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HER Number:MDV18247
Name:Totnes Castle Motte and Keep


Totnes Castle motte was built in the 11th century with a shell keep rebuilt in the 14th century.


Grid Reference:SX 800 605
Map Sheet:SX86SW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTotnes
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishTOTNES

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX86SW/20/1
  • Old Listed Building Ref (I): 99088
  • Old SAM County Ref: 4
  • Old SAM Ref: 22356
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SX76SE19

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • MOTTE (Early Medieval to Post Medieval - 1066 AD to 1750 AD)

Full description

Griffiths, D. M., Untitled Source (Personal Comment). SDV342913.

The ditch on the town side was occupied by dwellings and gardens from a fairly early period possibly in the 12th century.

Wall, J. C., 1906, Ancient Earthworks, 621 (Article in Monograph). SDV341465.

Totnes Castle motte with stone shell keep. The motte is high and steep, about 17.5 metres above the level of the bailey, and 14.3 metres across, with a level berm round the outside of the keep wall, circa 4.7 metres wide. On the town side the motte is now (1915) revetted by five retaining walls. The shell keep is 12th century, 21.6 metres in diameter with gateway on the north side. No traces of internal buildings. The motte ditch, although destroyed by buildings on the town side, can be traced in their gardens.

Whitley, H. M., 1916, Totnes Castle and Walled Town, 189-96 (Article in Serial). SDV342886.

Office of Works, 1922, Totnes Castle (Schedule Document). SDV342889.

Totnes Castle includes a circular Tower on the Mound.

Jope, E. M. + Dunning, G. C, 1954, The Use of Blue Slate for Roofing in Medieval England, 211-2,216 (Article in Serial). SDV173185.

There are examples of blue slate found in 13th century and later levels.

Rigold, S. E., 1954, Totnes Castle, 228-54 (Article in Serial). SDV342887.

The shell keep has an internal rampart walk 3.5 metres above the level of the motte, which extends round the whole circuit of the keep wall and is reached by two intra-mural stairways, one either side of the gateway of the keep. The keep wall is surmounted by a battlement with merlons, some of which have arrow slits. In the thickness of the wall on the west side of the shell keep is a small chamber entered by a short passage. In the outer face of the keep wall there is the top of an arch, now blocked, which possibly communicated with a passage known to exist within the bailey. Excavation of the motte revealed the following sequence: (1) the building of the motte, the upper part of coursed rubble, the lower part cut out of the native rock. Contemporary with this, and with its foundations extending at least 3 metres into the motte was a quadrangular stone foundation, 5 metres x 4 metres internally with a buttress at the northeast angle. These foundations are thought to have supported a timber tower. The tower was flanked by two kidney-shaped platforms. It is possible that the motte would have supported a wooden palisade. This phase of the castle can probably be assigned to Judhael in the years following the Norman Conquest. (2) circa 1200: a house, probably of cob was built between the platforms, with a hearth. (3) after 1219, a weak stone shell keep was constructed, with lean-to building in the southwest sector. It and some of the walls collapsed circa 1250. (4) about 1326, the shell keep was completely and more robustly built. The visual remains on the motte are of this phase.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1957, SX76SE19 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV342891.

A series of cards with detailed descriptions of the castle taken from Whitley's and Rigold's articles in the TDA in 1916 and 1954 respectively. The keep and bailey walls are ragstone built with limestone blocks and slabs of local shaley stone. The curtain and bailey walls have been robbed of about half their width, and much of the bailey wall seems to have been rebuilt after the castle had lost its military value. The bank enclosing the outer bailey may in fact be part of the defences of the Saxon town.
The castle was undergoing restoration by the Ministry of Works at the time of a site visit in 1951. Description and cross sections of the keep and bailey walls given. Some wall footings have been found in the bailey, the only evidence for buildings there.
A Roman flue tile found in the motte is presumed to have come with clay from the river.
Excavations have shown that that motte was probably built in the time of William the Conqueror. Evidence for a building dated to 1200 or just after was found. More building took place in the bailey in 1219 which fell into neglect in the mid 13th century.
Pottery found falls into two main groups. The most numerous are late 12th-early 13th century, the other group are late mid 13th century. A few other sherds are mostly 17th century. No coins earlier than the 17th century were found.
In conclusion, the castle appears to have originated before 1200 (it is referred to in the Feet of Fines for 1205: Watkin 1914), existing under various ownerships and conditions (it was chiefly owned by the Dukes of Somerset and descendants from 1599: Watkin 1914) under the Ministry of Works assumed guardianship in 1947.

Rigold, S. E., 1975, Totnes Castle (Pamphlet). SDV342899.

