HeritageGateway - Home
Site Map
Text size: A A A
You are here: Home > > > > Devon & Dartmoor HER Result
Devon & Dartmoor HERPrintable version | About Devon & Dartmoor HER | Visit Devon & Dartmoor HER online...

See important guidance on the use of this record.

If you have any comments or new information about this record, please email us.

HER Number:MDV437
Name:Great Torrington Castle


Great Torrington Castle, mentioned in documents in 1139 and 1228, but subsequent history uncertain. Remains of stone buildings and a rampart identified to the east of the Bowling Green.


Grid Reference:SS 496 189
Map Sheet:SS41NE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishGreat Torrington
Ecclesiastical ParishGREAT TORRINGTON

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS41NE/11

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • CASTLE (XIII to XV - 1201 AD to 1500 AD)

Full description

Unknown, Unknown (Aerial Photograph). SDV18288.

Copy of photograph hanging in Great Torrington Bowling Club, said to be pre-war.

Griffith, F. M., Untitled Source (Personal Comment). SDV18277.

An undated (pre-war) air photograph shows a squarish mound in the area now occupied by the car park. Whether this was part of the castle itself or later landscaping works is not known.

Lysons, D. + Lysons, S., 1822, Magna Britannica. Devonshire, 529 (Monograph). SDV323771.

Colby, F. T., 1875, The History of Great Torrington, 90-1 (Article in Serial). SDV19181.

Ordnance Survey, 1880-1899, First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch map (Cartographic). SDV336179.

Bowling Green shown as site of Castle.

Wall, J. C., 1906, Ancient Earthworks, 612 (Article in Monograph). SDV341465.

Doe, G. M., 1939, Address of the President, 60 (Article in Serial). SDV14615.

Great Torrington Castle. Little remains except some earthworks, the bailey now known as the Barley Grove, the castle green and the mound, probably the remains of the keep, and traces of the castle ditch. On east side of the town adjoining the castle garden, the commons slope gradually down to a little valley. At the beginning of the slope are some old earthworks with traces of a covered way close to a levelled patch of ground, perhaps an entrance or sallyport to and from the castle. Built in reign of King John, pulled-down in 1228 and rebuilt 1338. Castle ditch has been infilled. Some worked stones have been dug-up from time to time.

Doe, G. M., 1940 - 1941, Some Torrington Inaccuracies in the 18th Century, 195 (Article in Serial). SDV17819.

Alexander, J. J., 1941, Early Barons of Torrington and Barnstaple, 153-79 (Article in Serial). SDV74013.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1953 - 1978, SS41NE10 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV18274.

Site visit 15th December 1953. The site of the castle occupies high ground with the land falling steeply to the south. It is now laid out as a bowling green, surrounded by a battlemented wall with no visible trace of antiquity.
Site visit 27th November 1978. Torrington Castle stood on the crest of the hill commanding an extensive view to the south. The only feature remaining is a mound of earth, perhaps the site of a keep. To the west is Barley Grove, now a car park, which may have been one of two baileys, the other to the east now being a modern bowling green. There are no certain traces of the castle ditch. South-east of the castle are extensive signs of small scale quarrying.

Higham, R. A., 1979, The Castles of Medieval Devon, 80-82,253,258,275,298,315,317,Fig 15 (Post-Graduate Thesis). SDV336189.

A watching brief to be undertaken August 1987 by R A Higham when the Bowling Club hut was to be replaced. Other details: PHD Thesis, Exeter University..

Timms, S. C., 1982, Great Torrington Motte and Bailey (Worksheet). SDV18275.

Great Torrington Tithe Map of 1843 shows Castle field names for this site and for considerable area of land to east. The 1978 Ordnance Survey text is still accurate. The mound lies to the west of the bowling green and south of Great Torrington pound. The whole site lies within the conservation area, but only Barley Grove School (see Castle Chapel PRN 13834) and the bowling green walls (see PRN 18797) are listed. The area is being considered for enhancement by the District Council in 1982. Barley Grove is said to have been laid out and planted in the early 19th century. Other details: Photos. DCC Cons. Sect. Film 283.

Devon County Council, 1983, Great Torrington Castle, 591/33 (Ground Photograph). SDV18292.

Pointon, E., 1983, Untitled Source (Personal Comment). SDV18276.

A bank runs north from the bowling green and through the grounds of Castle House Nursing Home on the east side of Castle Street. This is thought possibly to be the bailey bank. Measures survey undertaken by the late D. Pointon. Other details: Pers. Comm. to S. C. Timms.

Higham, R. A. + Goddard, S., 1987, Great Torrington Castle, 97-103 (Article in Serial). SDV11501.

