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HER Number:MDV1202
Name:Bickleigh Castle, Bickleigh


Bickleigh Castle comprises the remains of 15th century fortified manorhouse including a massive gatehouse, the south range (Old Court), remnants of the enclosure wall and a section of the moat. Medieval remains were also incorportated into the 16th-17th century rebuilding of the north range. Immediately east of the gatehouse is a Norman chapel which is presumed to have served an earlier manor house which stood on the site.


Grid Reference:SS 936 067
Map Sheet:SS90NW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBickleigh (MD)
DistrictMid Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBICKLEIGH

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS90NW/1
  • Old Listed Building Ref (I)
  • SHINE Candidate (Yes)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • FORTIFIED MANOR HOUSE (Built, XV to XVII - 1401 AD to 1700 AD)

Full description

Swete, R. J. (Revd), DRO/564M/11/173 (Record Office Collection). SDV356700.

Illustrations by Swete.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, SS90NW2 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV351671.

Bickleigh Castle. Remains of 15th century castle/fortified manorhouse, with later rebuilds. A fortified manorhouse existed here in the 12th century of which only the chapel and parts of the gatehouse remain. There are traces of the former Great Hall and north of the gatehouse a proportion of the old moat now mostly filled up. It was largely rebuilt by the Courtenays in the early 15th century and subsequent alterations were made, especially to gatehouse. The house degenerated into a farmhouse but was restoreed afer 1922 to its present form (Hoskins).
Site visit 3rd August 1967. Nothing to add. No evidence for a 12th century fortified manorhouse or castle, though chapel suggests Norman activity. The existing remains are of a 15th century fortified enclosure i.e. a walled quadrangle defended by a gatehouse, and probably towers, much rebuilt in the 16th/17th century. Of 15th century are the gatehouse, a fragmentary part of the enclosure wall to the south, and part of the moat. During building operations in the early 20th century, structures were observed on the site of the west range whose site and that of the courtyard are still apparent in two levels of the lawns.

Polwhele, R., 1793-1806, The History of Devonshire, Vol 2,358-9 (Monograph). SDV21030.

Pevsner, N., 1952, The Buildings of England: South Devon, 50 (Monograph). SDV336217.

With the exception of the gatehouse, the house is circa 1600, but very fragmentary. The great hall was opposite the gatehouse.

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 275-276,334-335 (Monograph). SDV17562.

Department of Environment, 1959, Tiverton RD, 4 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV54004.

Fortified 15th century manorhouse with gatehouse and partly timber-framed north range. The south range, 'The Old Court', is now a separate house with 15th century doorway. The gates to the castle grounds are 17th century, though erected here in 1926 and are listed Grade II.

Renn, D. F., 1968, Norman Castles in Britain, 109 (Monograph). SDV74059.

Considered by Renn (?following Hoskins) to have its origins as 12th century fortified manor house.

Higham, R. A., 1979, The Castles of Medieval Devon, 161-163,293,295-296, 298,315,321,332/fig 54, plate 55 (Post-Graduate Thesis). SDV336189.

Various, 1980, Archaeology of the Devon Landscape, 77 (Monograph). SDV323786.

Griffith, F. M., 1983, Film 593, 13 (Aerial Photograph). SDV356705.

Thorn, C. + Thorn, F., 1985, Domesday Book Volume 9: Devon, 15.61 (Monograph). SDV356703.

Griffith, F. M., 1986, DAP/GO, 28-29 (Aerial Photograph). SDV15646.

Griffith, F. M., 1986, DAP/GP, 14-15 (Aerial Photograph). SDV15647.

Department of Environment, 1987, Bickleigh, 1-5 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV351679.

Higham, R. A., 1988, Devon Castles: An Annotated List, 145 (Article in Serial). SDV341278.

Higham, R. A. + Freeman, J. P., 1996, Devon Castles (Draft Text), 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, Gazetteer (Monograph). SDV354350.

A 15th century fortified manor house situated on level ground close to the west bank of the River Exe. The site is overlooked by much higher ground to the west which greatly reduces its defensive potential. An earlier manor house is presumed to have stood on much the same site since a fine Norman chapel which is presumed to have served this manor house still survives to the east of the gatehouse. There is no evidence, however, that this earlier manor house included defences. Of the 15th century manor house, the massive gate house remains, remnants of the enclosure wall and parts of the moat together with the range south of the courtyard (Old Court House). Medieval remains were also incorporated into the 16th-17th century rebuilding of the north range.

Reed, S. J., 2000, Archaeological Assessment of SWW Butterleigh to Bickleigh Water Main Rehabilitation Phase 1, 2 (Report - Assessment). SDV336288.

