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HER Number:MDV10236
Name:Powderham Castle


Powderham Castle is now an imposing stately home but the medieval work of the early 15th century still forms the core of the house.


Grid Reference:SX 968 836
Map Sheet:SX98SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishPowderham
Ecclesiastical ParishPOWDERHAM

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 447985
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX98SE/3
  • Old Listed Building Ref (I)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • FORTIFIED MANOR HOUSE (Early Medieval to XXI - 1066 AD to 2009 AD)

Full description

Unknown, 3116 Z/23 (Record Office Collection). SDV299930.

Swete, R. J. (Revd), 1792-1801, 564M 'Picturesque Sketches of Devon' by Reverend John Swete, 564M/11/64,17/158,162 (Record Office Collection). SDV337942.

Illustrations by Swete.

Lysons, D. + Lysons, S., 1822, Magna Britannica. Devonshire, 422 (Monograph). SDV323771.

Harding, A., 1867, Untitled Source, 170-83 (Article in Serial). SDV336421.

An account of the different building phases is given in this article. Principally as described above, with early 15th century hall and chambers recieving additions and alterations 1419-1463, and the major restoration/ rebuilding occuring in the 18th century. The whole area was remodelled in the mid 19th century. Abstract and plan in parish file. Other details: Plan.

Anon, 1872, Article in Archaeological Journal, 439 (Article in Serial). SDV336426.

Whitely, H. M., 1902-1903, Repairs to Powderham Castle, 237-9 (Article in Serial). SDV336430.

Repairs were carried out in Powderham Castle in 1539-1540. The accounts relating to the work are preserved at the Public Record Office. It is contained in a paper book of eight pages, five of which only are written on.

Anon, 1913, Untitled Source, 531-2 (Article in Serial). SDV336420.

Other details: Plan.

Reichel, O. J., 1915, The Hundred of Exminster in Early Times, 200,206,236 (Article in Serial). SDV285943.

The probable site of the Domesday manor of Poldreham. After 1096 it was held of the Honour of Hereford. Early descents thereafter are given.

Clarke, K. M., 1916 - 1917, The Carew-Mohun Chimney Piece, 236-7 (Article in Serial). SDV336429.

Department of Environment, 1952, St Thomas RD, 99 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV129122.

Pevsner, N., 1952, The Buildings of England: South Devon, 248-9 (Monograph). SDV336217.

14th century or earlier, but much altered and modernised. Ancient seat of the Courtenays. Garrisoned for the King in Civil War and captured 1646. The 14th, 16th, 18th and 19th centuries are represented, although its building history is unclear. Strong towers of the later middle ages are apparent on the east and west sides, although on the west the medieval work is obscured by masonry of 1840-1850. Some indications of an attempt in Elizabethan times to remodel the facade on the 'E' plan, with the addition of a central brick porch and brick wing on the right to balance the existing barn on the right. Earliest interior details are Queen Anne. These and subsequent alterations described in text.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1953, SX98SW6 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV336431.

Feld investigations confirmed the above comprehensive oral information. Plans of Powderham Castle drawn in 1954 by J Sidey are filed in the Devon Record Office in A W Everett's papers. Powderham castle of 13th century but much modernised. The two towers are old, and a wall of the old hall survives with 3 doorways leading to the services. Continued occupation from the 13th century, each successive occupier adding or demolishing various portions. Extensive alterations were carried out in the 19th century when the west front was added. The castle guesthouse was once a detached building where the southeast wing now is. It was later used as a barn, and in the 19th century was converted into the present chapel. It is known that the height of the roofs has been altered. The battlements are of late 13th century, the northwest tower and turret are of the 14th century, and the west courtyard and buildings were added in 1837. The original courtyard was on the east side (citing oral information, 1953). Cyril fox, in 1952, describes Powderham Castle as a late medieval hall house behind 18th century accretions, probably built c1410. Other details: Plan.

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 278,466-7 (Monograph). SDV17562.

The fortified manorhouse at Powderham was begun by Phillip Courtenay, who died in 1406. The original building consisted of hall, kitchen and offices, with 4 angle towers and an entrance tower facing the River Exe. It suffered severely in the civil war, and was for long uninhabitable. It began to take its present form as a result of a series of large scale alterations in the 18th century. These and other details given in text. Other details: Plate 31.