Un-named castle of William Fitzodo captured in 1139. A castle demolished in 1228 due to lack of Royal Licence. In 1328, 1340 and 1347 Richard Merton received licence to crenellate the house, which is likely to be at the castle site as Merton's Holding in 1343 seems to be associated with the chapel (see PRN 13834). Gardens are referred to adjacent to the castle in the late 14th century. The boundary between borough (see PRN 19042) and castle precincts was respected until relatively modern times. The site has a commanding position over the Torridge, with strong natural defences on the south. The name 'Barley Grove' on Castle Hill may be a corruption of 'bailey'. Possible that a sunken yard adjacent to possible motte earthworks is situated in the former ditch. Parchmarks visible on the bowling green suggest stone features survive beneath. 1987 watching brief at circa SS49691892 identified a coursed rubble wall, 4 metres long, 0.6 metres deep, 0.9-0.5 metres wide, with a narrower wall superimposed. The walls were possibly rendered. The wall contained pot of circa1200-1500, the narrow wall, pot of circa 1300-1500. There was also a possible floor of trodden clay and flat stones on the walls south side. Above the floor was circa 1200-1500 pottery and a worn coin of uncertain date. The building was probably domestic. The tail of a rampart of clay, gravel and stone at least 0.8 metres high was also identified. This could represent the corner of an enclosure, or possibly part of a tower bearing mound on the east perimeter. About 500 medieval sherds were also retrieved from a service trench around the north and north-east side of the bowling green and demolition rubble recorded. The pot was largely local North Devon unglazed coarseware from Barnstaple/Bideford, of circa 1200-1500 type, though the assemblage appears to be similar to 15th century deposits in Exeter. Extensive destruction of the site means that a full plan of the castle is not possible. Archaeological features lay beneath a strikingly thin overburden.

Griffith, F. M., 1988, DAP/KE, 1-2 (Aerial Photograph). SDV15650.

Higham, R. A., 1988, Devon Castles: An Annotated List, 144 (Article in Serial). SDV341278.

The remaining earthwork fragment may have been a motte, and a bailey is mentioned in a 1371 document. A baronial castle, possibly founded in the years following the Norman conquest, although first mentioned in a document of 1139 when reference is made to the burning of a presumably timber castle with tower and unspecified buildings. It was demolished in 1228 and subsequent history uncertain, although a dubious reference occurs in 1343, and the chapel was standing in 1540.

Hunt, P. J., 1989, Torrington, 9 (Report - non-specific). SDV352248.

Higham, R. A. + Freeman, J. P., 1996, Devon Castles (Draft Text), 2, 3, 8, Gazetteer (Monograph). SDV354350.

A documented but largely vanished castle, fragments of which were revealed in excavtions in 1987. It is presumed to have been of 11th-12th century date being first referred to by implication in 1139. A licence to crenellate, which may have been for the same site, was granted in 1340 and chambers, hall, kitchens, chapel and grange are documented soon after. Excavation during reconstruction of the bowling green pavillion in 1987 allowed limited excavation. This revealed a rubble stone wall, perhaps part of the enclosed complex licensed in 1340, finds of late medieval pottery and the corner of a clay rampart, possibly from the earlier timber castle.

Watts, M. A., 1997, Great Torrington Castle: Excavation Prior to Extension to Bowling Club Pavilion and Observations During Relaying of Perimeter Path of the Green (Report - Excavation). SDV18280.

Excavation prior to extension of bowling green pavilion. East end of excavation trench (adjacent to north side of existing pavilion) revealed part of the Norman rampart at 0.35 metres below present ground level. Sealed by 0.25 metres of post-medieval deposits and circa 0.12 metres of topsoil. The surviving top of the rampart dropped towards west, where it was sealed by a thin layer of dark brown silt with charcoal, possibly a buried medieval soil horizon. This was overlain by a further deposit of clay and shale, possibly slumped rampart, which was sealed by a post-medieval levelling layer consisting of large stones under circa 0.15 metres of topsoil. A modern pipe trench cut through the centre of the section. No finds recovered. In February/March 1997 members of the local archaeology society made observations and collected unstratified potsherds during relaying of perimeter path around bowling green. This involved removal of circa 0.5 metres of deposits below present path. A deposit of large stones was observed at south end of west section of path. This may correspond to the post-medieval levelling layer recorded during excavation, and may therefore indicate the position of another section of Norman rampart. At west end of north section of path, in situ cobbles observed sloping to north adjacent to the green's fence and also in vicinity of gate. The unstratified finds consisted mostly of post-medieval and later finds; however, 6 sherds of North Devon medieval coarsewares were also recovered, including a jug handle.

Exeter Archaeology, 2004, Archaeological assessment of land adjacent to Dartington Crystal, Great Torrington, 2 (Report - Assessment). SDV338048.

An unnamed 'castellum' belonging to William Fitzodo, the son of Odo who held Great Torrington in 1086, is recorded as having been captured and burnt in 1139. This probably refers to the timber motte and bailey in Great Torrington. The castle was presumably rebuilt as in 1228 it was demolished by the Sheriff of Devon and its ditches levelled. Licences to crenellate in 1338, 1340 and 1347 may refer to a house on the castle site.

Whiteaway, T., 2005, Archaeological monitoring of groundworks for extensions to Great Torrington Bowling Club Pavilion (Report - Watching Brief). SDV320957.

