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HER Number:MDV12526
Name:Bishop's Palace at Court Farm, Bishop's Tawton


According to tradition, the first Saxon Bishopric was established here before it moved to Crediton in AD909. The Bishop's of Exeter certainly owned the manor at the time of the Domesday Survey which they retained until 1550 when it was given to John, Lord Russell who became Earl of Bedford. The oldest part of the existing farmhouse is considered to be a remnant of the Bishop's Palace and further remains are likely to lie under the gardens to the east and west. The history of the site between 1550 and 1840 is largely unknown although Milles mid 18th century account implies that it had been converted into several poor tenements by this time.


Grid Reference:SS 565 300
Map Sheet:SS53SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBishop's Tawton
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBISHOP'S TAWTON

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS53SE/198
  • Old Listed Building Ref (II)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • BISHOPS PALACE (VIII to Late Medieval - 701 AD to 1539 AD (Between))

Full description

Lysons, D. + Lysons, S., 1822, Magna Britannica, 479, 480 (Monograph). SDV323771.

Oliver, 1842, Ecclesiastical Antiquities in Devon, 13, 14, 17 (Monograph). SDV336342.

Chanter, J. R., 1875, Tawton. The First Saxon Bishopric in Devon, 183-7 (Article in Serial). SDV82276.

Summary of the earlier written evidence.

Ordnance Survey, 1938, 13SE. Revision of 1903 with additions in 1938. Provisional Edition (Cartographic). SDV335653.

Granger, J., 1941, Sixth Report of the North Devon Branch, 125 (Article in Serial). SDV350889.

Bishop's Palace now used as a farmhouse.

Tapley-Soper, H., 1942 - 1946, Palaces of the Bishops of Exeter in the 15th Century, 78-80 (Article in Serial). SDV338018.

Pevsner, N., 1952, The Buildings of England: North Devon, 55 (Monograph). SDV336196.

Court farm, north [sic] of Bishop's Tawton church, incorporates the remains of the late medieval palace of the Bishops of Exeter. The building was castellated and altered circa 1800.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1953, SS53SE2 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV82271.

The majority of the building of Court Farm is believed to be the remains of the episcopal palace.

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 338 (Monograph). SDV17562.

Department of Environment, 1960, Barnstaple RD, 6 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV337219.

15th century remains of Bishop of Exeter's palace. Stone built, steep pitched roof. Little towers at west end added circa 1800, as were battlements.

Department of Environment, 1986, Bishop's Tawton, 18 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV80521.

Unknown, 1986 - 1987, Devon Religious Houses Survey (Un-published). SDV347681.

Laithwaite, M., 1987, The Bishop's Palace at Bishop's Tawton (Report - Survey). SDV357891.

If the tradition that the first Saxon Bishopric in Devon was established here before it moved to Crediton in AD909 is correct then there must have been an early palace here. Certainly the Bishops of Exeter owned the manor of Bishop's Tawton at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 and documentary evidence demonstrates that all the bishops from the mid 13th to mid 15th centuries visited the manor from time to time. References to a 'capella…de Tautone' in the 14th century documents indicate that they had their own house here by that time. As the second richest episcopal manor after Paignton it must have been important to them. It was also their main base in North Devon. By the time of a survey undertaken about 1501, however, the house was in a bad state of repair but little appears to have been done until the time of Bishop Veysey in 1519. Veysey was forced by Edward VI to give away the rural manors of the bishopric in 1550 and Bishop's Tawton went to John, Lord Russell who became the Earl of Bedford and who already owned the former estates of Tavistock Abbey. Intriguigingly, the will of Robert Chichester, 1564, refers to 'the capital House of the Manor of Busshopp's Tawton, lately by me re-edified'. Apart from this reference, the history of the site between the mid 16th and early 19th century is virtually unknown although according to Lysons the Bedfords owned the manor until at least 1822 [but see Milles quote below]. By the time of the 1842 tithe award Court Farm, which is traditionally regarded as the site of the palace, was owned by the Wrey's of Tavistock who subsequently sold the farm to the Waldrons, who still occupy the house.
The existing house retains medieval and 16th century features of high quality, although it is small and there is nothing to match the remanants of a high-class palace building such as found at Bishopsteignton and Paignton.
The oldest part of the farmhouse is considered to be a remnant of the bishop's palace although Laithwaite warms that it would be unsafe to attribute more than the stone walls and the pointed arch to this period. Although the outbuilding is also old there is no proof that it is earlier thant 1550. The group of farm buildings to the south-east appear to be 18th or 19th century in date. However, the grounds to the east and west of the house are highly likely to cover remains of the palace.
Laithwaite notes that most 18th and 19th century historians comment on the buildings and while their accounts are largely uninformative they do imply that rather more than the present house may have survived into their time. Milles, for example, says 'on the upper end of the church yard are the remains of what they call ye Episcopal house, now converted into several small tenements and inhabited by very poor miserable families. There are no part of these remains which have the appearance any remote antiquity.' Laithwaite also comments that the term 'palace' was not used until the end of the 18th century, earlier writers were content with the word 'house'.

Weddell, P. J., 1990, Archaeological Recording in the Medieval Borough of Newport, Barnstaple in 1983., 111 (Article in Serial). SDV77188.

Ordnance Survey, 2015, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV357601.

English Heritage, 2015, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV357602.