Roberts, J., 1956, Sir William Courtenay, 1553-1630, 177 (Article in Serial). SDV336425.

Reconstruction about 1580 added central porch and extra wing.

French, K. + French, C., 1957, Devonshire Plasterwork, 135 (Article in Serial). SDV4676.

Other details: Plate 21b.

Unknown, 1963, Untitled Source (Article in Serial). SDV336424.

Chope, R. P., 1967, Observations of the Western Counties of England by W. G. Maton, 1794-1796, 236-8 (Article in Monograph). SDV336427.

Chope, R. P., 1967, The Itinerary of John Leland, 68 (Article in Monograph). SDV336428.

Higham, R. A., 1979, The Castles of Medieval Devon, 164-6,293,296,298,315,319,321 (Post-Graduate Thesis). SDV336189.

An 18th/19th century layout incorporating a 15th century nucleus, ie an open hall with chambers and two successive chapels. The walls were embattled, and rectangular towers engulfed the structure. A 16th century map shows it as a cramped structure with four towers, and in c1540, Leland describes a bullwark or barbican by the river. An engraving of 1734 shows a crennelated central structure with walled courtyard, within its own gatehouse. There is no such evidence of fortification before the late middle ages, and no medieval documentation as a castle. A fortified manor house with emphasis on the domestic rather than the castle. Other details: Fig 56, Plate 57.

Griffiths, D. M., 1982, Powderham Castle (Worksheet). SDV358784.

Unknown, 1982, SX9683 (Aerial Photograph). SDV299925.

Griffith, F. M., 1988, DAP/JY, 1-4 (Aerial Photograph). SDV314510.

Higham, R. A., 1988, Devon Castles: An Annotated List (Article in Serial). SDV341278.

Griffith, F. M., 1989, DAP/MI, 12-14 (Aerial Photograph). SDV167853.

Griffith, F. M., 1990, DAP/PU, 15 (Aerial Photograph). SDV336422.

Edyvean, J., 1995, 63rd Report of the History Section, 351 (Article in Serial). SDV336423.

The original will of Princess Katharine, 2nd daughter of Edward IV was found at Powderham Castle.

Griffith, F. M., 1996, DAP/ZJ, 11-12 (Aerial Photograph). SDV122850.

Higham, R. A. + Freeman, J. P., 1996, Devon Castles (Draft Text), 5, 7, 12, 14, Gazetteer (Monograph). SDV354350.

Commanding wide views of the riverine approaches to Exeter and Topsham, Powderham Castle is an imposing stately home that developed around a fortified late medieval hall. The medieval work of the early 15th century comprising hall, chambers and adjoining towers still forms the core of the house. An engraving of 1734 that pre dates most of the modern alterations shows Powderham as a crenellated hall and towers with a walled courtyard and gatehouse. While such defences may not seem formidable they were nevertheless sufficient to withstand attacks throughout a two month siege in 1455 during the Wars of the Roses.

Devon Gardens Trust, 2003, Powderham (Reg/Local list of Historic Parks and Gdns). SDV336419.

English Heritage, 2006, Powderham (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV336417.