The manor of Bickleigh was held by Alward from the Count of Mortain in 1086. By the second half of the 12th century it belonged to Sir Robert de Bicklegh. Circa 1400 it became the property of the Courtenays of Powderham succeeded by the Carew family circa 1510. After the castle passed out of the hands of the carews in 1681 the buildings were used as a farm and store.

Waterhouse, R. E., 2009, Report on Visit to Bickleigh Castle, Bickleigh (Site Visit). SDV359732.

The house sits on a level terrace on the western bank of the River Exe, whose floodplain extends for a considerable distance to the east. The western valley side rises steeply in the form of an old river-cliff at the rear of the site, and is now thickly wooded. A small deer park of 53 acres lay immediately to the west, bordered by the road from Bickleigh Bridge to Crediton on its north and west sides.

The former medieval road from Tiverton to Thorverton passes through the site, which is dominated by a late medieval mock-fortified gatehouse. Extensive outbuildings adjoin the principal buildings on their north and south sides, one of which is now a separate dwelling, known as Old Court. This was not examined during the DRA site visit, but notes from previous recording work by myself were used in the preparation of this report.

The property has been known variously as Bickleigh House, Bickleigh Court and Bickleigh Castle, but it is referred to below as Bickleigh Court, as it went by this name for several hundred years; the 'Castle' suffix being a C20 affectation.

Potential for confusion in historical records with the ancient manorial centre at Bickleigh village, 1km to the east, is high, making it extremely difficult to identify the house in records. The first certain reference to the site was in 1491, when Elizabeth Courtenay was born there. It lay within the Domesday Manor of Bichelia, whose name seems to mean the leah or clearing in woods, belonging to Bicca. An ovoid enclosure within Bickleigh village on the opposite side of the river was probably this manorial centre, although the presence of a Norman chapel at Bickleigh Court suggests a shift of emphasis across the river by the C12. A major river crossing just upstream at Bickleigh Bridge took the Exeter to Tiverton road across the Exe, which is broad and swift-flowing here. A ford just downstream at Bickleigh Court took the Bickleigh to Thorverton road across the river, and this too may have been replaced later in the medieval period by a bridge.

The earliest occupiers of the site may have been the de Bickleigh family, from the C12 to the early C15. Unfortunately, as the principal medieval settlement of Bickleigh is on the opposite side of the valley, it is impossible to tell whether a house or settlement existed at Bickleigh Court at this time. The only hint is the C12 chapel, although this could have been built as a wayside chapel on the road from Tiverton to Thorverton.

The earliest firm evidence for settlement on the site is provided by the gatehouse block and the south range (now known as Old Court), both of which have architectural evidence for the early C15 and late C14 respectively. This may match with the fact that the Courtenay family, Earls of Devon, whose main seat was at Powderham near Exeter, had acquired Bickleigh Court by the early C15. It may therefore imply that they constructed the first buildings on the site, re-using the existing chapel to serve the new mansion.

The Courtenays appear to have used Bickleigh Court as a seat for their second sons throughout the C15, but in about 1510, the mansion was given to Elizabeth Courtenay as a dowry for her marriage to Thomas Carew of Mohuns Ottery. The Carew family held Bickleigh Court until 1923, though evidence for their residence there ceases in the early C18, when they moved to Haccombe, near Newton Abbot. After the Civil War, the severe damage to the hall and gatehouse ranges caused a shift of the principal residence on the site, to the south range (now Old Court), where Sir Henry Carew is recorded as dying in 1681, aged 80.

Remains of a large courtyard mansion of C14-C17 date, unusually with standing fabric of the later C12, in the form of a detached chapel. A rambling set of attached and semi-detached buildings, largely of C19-C20 date, include a C15-C16 semi-fortified gatehouse block and a C17-C18 domestic range. A separately owned south range includes a C14-C15 residential block.

Bickleigh Castle is one of Devon's more important medieval mansions, having been the seat of a cadet branch of the Earls of Devon, followed by one of the county's foremost gentry families, the Carews. Despite serious damage in the English Civil War and subsequent long years as a partial ruin, a surprising amount of medieval and early post-medieval fabric survives. The gatehouse has attracted the attentions of a surprising number of artists in the C19 who have provided important images of its ruined state before the 1920s-30s reconstruction.

Ordnance Survey, 2011, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV346129.

English Heritage, 2014, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV355683.

