Medieval fortified house at Compton Castle


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


Ordnance survey map of Medieval fortified house at Compton Castle
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This copy shows the entry on 05-Jun-2020 at 11:25:04.


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

South Hams (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 86550 64872

Reasons for Designation

Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers, gunports and crenellated parapets. Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables, brew houses, granaries and barns were located. Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.

Despite the demolition of parts of its service buildings, the buried and earthwork remains of the medieval fortified house at Compton Castle survive well complementing the standing fabric of the house which is Listed Grade I, and providing a context for it. The inner and outer courts will contain buried remains which relate to the construction and use of the house, while the earthworks of the associated formal garden and fishpond are likely to contain stratified environmental remains relating to the post-medieval usage of the site and its surrounding landscape.


This monument includes the buried and earthwork remains of a medieval fortified house, an associated fishpond and later garden features, at Compton Castle. The house faces north across a shallow valley. Its double courtyard plan contains the hall, chapel, private chambers and service ranges of a 14th century manor house, heavily rebuilt in the later 15th to early 16th century by the Gilbert family. The present house, which is Listed Grade I, contains substantial parts of the latter period of construction, which was contained within a high enclosing wall with a watch tower at its south east corner. The front wall of the outer courtyard was heavily defended with a central gatehouse with portcullis, capped with machicolated battlements. To the rear of the house, parts of the service ranges surrounding the inner courtyard have been removed, their foundations underlying later lawns and paths. In the later 16th to early 17th century, a third courtyard was laid out to the north, fronting the house, with a large threshing barn on its west side. Between this courtyard and the road, which lies to the north, slight earthworks remain of terraced formal gardens, divided from the orchard to the east by a stone rubble faced ha ha, while earthworks of a fishpond in the valley floor to the west measure 40m from north to south and at least 20m from east to west and up to 1.5m deep, with a dam at the west end 10m wide and up to 1.2m high. A stream runs along the north side of the pond beside the road. At the south west corner of the fishpond, a tree hole 8m in diameter and 1m deep has a circular mound 4m in diameter at its centre. The standing buildings of the fortified house, its curtain walls and other boundary walls, paths, courtyard surfaces and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Higham, R A, The Castles of Medieval Devon, (1979), 169-332
Everett, A W, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in The Rebuilding of the Hall of Compton Castle, , Vol. 88, (1956), 75-85
MPP fieldwork by R Waterhouse, Waterhouse, R, (2001)


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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