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Historic England Research Records

Lydford Castle

Hob Uid: 440670
Location :
Devon
West Devon
Lydford
Grid Ref : SX5094508478
Summary : Lydford Castle was built in AD 1195, as a purpose built prison for detaining royal prisoners, and took the form of a square stone tower or keep. It is also believed to have been used as the administration office for the Royal Forest of Dartmoor and as a Court of Law. In the 13th century, the castle was gaining importance as a Stannary Gaol, imprisoning people for offences related to tin-mining in the area. A second phase of construction began on the site at this time. This involved demolishing the upper part of the tower and adding two more storeys. The lower section of the castle was surrounded by earth to form a motte. On the north west side a narrow, rectangular bailey was added. The castle continued in use as a prison for several centuries. During the English Civil War, Lydford Castle was used by the Royalists as a prison or dungeon (in the lowest floor of the building) for Parliamentary supporters and soldiers. However it is recorded as in a state of disrepair in 1650 and major repairs were carried out in 1716 and 1733. In 1932, it was transferred from the Duchy of Cornwall to the guardianship of the Ministry of Works. The floors and lead roof of the castle have been destroyed. Restoration work was carried out to the rest of the monument in the 1950s. The tower is 14.5 metres square with 2.1 metre thick walls surrounded by an earthen motte measuring 45 metres by 35 metres. The tower has deeply splayed round-headed windows. The motte was once surrounded by a 4.5 metre deep ditch. The bailey covers an area 60 metre by 40 metre. The site was excavated in the late 1950s and 1960s. Located nearby, to the south of the castle, is an earlier Norman earthwork castle and to the north are the Saxon town defences (see associated records). The site is in the care of English Heritage.
More information : (SX50848478) Castle (NR) (rems of) (NAT). (1)

Pamphlet. (In NMR Library). (2)

Excavation by the MOW in 1958 showed that the lower storey of the keep had been filled up with rubble to first floor level. The results of the excavation greatly change our views of the physical appearance of the castle and indicate that the three-storey keep was originally a free standing structure without a mound. The mound was built up after the keep's construction.

Excavations of the bailey show it to have been built late in the castle's history, the bailey bank running over an in filled moat, although it may also be on the site of an earlier bank. Traces of a timber structure were found beneath it. (3,4)

In the care of the Ministry of Works. The rectangular late C12 keep remains fairly perfect as far as the walls are concerned. The floors and roof have been destroyed. Deeply splayed round-headed windows. Divided inside by a wall across. Ancient monument. (5)

Scheduled. (6)

[This information reconstituted from Microfiche of OS Record Cards kept in NMRC Library, Swindon. Comparison of the original OS Cards with the Microfiche information shows that an extensive survey of the castle by RN Worth in Oct and Nov 1950 is missing from the OS Cards. Three cards are missing, and unfortunately the original material was handwritten and the copy is largely illegible]. (7)

The fact that 40 house were laid waste between 1066-87 in the Royal Borough of Lydford may indicate that a Norman castle was built soon after the Conquest. King John granted the castle to William Brewerm but it reverted to the crown on Brewer's death in 1226. Granted by Henry III to his brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and since 1337 has been a possession of the Duchy of Cornwall. (8)

Listed by Cathcart King. (9)

Late 12th century rectangular keep, now without walls or floors. The mound on which the keep appears to stand was actually built up around its foundations. The bailey survives as an earthwork, with its bank overlying traces of an infilled moat. The earliest reference to the castle is in 1195 when there is a reference to a strong house for the king's prisoners. (1-9)