14th century shell keep at Totnes Castle built of limestone rubble with sandstone dressings. Although almost circular, the wall to the left of the entrance was straightened out to form a right-angled projection. The small intra-mural chamber is a garderobe which subsequently partially collapsed and was rebuilt. Between the garderobe and western internal staircase can be seen six corbels in the wall which would have carried the roof of a lean-to structure; only one radial wall of this is known. The parapet is also 14th century but with later repairs. The entrance arch to the keep was later narrowed. Plan.

Higham, R. A., 1979, The Castles of Medieval Devon (Post-Graduate Thesis). SDV336189.

The first shell keep was certainly 13th century and in ruins by 1273. The present shell keep sealed mid 13th century pottery sherds, and probably dates 1273-1326.

Gerrard, S., 1995, 140334 (Report - Survey). SDV342914.

Department of Environment, 1996, Totnes Castle (Schedule Document). SDV342890.

The motte at Totnes Castle is the earliest known defensive feature on the site, surviving as a 58 metre diameter mound of earth and rock standing 17.5 metres high, covered with a waterproof layer of puddled clay and is thought to date to the latter part of the 11th century. The ditch from which construction material was excavated surrounds its base and now survives as a buried feature. On the summit of the motte, a timber tower with a square ground plan stood on a dry stone foundation which has been traced down for 3.4 metres into the body of the motte and may have reached down to its base. This foundation was built at the same time as the motte and its interior was filled with loose rubble to encourage drainage. The upper part of this foundation survives at ground level as a 0.75 metre wide mortared wall. It is considered likely that the timber tower was removed before the shell keep was added in the early part of the 13th century.
The shell keep is nearly circular and the interior measures 21 metres in diameter. The walls, of hard limestone rubble, are 2 metres thick, with a batter, and carry their footings somewhat lower on the outer face than within, as they act as retaining walls to the top of the motte. Early in the 14th century, the keep was rebuilt. The red sandstone dressings and probably all the present facing belong to this date. At the same time, a length of wall immediately east of the entrance was straightened out to form a right angled projection with sandstone quoins, thus giving a better lookout point. The entrance arch was also rebuilt with a double ring of chamfered sandstone wedge shaped blocks. At a later date this entrance was remodelled by adding a false jamb and narrowing the passageway. A garderobe built into the thickness of the west wall is entered from within the keep and projects slightly beyond the line of the original wall. This chamber was lighted by a pair of arrow slits, one of which was subsequently made into a window. The roof of the passage leading to the garderobe is roofed with stone slabs which helped provide strength to the wall. The garderobe chamber itself was however not so strongly built and at some date partly collapsed before being rebuilt. Only one building was built against the inner face of the shell keep. This lies against the wall, its position being indicated by six corbels protruding from the upper part of the wall, a partial wall scar and one side wall which survives as a 2.2 metres long and 0.7 metres wide mortared wall protruding through the surface. The corbels would have originally supported the roof of the building and it is considered that this building belongs to the 14th century refurbishment. Access to the wall walk is via two stairways made in the thickness of the north wall and each is entered from ground level by a passage with a typically 14th century segmented arch. Surrounding the wall walk is an almost complete parapet which is predominantly of 14th century date, although the northern length was probably remodelled at a later date. Thirty three crenellations survive. Many of the merlons are pierced with narrow arrow slits, some of which are plain and others have a cross slit which splays outwards.
Date first scheduled: 30th August 1922. Date of most recent amendment: 16th July 1996

Swete, J. (ed. Gray T. + Rowe, M.), 1997, Travels in Georgian Devon. The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete. Vol. 1, 104-105 (Monograph). SDV341166.

Swete describes and illustrates the castle keep. He bemoans the fact that fir trees have been planted within the castle grounds that 'detract from the antique appearance which it would otherwise possess'. Not having the powers to summon a whirlwind or thunderbolt to tear them out of the ground, he 'annihilated' them from his sketch.

Brown, S., 1998, Totnes Castle: An Archaeological Desk-based Assessment, 2, Figures 6, Plate 2. (Report - Assessment). SDV346119.

An archaeological desk-based assessment was undertaken of the site of proposed visitor facilities, which straddled the presumed line of the Norman castle defences, on the junction of the inner and outer castle ditches.

Stewart Brown Associates, 1999, Totnes Castle Landslip 1999: Archaeological Watching Brief and Recording (Report - Watching Brief). SDV342915.

Landslip in January 1999 revealed layered series of clay construction deposits of motte. Two sherds late Saxon/early Norman chert-tempered pottery were recovered from slumped clays overlying the original face suggesting the slumping took place soon after the motte's construction.

Brown, S., 1999, Totnes Castle Terrace Walls: An Archaeological Assessment, 2 (Report - Assessment). SDV346121.