Bickleigh Castle, north range. Former farmhouse, the north range of Bickeleigh Castle. Probably late C17 with renovations and additions of the 1930s. Stone rubble, colourwashed and rendered to the courtyard; thatched roof, gabled at ends; end stacks, axial stack. Plan: south-facing range of what was once a substantial complex of buildings round a courtyard. The west range has disappeared above ground; the south range (Old Court, q.v.) is now a separate property; the gatehouse range is separately listed. The north range is a single depth 3-room plan with 3 heated rooms; the position of the cross passage, if there ever was one, is unclear. The middle room appears to have been the kitchen, with a massive smoking chamber to the fireplace. In the 1930s a 2- storey gabled jettied timber-framed porch was added on the south side, giving access to the left hand room. A single-storey polygonal store kitchen was added on the north side at about the same date. Exterior: 2 storeys. Asymmetrical 1:3 window front with 3-light C20 casements with square leaded panes. The 1930s porch has a shingle roof, deep eaves and a first floor oriel. There is an additional doorway to right of centre. Interior: Rather altered internally but with some interesting interior features. In the left end room there is a splendid late C17 overmantel depicting lively scenes which have been variously interpreted as commemorating the part played by the Carew family in putting down the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, or more likely, as representing biblical scenes. The carvings have good costume detail and include several ecclesiastical buildings and an inn. The overmantel has been re-sited in the castle after a period of time at Bickleigh Rectory. The middle room has a chamfered cross beam and an open fireplace with stone jambs and a chamfered lintel. One of the jambs is pierced with an arch which appears to have been part of a massive octagonal curing chamber, now in use as a vestibule. The right hand room has a rough cross beam supported by introduced timber columns; open fireplace with a replaced lintel. The principal rafters visible upstairs are straight. The range was divided into cottages at one time. Particularly important for group value and its location forming one of the courtyard ranges at Bickleigh Castle. Clarke, K.M., "The Carew-Mohun chimneypiece", DCNQ, vol 9,pt. 1 (1916-17),p.p 233- 239.

Griffiths, D. M., Unknown, Bickleigh Castle (Personal Comment). SDV356701.

Apparently the cottages near Bickleigh Castle have been visited by M. Laithwaite, and these are thought to contain parts of the castle.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV15646Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1986. DAP/GO. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 28-29.
SDV15647Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1986. DAP/GP. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 14-15.
SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 275-276,334-335.
SDV21030Monograph: Polwhele, R.. 1793-1806. The History of Devonshire. The History of Devonshire. Unknown. Vol 2,358-9.
SDV323786Monograph: Various. 1980. Archaeology of the Devon Landscape. Archaeology of the Devon Landscape. Paperback Volume. 77.
SDV336189Post-Graduate Thesis: Higham, R. A.. 1979. The Castles of Medieval Devon. University of Exeter Thesis. Unknown. 161-163,293,295-296, 298,315,321,332/fig 54, plate 55.
SDV336217Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1952. The Buildings of England: South Devon. The Buildings of England: South Devon. Paperback Volume. 50.
SDV336288Report - Assessment: Reed, S. J.. 2000. Archaeological Assessment of SWW Butterleigh to Bickleigh Water Main Rehabilitation Phase 1. Exeter Archaeology Report. 00.53. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2.
SDV341278Article in Serial: Higham, R. A.. 1988. Devon Castles: An Annotated List. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 46. Paperback Volume. 145.
SDV346129Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2011. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #79449 ]
SDV351671Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. SS90NW2. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV351679List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1987. Bickleigh. Historic Houses Register. A4 Comb Bound. 1-5.
SDV354350Monograph: Higham, R. A. + Freeman, J. P.. 1996. Devon Castles (Draft Text). Devon Castles. A4 Unbound + Digital. 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, Gazetteer.
SDV355683National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2014. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Website.
SDV356700Record Office Collection: Swete, R. J. (Revd). DRO/564M/11/173. Devon Record Office Collection. Unknown.
SDV356701Personal Comment: Griffiths, D. M.. Unknown. Bickleigh Castle.
SDV356703Monograph: Thorn, C. + Thorn, F.. 1985. Domesday Book Volume 9: Devon. Domesday Book Volume 9: Devon. 9. A5 Hardback. 15.61.
SDV356705Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1983. Film 593. Devon Conservation Section. Unknown. 13.
SDV359732Site Visit: Waterhouse, R. E.. 2009. Report on Visit to Bickleigh Castle, Bickleigh. Digital.
SDV54004List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1959. Tiverton RD. Historic Houses Register. Unknown. 4.
SDV74059Monograph: Renn, D. F.. 1968. Norman Castles in Britain. Norman Castles in Britain. Unknown. 109.

Associated Monuments

MDV19521Parent of: Bickleigh Castle Gatehouse (Building)
MDV41332Parent of: Bickleigh Castle North Range (Building)
MDV12338Parent of: Old Court, Bickleigh Castle (Building)
MDV1223Related to: Bickleigh Castle Chapel (Building)
MDV62938Related to: Bickleigh Castle Gardens (Monument)
MDV126167Related to: Cobbled pathways at Bickleigh Castle (Monument)
MDV89468Related to: Moat Cottage, Bickleigh Castle (Building)
MDV89471Related to: Walled Garden, Bickleigh Castle (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV7047 - Site Visit, Bickleigh Castle, Bickleigh, Mid Devon

Date Last Edited:Nov 30 2023 4:17PM