Court Farmhouse. Farmhouse, incorporating remains of Bishop of Exeter's palace. C15 with possibly some earlier fabric; heavily remodelled in late C18. Random stone rubble with ashlar dressings. Slate roof of 2 pitches, hipped at left end, half-hipped at right end. Large lateral stack to west side with slated off-sets and tall brick shaft. Brick stack at right end, ridge stack and 2 other off-centre stacks. The early features are concentrated at the 2-storeyed south service end and through- passage. Virtual rebuilding and widening of house in late C18 above the through- passage has obscured original plan, now of single principal room to each side of through passage. Also added in late C18 were Gothick towers at all the corners except to the north-east. 2 storeys. East side has tower to south-east corner with brick crenellated parapet. Blind roundel above blocked window with timber lintels. Small 2-paned casement near base with probably reset nowy-arched stone lintel. Two 2-light casements to right, that to left with 3 panes per light, above sash 2 over 2 panes with timber lintel. 2-storey porch to right with plain gabled bargeboards. C20 window and doorway. At right side, slated lean-to roof to brick kitchen extension of 1 1/2 storeys. Gabled dormer with carved bargeboards above 3 C20 windows, the central one with slate dripmould. Rounded bread oven to north side with slate capping. Slated lean-to roof to porch to its right in angle of single storey dairy extension with slate roof projecting to north with plank door. Towers at each corner on west side, that to left sits on the dairy roof with semi-circular brick arch infilled with brick to rear. Each has brick crenellated parapet and blind window to false top stage above 4-centred arched openings with transomed casements with diamond leaded cames and dressed stone voussoirs. Similar casement to right- hand tower. Left tower has 1/2-glazed door with small niche above. Between the 2 towers, the 2 left hand bays of the 4 break forward, with C20 conservatory enclosing C19 sash 8 over 8 panes to left of French windows. Otherwise C20 fenestration but with chamfered stone surrounds to 2 ground floor windows to right. The rear wall of the dairy which extends from left side tower incorporates an early doorway and window opening, the doorway with ashlar chamfered surround to left of partially blocked window with hoodmould and label stops, both probably reset in the late C18 rebuild and now enclosed in greenhouse. 2 C18 blind quatrefoil loops above. Towers on the south side with blind roundels above tall narrow openings, infilled to left, 4-paned light to right flank 3-light cavetto mullion window with cusped heads and diamond leaded cames. Octofoil opening to small stone panel inset above. Interior features include heavy chamfered and stopped beams to service end, with former entry from through passage by possibly C15 pointed arched doorway with stone chamfered surround now blocked. Barrel vaulted ceiling to large chamber above with single boss probably of wood depicting dove and olive branch conceals 2 large trusses above with short curved feet resting on timber wall plates. Cranked collars morticed into soffits, 2 tiers of threaded purlins and added tier of butt- jointed purlins near base. No smoke-blackening. Remaining roof structure is of C18 rebuild with later patching.

Unknown, Unknown, Bishop's Palace, Bishop's Tawton (Illustration). SDV358962.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV82271Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1953. SS53SE2. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV82276Article in Serial: Chanter, J. R.. 1875. Tawton. The First Saxon Bishopric in Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 7. Unknown + digital. 183-7.
SDV335653Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1938. 13SE. Revision of 1903 with additions in 1938. Provisional Edition. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch Map. Map (Paper).
SDV338018Article in Serial: Tapley-Soper, H.. 1942 - 1946. Palaces of the Bishops of Exeter in the 15th Century. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 22. Unknown. 78-80.
SDV77188Article in Serial: Weddell, P. J.. 1990. Archaeological Recording in the Medieval Borough of Newport, Barnstaple in 1983.. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 48. Paperback Volume. 111.
SDV80521List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1986. Bishop's Tawton. Historic Houses Register. Unknown. 18.
SDV337219List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1960. Barnstaple RD. Historic Houses Register. Unknown. 6.
SDV350889Article in Serial: Granger, J.. 1941. Sixth Report of the North Devon Branch. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 73. Hardback Volume. 125.
SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 338.
SDV336342Monograph: Oliver. 1842. Ecclesiastical Antiquities in Devon. Ecclesiastical Antiquities in Devon. Unknown. 13, 14, 17.
SDV323771Monograph: Lysons, D. + Lysons, S.. 1822. Magna Britannica. Magna Britannica: A Concise Topographical Account of The Several Counties o. 6: Devonshire. Unknown. 479, 480.
SDV336196Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1952. The Buildings of England: North Devon. The Buildings of England: North Devon. Paperback Volume. 55.
SDV357602National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2015. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Digital.
SDV357891Report - Survey: Laithwaite, M.. 1987. The Bishop's Palace at Bishop's Tawton. Devon Religious Houses Survey. 17. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV357601Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2015. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital. [Mapped feature: #80545 ]
SDV347681Un-published: Unknown. 1986 - 1987. Devon Religious Houses Survey. Devon Religious Houses Survey. Mixed Archive Material.
SDV358962Illustration: Unknown. Unknown. Bishop's Palace, Bishop's Tawton. A4 Single Sheet + Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV16140Related to: Church House, Bishop's Tawton (Building)
MDV96293Related to: Court Farmhouse, Bishop's Tawton (Building)
MDV96294Related to: The Tithe Barn, Bishop's Tawton (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:May 8 2019 4:07PM