Powderham Castle. A fortified manor house, the seat of the Courtenays, Earls of Devon, since the 14th century. Medieval core with a sequence of 18th century alterations, principally of the 1750s and 1760s, music room addition of 1794-6 by James Wyatt for the third Viscount. Charles Fowler was employed at the beginning of a 19th century programme of alterations which continued into the 1860s. Fowler designed the Gothic dining room addition and effectively turned the castle round - it had formerly faced east - by transforming the old service yard to the west into a forecourt with a gatehouse. Grey limestone rubble with some fragments of red sandstone; embattled parapets. Plan: The medieval core in the main range, on a north-south axis, is partly buried in the later alterations but consisted of an open hall with 3 service doors at the lower (south) end leading into service rooms and a kitchen at the south. The private apartments to the north of the hall included a first floor solar. The north wing was a chapel wing (chapel mentioned in 1450) projecting east from the main range, A smaller corresponding south wing was probably originally detached and retains a high quality late medieval roof; it may have been a first floor or open hall of some kind and although unheated at present appears to be shown with stacks in a stylized drawing of 1743. 4 substantial towers survive : a medieval north-west tower, a probably medieval tower in the angle between the main range and north wing and towers on the west and east walls of the main range; these may be 16th century or 16th century remodellings and certainly predate 1734 (Buck's engraving). A fifth tower is buried in 18th century alterations to the north wing. The programme of 18th century alterations is described in detail in Mark Girouard's article in Country Life and before the employment of James Wyatt for the 1790s music room is remarkable for the use of local builders and craftsmen. In brief: by 1717 the north wing had been recast as a chapel with library over, the library (now a drawing room) being refurbished in 1740 with plaster work (no longer existing) by Jenkins and a baroque chimneypiece, doorcase and bookshelcases (now moved downstairs) probably all by J Channon. The hall in the main range was subdivided vertically by 1755 when it was split between a spectacular stair hall with a massive open well stair by James Garrett of Exeter employed as surveyor' to the Powderham Estate with plasterwork by John Jenkins, and a 2 storey high reception room retaining the medieval service doorways at the lower end of the hall. Further alterations of the 1760s for the 2nd Viscount involved work in the north wing and single-storey rooms flanking the east tower including Rococo ceilings and Gothick windows. In the 1780s the chapel in the north wing, was converted into a drawing room (formed into libraries at the beginning of the 19th century). The 3rd Viscount, who inherited in 1788, added the splendid music room, adjacent to the north wing in 1794-6, by Wyatt. The final major programme of alterations was begun by the 10th Earl who employed Charles Fowler to add a dining hall on the west side of the main range and create a new entrance front on the west side with a baronial courtyard; the whole exterior of the Castle was "extensively restored and in part re-Gothicised" (Girouard) at the same time. The dining hall was not completed until the late 1850s and in 1861 the south wing, with the superior medieval roof, was remodelled as a chapel. Exterior: Main range 3 storeys, north and south wings 2 storey, 4 storey towers to north-west, west and east, single storey music room, dining room and west bays. All battlemented and buttressed on the west elevation. West elevation with a 4-storey entrance tower and the north west tower projecting at the left with Fowler's 3-bay buttressed single storey dining hall between the towers with tall transomed Decorated traceried windows. Massive arched doorway into entrance tower below a corbelled oriel window by Fowler, another oriel of unknown date on the main range to the right of the entrance tower. 