The garden terracing on the town side of Totnes Castle motte appears from documentary sources to date from the late 16th or early 17th century, soon after the castle ditch on this side of the motte was infilled. Changes to the pattern of terraces are recorded in the early 18th century.

1999, Untitled Source, 1 (Article in Serial). SDV342920.

English Heritage, 2000, Conditions for Appointment for Archaeological Services in Connection With Motte Slippage Stabilisation, Totnes Castle, Devon 1990/00 (Un-published). SDV352029.

English Heritage, 2000, Specification: Construction of New Facing Stonework and Repair of Existing Stonework in Motte Slip Repairs: Totnes Castle, Devon (Un-published). SDV352028.

English Heritage, 2000, Totnes Castle, Totnes, Devon: Structural Repairs to Motte Terraces West Face (Un-published). SDV352027.

The notification sets out English Heritage's intention to undertake structural stabilisation and repairs to the terraces to the west side of the motte, which have collapsed as a result of excessive inclement weather in 1999.

Shannon, F. E., 2000, Totnes Castle: Design of Improvement Works (Report - non-specific). SDV352036.

Brown, S. + Gent T., 2001, Totnes Castle Motte: Archaeological Watching Brief and Evaluation (Report - non-specific). SDV348107.

Geotechnical investigations in 1999 following landslide. Core of motte construction consists of stoney clays and clay silts. Variation on north/south sides reflects different local sources for materials used. Bottom layers of motte almost horizontal, taken with previous observations in February 1999, core built up from a level base, layer by layer. Remains of original stone cladding on western slope. In places, individual stones overlap others indicating stepped construction. Two prehistoric flints were recovered from a test pit during geotechnical investigations of Totnes Castle motte. One was a worked fragment of Portland chert of Neolithic date and the other, a Neolithic or Bronze Age flint fragment, possibly a notched tool.

Stewart Brown Associates, 2002, Totnes Castle Archaeological Watching Brief (Report - Watching Brief). SDV342919.

An archaeological investigation followed the appearance of a void in the turf just outside the shell keep at the top of the Norman motte in April 2002. It revealed a 19th-20th century stone built water tank and the remains of two earlier walls probably associated with another Post-medieval structure built against the keep wall.

Brown, S., 2002, Totnes Castle: An Archaeological Evaluation (Report - Evaluation). SDV346116.

Green, T., 2008, North Gate Lodge, Castle Street, Totnes: Results of an Archaeological Desk-Based Study, 5-6 (Report - Assessment). SDV342884.

Brown, S., 2008, Totnes Castle Archaeological Watching Brief (Report - Watching Brief). SDV346117.

Brown, S., 2011, Totnes Castle: Summary of Recent Archaeological Work 1999-2008 (Un-published). SDV352030.

Ordnance Survey, 2012, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV348725.

Historic England, 2019, National Heritage List for England, 1168856 (National Heritage List for England). SDV362730.

The Castle. A motte and bailey castle, presumably with timber fortifications, was constructed by Judhael of Totnes shortly after the Conquest. It occupied the north-east corner of the Anglo-saxon burgh. The earliest shell-keep, built by Reginald de Braose circa 1219, was extensively rebuilt together with the rest of the castle by Baron Zouche in 1326. The castle was later owned by the Edgecombes of Cothele and the Seymour family, by whom it was placed in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works in 1947. The main function of Totnes castle was to act as a centre for the manorial courts under the constable, and as a base for the administration of the family estates. The earliest remains, apart from the motte and bailey earthworks, are masonry footings on the top of the motte of an Cll or C12 square, timber tower. The surviving upstanding masonry is mostly of C14 date and comprises a circular masonry shell-keep and sections of the bailey curtain wall. Keep of Devonion limestone rubble with red sandstone dressings and battered external face. Crenellated battlements with merlons pierced for loom; approached by 2 stairways in the thickness of the wall. Garderobe chamber also within the thickness of the curtain and projecting beyond the line of the wall; lit by pair of crossed loops. Bailey curtain-wall of pitched limestone rubble. The hall and other domestic buildings which formerly stood in the bailey no longer survive. Flanking the entrance to the site are 2 granite pillars possibly taken from the Exchange built in 1616 and pulled down in 1878. Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Date first listed: 14th November 1969