A watching brief was undertaken by Exeter Archaeology during groundworks to the north and south of Great Torrington Bowling Club Pavilion in 2004. A probable medieval wall aligned north to south was exposed on the north side of the pavilion. The un-bonded wall was constructed on a red clay which overlay makeup for the bailey rampart at the north end of the trench. The stratigraphy consisted of four layers of probable rampart material rising up to the boundary wall to the east. On the western side of the probable rampart material two dumps of levelling material were noted with the lower horizon comprising abundant stone fragments. To the south of the pavilion an east to west aligned wall was exposed. The upper courses of the wall sloped down to the west respecting the fall in the rampart bank. The wall was un-bonded but had well set facing stones. A scar at the eastern end suggested the wall originally continued to the north but no fabric survived. The wall did not correlate to the wall on the north side of the pavilion although the construction method was identical and they probably represent contemporary structures. Two sherds of medieval North Devon ware were recovered from the northern section dated between 13th and 15th centuries.

Evans, P. + McConnell, 2010, Sydney House Car Park, South Street, Great Torrington, Devon: An Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment, 5 (Report - Assessment). SDV354455.

Ordnance Survey, 2014, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV355681.

Castle (Site of) marked.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV11501Article in Serial: Higham, R. A. + Goddard, S.. 1987. Great Torrington Castle. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 45. Paperback Volume. 97-103.
SDV14615Article in Serial: Doe, G. M.. 1939. Address of the President. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 71. A5 Hardback. 60.
SDV15650Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1988. DAP/KE. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 1-2.
SDV17819Article in Serial: Doe, G. M.. 1940 - 1941. Some Torrington Inaccuracies in the 18th Century. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 21. Unknown. 195.
SDV18274Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1953 - 1978. SS41NE10. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV18275Worksheet: Timms, S. C.. 1982. Great Torrington Motte and Bailey. Worksheet + Digital.
SDV18276Personal Comment: Pointon, E.. 1983.
SDV18277Personal Comment: Griffith, F. M..
SDV18280Report - Excavation: Watts, M. A.. 1997. Great Torrington Castle: Excavation Prior to Extension to Bowling Club Pavilion and Observations During Relaying of Perimeter Path of the Green. Exeter Archaeology Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV18288Aerial Photograph: Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Photograph (Paper).
SDV18292Ground Photograph: Devon County Council. 1983. Great Torrington Castle. Devon County Council Conservation Section Collection. Photograph (Paper) + Digital. 591/33.
SDV19181Article in Serial: Colby, F. T.. 1875. The History of Great Torrington. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 7. A5 Hardback. 90-1.
SDV320957Report - Watching Brief: Whiteaway, T.. 2005. Archaeological monitoring of groundworks for extensions to Great Torrington Bowling Club Pavilion. Exeter Archaeology Report. Project 5258. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV323771Monograph: Lysons, D. + Lysons, S.. 1822. Magna Britannica. Devonshire. Magna Britannica: A Concise Topographical Account of The Several Counties o. 6: Devonshire. Unknown. 529.
SDV336179Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1880-1899. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch map. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV336189Post-Graduate Thesis: Higham, R. A.. 1979. The Castles of Medieval Devon. University of Exeter Thesis. Unknown. 80-82,253,258,275,298,315,317,Fig 15.
SDV338048Report - Assessment: Exeter Archaeology. 2004. Archaeological assessment of land adjacent to Dartington Crystal, Great Torrington. Exeter Archaeology Report. 04.34. 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. 144.
SDV341465Article in Monograph: Wall, J. C.. 1906. Ancient Earthworks. Victoria History of the County of Devon. Hardback Volume. 612.
SDV352248Report - non-specific: Hunt, P. J.. 1989. Torrington. Devon County Council Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 9.
SDV354350Monograph: Higham, R. A. + Freeman, J. P.. 1996. Devon Castles (Draft Text). Devon Castles. A4 Unbound + Digital. 2, 3, 8, Gazetteer.
SDV354455Report - Assessment: Evans, P. + McConnell. 2010. Sydney House Car Park, South Street, Great Torrington, Devon: An Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment. Context One Archaeological Services Report. COAS/DBA/10/SGT. A4 Stapled + Digital. 5.
SDV355681Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2014. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital.
SDV74013Article in Serial: Alexander, J. J.. 1941. Early Barons of Torrington and Barnstaple. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 73. A5 Hardback. 153-79.

Associated Monuments

MDV18346Related to: Former Pound, Great Torrington (Monument)
MDV19042Related to: Great Torrington (Monument)
MDV18797Related to: Great Torrington Bowling Green (Building)
MDV13834Related to: Great Torrington, Castle Chapel (Monument)

Associated Finds

  • FDV185 - POT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Associated Events

  • EDV4195 - Land Adjacent to Dartington Crystal, Great Torrington
  • EDV936 - Unnamed Event
  • EDV983 - Archaeological monitoring of groundworks for extensions to Great Torrington Bowling Club Pavilion

Date Last Edited:Nov 30 2023 4:16PM