1-, 2- and 3-light stone windows in square-headed frames, some with cusped heads, mostly 19th century restorations but some probably original. The east elevation (formerly the main entrance) also has a 4-storey entrance tower with a 2-leaf Gothick traceried door, flanked by single-storey projecting battlemented bays with Gothick windows. Embattled tower in the angle with the north wing which has 5 bays of sash windows with Gothick glazing bars on the inner return, one bay to the east end. The south wing has 2 projections on the inner return and a bay window on the east end. Between the south wing and the east tower the main range, with a projecting turret, rises above a single-storey block. Adjoining the north wing, at the north end the Wyatt music room projects to the front (east) with a 3-sided bay with big 2-leaf windows with semi-circular fanlights and ogival glazing bars. The north end of the castle has the north west tower to the right with a projecting embattled stair turret. Set back from the tower and to the left, a 3 bay 3-storey block with early 18th century segmental-headed sash windows with proud architraves. The music room to the left has a 3-sided embattled turret. The south side of the south wing (the present chapel wing) is 5 bays with a 2-bay adsdition at the east end. A stone retaining wall to the terrace east of the castle with battlemented bastions is included in the listing. The Forecourt: Fowler's embattled forecourt buildings, in the baronial style, include a central gatehouse with moulded Tudor arches and a stone rib vault with a battlemented octagonal corner tower flanked by buttressed embattled walls. Outside the south wall an irregular service range now includes the estate office: on the north side the Steward's house, partly in a rectangular corner tower with a second gatehouse to the north-east leading to the drive from Powderham Gate. Grey limestone walling with refuges and octagonal piers at the west end flank the narrow drive immediately in front of the forecourt up to the west gatehouse. Interior: Described in detail in Girouard's article in Country Life, of the medieval remains the 3 2-centred arched double-chamfered doorways to the service end survive with a flatter arched doorway above, possibly to the hall gallery ; a moulded stone fireplace in the first floor solar and a turret stair in the adjoining tower; blocked doors and windows are also said to survive beneath later wall plaster. Fine probably 15th century 6-bay arched brace roof in the south wing (now the chapel) with hollow chamfered arch braces carried on carved corbels-and windbraces. The 18th century work is extensive and splendid from the early 18th century chimneypiece and overdoors in the original library (matching the Channon bookcases of 1740) to the magnificent stair hall, described as "the most spectacular space of its date in Devon" (Cherry). The stair, rather archaic for the date, is massive with 3 flights with barley sugar balusters, the exuberant plasterwork in deep relief by John Jenkins covers the walls and underside of the flights with a mixture of stylized ornament and naturalistic leaves, fruit and animals with military trophies and musical instruments. The other 18th century principal rooms (apart from the original library) have later Rococo ceilings and fine chimneypieces with original grates and jonery. The music room by Wyatt, described in 1798 as "the finest and most expensive room in the County" (Swete) is sophisticated Neo-classical with a coffered dome and decorated plaster ceiling (the ceiling retaining original paint) with a frieze incorporating musical instruments. Scagliola Corinthian wall pilasters divide niches filled with large alabaster urns, the roundels above painted by the 3rd Viscount and his sisters ; white marble skirting boards. Splendid marble chimneypiece by R Westmacott Sen, with large white marble figures playing the flute and tambourine: the Thomire grate of 1788 is no longer in the room. 1757 organ by Seede in an elaborately decorated case. Charles Fowler's dining hall, begun in 1835 but finished during the time of the 11th Earl (in possession 1859-1888), has a fine 7-bay roof painted timber roof, a gallery at the south end with Gothic panelling, a massive painted stone Gothic chimney-piece based on Bishop Peter Courtenay's fireplace in the Bishop's Palace, Exeter and a dado of linenfold panelling with a frieze of armorial bearings of the Courtenay family. The present chapel, in the south wing, includes 16th century carved bench ends that originated from South Huish. Documentation relating to the 18th and 19th century building programmes is deposited in the Devon Record Office and other archive material exists at the Castle. Buck's useful engraving of 1743 showing the east elevation before the building was turned round is reproduced as a plate to Hardings's article in Transactions of the Devonshire Association and a stylized drawing of the same elevation on a map dated 1743 exists in the Devon Record Office. Swete's 1799 watercolour show the east and north elevations much as they are today. Map dated July 1743 in Devon Record Office Other details: LBS No 85987.

