially intact buildings, others consist of ruins or complexes of earthworks. Great houses are found throughout England, although there is a concentration in the south and Midlands. Further north, great houses were more heavily fortified, reflecting more unsettled political and social conditions, but their domestic purpose and status were still predominant. Fewer than 250 examples of great houses have been identified. As a rare monument class which provide an important insight into the lives of medieval aristocratic or gentry households, all examples will be nationally important.

Despite the demolition of the lodgings and long gallery around the inner courtyard, and the south end of the eastern lodgings range in the outer courtyard, well-preserved buried remains survive at Dartington Hall including walls, floors and stratified deposits. These relate to the buildings, a buried water supply culvert, and later garden features, which will add considerably to the future understanding of this monument. Holy wells are water sources with specifically Christian associations, sometimes originating as pre-Christian pagan sacred springs and often associated with beliefs in their healing properties. Most holy wells date from the later medieval period, but although they ceased to be built after the Reformation, their veneration and use as public water supplies continued. The spring head can take the form of lined well shafts or conduit heads on springs, sometimes with a chapel or shrine over it, often feeding a stone- lined reservoir which gathered the water at the surface. The holy well 150m south west of Dartington Hall survives well. Its well head and reservoir will contain remains relating to its construction and use, while waterlogged and other deposits relating to its veneration may survive beneath.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


This monument, which falls into two areas of protection, includes ruins and buried remains of Dartington Hall, a medieval great house, which lies on the north side of a combe overlooking rolling countryside in the valley of the River Dart. It also includes a holy well. Extant and occupied buildings are Listed Grade I and are not included in the scheduling. The Hall, on the site of a manor first recorded in the ninth century AD, was developed between 1388 and 1400 as a country residence for John Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon, the half brother of King Richard II. To the south of the surviving hall range of the house, a grass lawn covers foundations and stratified archaeological deposits associated with three further ranges of buildings which, with the south range of the surviving hall, enclosed the inner court. These ranges covered a maximum area of 55m from east to west and 45m from north to south. Partial excavation in 1962 revealed the remains of a free standing stone building of early 14th century date, 8.2m wide and 14.6m long with walls 1.1m wide, aligned east to west 11m south of the hall range. The inner court was constructed in the late 14th century; the buildings containing residential apartments in the west with chamber wings to their west and a ground floor pentice facing into the courtyard to the east. There was also a storied long gallery to the south, overlooking at least one terraced garden and fishponds in the valley below, and a narrow range of unidentified buildings to the east. These buildings varied in their dates of construction, the west range being of late 14th and 15th century date, while the long gallery to the south was of early 16th century date. The buildings were demolished in about 1700, but part of the south wall of the long gallery, 24m long, 1m wide and 3.5m high was retained. A terraced garden 80m long and 13m wide and known as the Bowling Green forms the south side of the scheduling. Excavations here between 1991 and 1999 showed this to have been a formal garden of 17th century date, laid out with a parterre, the bedding trenches for which have been located. A water supply was brought in a covered culvert from a spring on the south side of the valley to the late 14th century kitchen on its east side. The outer courtyard was flanked by long ranges of lodgings, housing retainers of the Duke of Exeter, and dating from the late 14th century. The south end of the east range, comprising ten lodgings on two stories, with shared latrine wings to the east and external stairs to the west, was demolished in the early 19th century. Foundations and stratified remains of these lie within the east part of the scheduling. The site of the medieval church of St Mary, largely demolished around 1878 lies to the north west of the Hall. The buried remains of its nave is under grass but the 15th century tower remains at the west end of the site. The church tower is Listed Grade I. The slate headstone about 7m west of the church tower in memory of Edward Shapter is listed Grade II. A holy well lies at the head of the combe to the south west of the hall in the second area of protection. It consists of a rectangular depression, revetted with stone rubble, measuring 4.5m wide, 6m long and 1.2m deep. In the 19th century, the enclosure was dammed to make a pond, with a rustic cascade of limestone rubble on the south east side, falling 1.5m into the combe below. A shaft well, lined with stone rubble and measuring 4m deep, 1.3m in diameter at the top, widening to 2.5m at the bottom, lies 6m to the east, but is now covered over. The gardens are Listed Grade II* on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens. Excluded from the scheduling are all path and road surfacings and the standing remains of the church, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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: 34872

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Emery, A , Dartington Hall, (1970), 215-218
Emery, A , Dartington Hall, (1970), 187
Emery, A , Dartington Hall, (1970), 265
Emery, A , Dartington Hall, (1970), 101
Currie, C, Archaeological Excavations at Dartington Hall, 1991-1999, 1999, Unpublished interim report
MPP fieldwork by R Waterhouse, Waterhouse, R, (2000)

End of official listing