Sources / Further Reading

SDV173185Article in Serial: Jope, E. M. + Dunning, G. C. 1954. The Use of Blue Slate for Roofing in Medieval England. Antiquaries Journal. 34. Unknown. 211-2,216.
SDV336189Post-Graduate Thesis: Higham, R. A.. 1979. The Castles of Medieval Devon. University of Exeter Thesis. Unknown.
SDV341166Monograph: Swete, J. (ed. Gray T. + Rowe, M.). 1997. Travels in Georgian Devon. The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete. Vol. 1. Travels in Georgian Devon. The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Sw. 1. Hardback Volume. 104-105.
SDV341465Article in Monograph: Wall, J. C.. 1906. Ancient Earthworks. Victoria History of the County of Devon. Hardback Volume. 621.
SDV342884Report - Assessment: Green, T.. 2008. North Gate Lodge, Castle Street, Totnes: Results of an Archaeological Desk-Based Study. Southwest Archaeology Report. 060915. A4 Stapled + Digital. 5-6.
SDV342886Article in Serial: Whitley, H. M.. 1916. Totnes Castle and Walled Town. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 48. A5 Hardback. 189-96.
SDV342887Article in Serial: Rigold, S. E.. 1954. Totnes Castle. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 86. A5 Hardback. 228-54.
SDV342889Schedule Document: Office of Works. 1922. Totnes Castle. The Schedule of Monuments. Foolscap.
SDV342890Schedule Document: Department of Environment. 1996. Totnes Castle. The Schedule of Monuments. A4 Stapled.
SDV342891Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1957. SX76SE19. OSAD Card. Card Index + Digital.
SDV342899Pamphlet: Rigold, S. E.. 1975. Totnes Castle. Department of Environment Guide. Paperback Volume.
SDV342913Personal Comment: Griffiths, D. M..
SDV342914Report - Survey: Gerrard, S.. 1995. 140334. Monument Protection Programme. Unknown.
SDV342915Report - Watching Brief: Stewart Brown Associates. 1999. Totnes Castle Landslip 1999: Archaeological Watching Brief and Recording. Stewart Brown Associates Report. Interim Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV342919Report - Watching Brief: Stewart Brown Associates. 2002. Totnes Castle Archaeological Watching Brief. Stewart Brown Associates Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV342920Article in Serial: 1999. Devon Archaeological Society Newsletter. 73. Paperback Volume. 1.
SDV346116Report - Evaluation: Brown, S.. 2002. Totnes Castle: An Archaeological Evaluation. Stewart Brown Associates Report. A4 stapled + Digital.
SDV346117Report - Watching Brief: Brown, S.. 2008. Totnes Castle Archaeological Watching Brief. Stewart Brown Associates Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV346119Report - Assessment: Brown, S.. 1998. Totnes Castle: An Archaeological Desk-based Assessment. Stewart Brown Associates Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2, Figures 6, Plate 2..
SDV346121Report - Assessment: Brown, S.. 1999. Totnes Castle Terrace Walls: An Archaeological Assessment. Stewart Brown Associates Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2.
SDV348107Report - non-specific: Brown, S. + Gent T.. 2001. Totnes Castle Motte: Archaeological Watching Brief and Evaluation. Stewart Brown Associates Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV348725Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2012. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #82186 ]
SDV352027Un-published: English Heritage. 2000. Totnes Castle, Totnes, Devon: Structural Repairs to Motte Terraces West Face. Notification Under DoE Circular 18/84. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV352028Un-published: English Heritage. 2000. Specification: Construction of New Facing Stonework and Repair of Existing Stonework in Motte Slip Repairs: Totnes Castle, Devon. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV352029Un-published: English Heritage. 2000. Conditions for Appointment for Archaeological Services in Connection With Motte Slippage Stabilisation, Totnes Castle, Devon 1990/00. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV352030Un-published: Brown, S.. 2011. Totnes Castle: Summary of Recent Archaeological Work 1999-2008. A4 Single Sheet + Digital.
SDV352036Report - non-specific: Shannon, F. E.. 2000. Totnes Castle: Design of Improvement Works. Babtie Group. BGE019874. A4 Unbound + Digital.
SDV362730National Heritage List for England: Historic England. 2019. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Digital. 1168856.

Associated Monuments

MDV62838Parent of: Garden Terraces, Castle Motte, Totnes (Monument)
MDV62840Parent of: Trench, Totnes Castle, Totnes (Monument)
MDV9063Part of: Totnes Castle (Building)
MDV63143Related to: Saxo-Norman Buried Soil, Totnes Castle,Totnes (Monument)
MDV18248Related to: Totnes Castle Bailey (Monument)

Associated Finds

  • FDV1433 - TOOL (Early Neolithic to Late Iron Age - 4000 BC to 42 BC)
  • FDV1434 - POT (Early Iron Age to Late Iron Age - 700 BC to 42 BC)
  • FDV1435 - POT (X to XIII - 1000 AD to 1250 AD)
  • FDV1436 - POT (XV to Late 20th Century - 1500 AD to 1999 AD)

Associated Events

  • EDV4545 - Assessment of Northgate Lodge, Castle Street, Totnes
  • EDV4961 - Archaeological Evaluation at Totnes Castle
  • EDV4962 - Archaeological Watching Brief at Totnes Castle

Date Last Edited:Nov 2 2023 5:35PM