Higham, R. A., 2009, Devon Castle Studies. A Personal Reflection. Devon Archaeological Society Presidential Lecture 2009, 12 (Article in Serial). SDV344775.

Built by the junior branch of the Courtenay family, this estuarine house was stronger than it appears from its major post-medieval redevelopment. It underwent a siege during the Wars of the Roses. Other details: Figure 10.

Pink, F., 2014, South Devon Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey Desk-Based Assessment (Interpretation). SDV357736.

Timms, S. C., 28/09/1981, The Blacksmiths Arms, Torrington Street, East-the-Water. (Worksheet). SDV35.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV122850Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1996. DAP/ZJ. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 11-12.
SDV129122List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1952. St Thomas RD. Historic Houses Register. Unknown. 99.
SDV167853Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1989. DAP/MI. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 12-14.
SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 278,466-7.
SDV285943Article in Serial: Reichel, O. J.. 1915. The Hundred of Exminster in Early Times. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 47. A5 Hardback. 200,206,236.
SDV299925Aerial Photograph: Unknown. 1982. SX9683. National Monuments Record. Photograph (Paper).
SDV299930Record Office Collection: Unknown. 3116 Z/23. Devon Record Office Collection. Unknown.
SDV314510Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1988. DAP/JY. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 1-4.
SDV323771Monograph: Lysons, D. + Lysons, S.. 1822. Magna Britannica. Devonshire. Magna Britannica: A Concise Topographical Account of The Several Counties o. 6: Devonshire. Unknown. 422.
SDV336189Post-Graduate Thesis: Higham, R. A.. 1979. The Castles of Medieval Devon. University of Exeter Thesis. Unknown. 164-6,293,296,298,315,319,321.
SDV336217Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1952. The Buildings of England: South Devon. The Buildings of England: South Devon. Paperback Volume. 248-9.
SDV336417List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: English Heritage. 2006. Powderham. Historic Houses Register. Website.
SDV336419Reg/Local list of Historic Parks and Gdns: Devon Gardens Trust. 2003. Powderham. Historic Parks and Gardens - Devon Register Review. Unknown.
SDV336420Article in Serial: Anon. 1913. Archaeological Journal. 70. Unknown. 531-2.
SDV336421Article in Serial: Harding, A.. 1867. Transactions of the Exeter Diocese Architectural and Archaeological Society. 1. Unknown. 170-83.
SDV336422Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1990. DAP/PU. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 15.
SDV336423Article in Serial: Edyvean, J.. 1995. 63rd Report of the History Section. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 127. A5 Paperback. 351.
SDV336424Article in Serial: Unknown. 1963. Country Life. A4 Magazine.
SDV336425Article in Serial: Roberts, J.. 1956. Sir William Courtenay, 1553-1630. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 88. A5 Paperback. 177.
SDV336426Article in Serial: Anon. 1872. Article in Archaeological Journal. Archaeological Journal. 30. Unknown. 439.
SDV336427Article in Monograph: Chope, R. P.. 1967. Observations of the Western Counties of England by W. G. Maton, 1794-1796. Early Tours in Devon and Cornwall. Unknown. 236-8.
SDV336428Article in Monograph: Chope, R. P.. 1967. The Itinerary of John Leland. Early Tours in Devon and Cornwall. Unknown. 68.
SDV336429Article in Serial: Clarke, K. M.. 1916 - 1917. The Carew-Mohun Chimney Piece. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 9. Unknown. 236-7.
SDV336430Article in Serial: Whitely, H. M.. 1902-1903. Repairs to Powderham Castle. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 2. Unknown. 237-9.
SDV336431Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1953. SX98SW6. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV337942Record Office Collection: Swete, R. J. (Revd). 1792-1801. 564M 'Picturesque Sketches of Devon' by Reverend John Swete. Devon Record Office Collection. Unknown + Digital. 564M/11/64,17/158,162.
SDV341278Article in Serial: Higham, R. A.. 1988. Devon Castles: An Annotated List. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 46. Paperback Volume.
SDV344775Article in Serial: Higham, R. A.. 2009. Devon Castle Studies. A Personal Reflection. Devon Archaeological Society Presidential Lecture 2009. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 67. Paperback Volume. 12.
SDV35Worksheet: Timms, S. C.. 28/09/1981. The Blacksmiths Arms, Torrington Street, East-the-Water.. Worksheet. A4 Single Sheet + Digital.
SDV354350Monograph: Higham, R. A. + Freeman, J. P.. 1996. Devon Castles (Draft Text). Devon Castles. A4 Unbound + Digital. 5, 7, 12, 14, Gazetteer.
SDV357736Interpretation: Pink, F.. 2014. South Devon Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey Desk-Based Assessment. AC Archaeology Report. ACD618/4/3. Digital.
Linked documents:1
SDV358784Worksheet: Griffiths, D. M.. 1982. Powderham Castle. Worksheet + Digital.
SDV4676Article in Serial: French, K. + French, C.. 1957. Devonshire Plasterwork. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 89. A5 Hardback. 135.

Associated Monuments

MDV15326Related to: Chapel at Powderham Castle (Monument)
MDV19566Related to: Deerpark and Gardens at Powderham Castle (Park/Garden)
MDV10237Related to: Gatehouse at Powderham Castle (Monument)
MDV10249Related to: The Belvedere, Powderham Castle Park (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV3909 - DAP/JY
  • EDV3910 - DAP/MI
  • EDV3911 - DAP/PU
  • EDV3912 - DAP/ZJ

Date Last Edited:Nov 30 2023 4:25PM