Lydford Castle was built in AD 1195 as a purpose built prison for detaining royal prisoners and took the form of a square stone tower or keep. It is also thought that the castle was used as the administration office for the Royal Forest of Dartmoor and a Court of Law. In the 13th century, the castle was gaining importance as a Stannary Gaol, imprisoning people for offences related to tin-mining. A second phase of construction began at this time. This involved demolishing the upper part of the tower and adding two more storeys. The lower section of the castle was surrounded by earth to form a motte. On the north west side a narrow, rectangular bailey was added. The castle continued in use as a prison for several centuries. During the English Civil War, Lydford Castle was used by the Royalists as a prison or dungeon (in the lowest floor of the building) for Parliamentary supporters and soldiers. However it is recorded as in a state of serious disrepair in 1650 and major repairs were carried out in 1716 and 1733. In 1932, it was transferred from the Duchy of Cornwall to the guardianship of the Ministry of Works. The floors and lead roof of the castle have been destroyed. Restoration work was carried out to the rest of the monument in the 1950s. The tower is 14.5 metres square with 2.1 metre thick walls surrounded by an earthen motte measuring 45 metres by 35 metres. The tower has deeply splayed round-headed windows. The motte was once surrounded by a 4.5 metre deep ditch. The bailey covers an area 60 metre by 40 metre. The site was excavated in the late 1950s and 1960s. (10-11)

Source 12 includes a brief accessible overview of the history and remains of Lydford Castle and Saxon Town, including a small plan of the site. (12)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1965
Page(s) :
Figs. :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source : Lydford Castle, Devon [guide]
Source details :
Page(s) :
Figs. :
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Source Number : 11
Source : Lydford/Report
Source details : Newman, P. 2000. English Heritage Archaeological Survey Report: The Town and Castle Earthworks at Lydford, Devon. Swindon: National Monuments Record.
Page(s) : Jan-19
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 12
Source : Heritage Unlocked: Guide to free sites in Devon, Dorset and Somerset
Source details :
Page(s) : 22-25
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 3
Source : Devonshire Association reports and transactions
Source details :
Page(s) : 176-7
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 91, 1959
Source Number : 4
Source : Medieval archaeology : journal of the Society for Medieval Archaeology
Source details : (D M Wilson and D Gillian Hurst)
Page(s) : 188
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 9, 1965
Source Number : 5
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : Tavistock Rural District, Devon, FEB-1960
Page(s) : 13
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 6
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : English Heritage Record Form, plan, 17-FEB-1989
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 7
Source : Oral information, correspondence (not archived) or staff comments
Source details : RJ Fitz-Gerald, NMRC Recording, 06-Feb-2004
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 8
Source : The history of the King's Works, volume 2 : the Middle Ages
Source details :
Page(s) : 733-4
Figs. :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 9
Source : Castellarium anglicanum : an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the islands. Volume I : Anglesey - Montgomery
Source details :
Page(s) : 117
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 10
Source : Medieval archaeology : journal of the Society for Medieval Archaeology
Source details : A.D. Saunders. 1980. Lydford Castle, Devon. Accessible online at: http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-769-1/ahds/dissemination/pdf/vol24/24_123_186.pdf
Page(s) : 123-186
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 24, 1980

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : built 1195
Monument End Date : 1195
Monument Start Date : 1195
Monument Type : Prison, Castle, Keep, Law Court, Office
Evidence : Ruined Building, Extant Building, Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : 13th century additions
Monument End Date : 1300
Monument Start Date : 1201
Monument Type : Castle, Keep And Bailey Castle, Bailey, Mound, Moat, Prison, Law Court, Office, Motte
Evidence : Ruined Building, Earthwork, Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Georgian
Display Date : repairs carried out 1716
Monument End Date : 1716
Monument Start Date : 1716
Monument Type : Castle, Prison, Law Court, Office
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Georgian
Display Date : repairs carried out 1733
Monument End Date : 1733
Monument Start Date : 1733
Monument Type : Castle, Prison, Law Court, Office
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Mid 20th Century
Display Date : 1950s restoration work
Monument End Date : 1959
Monument Start Date : 1950
Monument Type : Castle
Evidence : Extant Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Devonshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 8
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DV 392
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : NBR Index Number
External Cross Reference Number : 93876
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 282
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SX 58 SW 2
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 440695
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 440671
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, LYDFORD CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1957-01-01
End Date : 1964-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: PRISONS PROJECT
Activity type : ARCHITECTURAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1995-01-01
End Date : 1998-12-01
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT LYDFORD CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2009-01-01
End Date : 2010-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT LYDFORD
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2010-01-01
End Date : 2010-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND ADJACENT TO LYDFORD CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2014-01-01
End Date : 2014-12-31