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Historic England Research Records

Holwell Castle

Hob Uid: 34709
Location :
Devon
North Devon
Parracombe
Grid Ref : SS6696044600
Summary : A motte and bailey castle measuring 40m in diameter and 6.2m high above the bottom of a rock cut ditch which is 2.7m deep. The ditch is complete apart from on the north and west sides where the bailey impinges. Within the bailey are traces of five building platforms terraced into the hillside. On the summit of the motte is a linear hollow thought to be the remains of the 1905 excavation. A survey carried out in 1995 after a period of drought located the keep on the summit and a wing hall on the motte slopes. Scheduled.
More information : (SS 66974460) Holwell Castle (NR) (1).

Motte and bailey, with the motte 50' high and originally surrounded by a fosse 6' deep but destroyed around SE parts by modern banking. The bailey is surrounded by a bank 10' high from the interior and 20' high on the exterior (2).

A motte and bailey situated on a NW facing promontory between two valleys.
The motte is 40.0m diameter and 6.2m high above the bottom of a rock cut outer ditch which is itself 2.7m deep. The ditch is complete except in he N and W where the bailey impinges (3).

The bailey encloses an area of 1/2 acre and has a rampart which is up to 1.0m high above the interior and 5.0m above the outer ditch. A counterscarp bank is 0.3m high in the west but survives only as a flat berm in the E. A break in the rampart in the NW is possibly an original entrance, but is now too mutilated for definite interpretation.
Resurveyed at 1:2500 (4).

Holwell Castle is centred at SS 66974460. It is generally as described by authy 4, except that within the bailey are traces of a building platform at SS 6695144596. It measures approximately 9m by 12.4m and is terraced into the hillside on its upper or south-east end. Other amorphous undulations within the bailey are probably partly due to the shape of the ground surface, or less likely, represent further structures.

On the summit of the motte is a linear hollow running north-west to south-east. It probably represents an excavation trench and may well be associated with the Rev. Chanter's exploration of the site in 1905 (see SMR account, SS 64 SE 18).

Although considered by earlier authorities to occupy a classically defensive position, Holwell Castle is geared specifically to overlook the existing settlement and especially the river crossing to the north-west; it also dominates the valley of the River Heddon running north-westwards. However, it is overlooked by higher ground to te south-east, and the motte has in fact been cut down into the end of the spur which makes it weaker when approached from this direction. It seems therefore that the castle's position is intended to dominate the settlement of Parracombe and specifically the river crossing. (5)

Holwell Castle was surveyed at 1:500 scale by RCHME in June 1995 at the request of the Exmoor National Park Authority.

The survey was carried out after scrub clearance and after a period of drought. This enabled fine detail to be observed, including the base of the keep on the motte summit, the site of a wing wall on the motte slopes, and five platforms within the bailey. The most substantial of these, first observed in 1993 (above, Source 5) is probably the site of the hall. The absence of documentary evidence for the site means that its longevity is not known, however, the field evidence suggests that the buildings within the bailey were mainly of timber (or cob).

Plans and a full report have been deposited in the NMRC. (6)

Listed by Cathcart King. (7)

The 1:500 survey plan (source 5) was incorporated into an air photo plot of Parracombe and the surrounding area.
(8-9)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1963
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Source Number : 2
Source : The Victoria history of the county of Devon : volume one
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Page(s) : 620
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Source : Holwell Castle
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Source : Parracombe Project/Ink AP Transcription
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Source : Holwell Castle/ink survey
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Source : Holwell Castle/pencil survey
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Source Number : 3
Source : The archaeology of Exmoor : Bideford Bay to Bridgwater
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Page(s) : 134-5, 213
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Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 MHB 18-AUG-72
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Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Wilson-North WR 3-SEP-93, RCHME Field Investigation
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Source Number : 6
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Wilson-North, WR 12-JULY-1995 RCHME Field Investigation
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Source Number : 7
Source : Castellarium anglicanum : an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the islands. Volume I : Anglesey - Montgomery
Source details :
Page(s) : 118
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Vol(s) : 1
Source Number : 8
Source : RCHME/EH/HE Aerial Photographers comment
Source details : Helen Winton/20DEC-1999/RCHME: Parracombe, West Exmoor
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Source Number : 9
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Riley H and Wilson-North R 2001 The Field Archaeology of Exmoor English Heritage, Swindon
Page(s) : 116-119
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Source : Parracombe Project
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Medieval
Monument End Date : 1540
Monument Start Date : 1066
Monument Type : Motte And Bailey, Keep, Great Hall, Building Platform
Evidence : Earthwork, Sub Surface Deposit

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Devonshire)
External Cross Reference Number : SS64SE18
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DV 104
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SS 64 SE 14
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, HOLWELL CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1905-01-01
End Date : 1905-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 64 SE 14
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1972-08-18
End Date : 1972-08-18
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: WEST EXMOOR PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1993-01-01
End Date : 1996-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 64 SE 14
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1993-09-03
End Date : 1993-09-03
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 64 SE 14
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1995-07-12
End Date : 1995-07-12
Associated Activities : Primary, WATER MAIN TO PARRACOMBE
Activity type : DESK BASED ASSESSMENT
Start Date : 1996-01-01
End Date : 1996-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: PARRACOMBE, WEST EXMOOR
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 1999-12-01
End Date : 1999-12-01