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HER Number:MDV7025
Name:Salcombe Castle or Fort Charles


Remains of 16th century Salcombe Castle also known as Fort Charles consisting mainly of a round tower with an adjoining wall.


Grid Reference:SX 733 380
Map Sheet:SX73NW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishSalcombe
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishMALBOROUGH

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 444277
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX73NW/1
  • Old Listed Building Ref (II): 397209
  • Old SAM County Ref: 224
  • Old SAM Ref: 33799
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SX73NW 5
  • Tide Project: 19/08/2020

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • ARTILLERY FORT (Built, XVI to XVII - 1501 AD (Between) to 1700 AD (Between))

Full description

Swete, R. J. (Revd), 1792-1801, 564M 'Picturesque Sketches of Devon' by Reverend John Swete, 564M/6/176 (Record Office Collection). SDV337942.

Illustrations by Swete.

Unknown, 1803, Lease of Berry and Fort Plot, Salcombe. Ref; 74/75/4-5 (Record Office Collection). SDV338894.

A lease relating to the Berry and Fort plot. It was owned by the Bastard family of Kitley, Yealmpton and the lease is between John Pollexfen Bastard and James Yates of Salcombe for 99 years, Rent £12 12s per annum.

Hawkins, A., 1819, Kingsbridge and Salcombe, 87-97 (Monograph). SDV144702.

Murray, J, 1859, Untitled Source, 66 (Monograph). SDV155993.

Fox, S. P., 1874, Untitled Source, 159-67 (Monograph). SDV155994.

Karkeek, P. Q., 1877, Sir Edmund Fortescue and the siege of Fort Charles, 341-2 (Article in Serial). SDV155984.

The position was excellent in the days of artillery, and was well situated for preventing vessels from going up river. Described as being of Saxon origin, or built by Elizabeth I before the Spanish invasion, but more likely to have been by Henry VIII. Referred to as the 'Old Bullworke' by Prince Maurice, 1643. Forts or block houses were erected by him against Spanish and French rovers.

Wall, J. C., 1906, Ancient Earthworks, 623 (Article in Monograph). SDV341465.

Considered by Wall to be a moated homestead.

Ministry of Works, 1948, Salcombe Castle (Schedule Document). SDV155967.

Visited 18th July 1948. Late medieval castle or fortress; early 16th century. A small courtyard originally bounded by a curtain now largely collapsed. At the south end is a large round tower, half preserved. At a high level in its wall are 3 rectangular gunports with slight external splays as at Dartmouth Castle. On a small island isolated at high water and now inaccessible from land without ropes or a ladder.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1951 - 1980, SX73NW5 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV343477.

1. Fort Charles, remains of Salcombe Castle.
2. Fort Charles was repaired by Charles I at an expense of £3,000, but taken by Parliamentarian forces in 1645.

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 471 (Monograph). SDV17562.

Salcombe Castle (Fort Charles). Erected by Henry VIII as part of the defences of the southern coast of England, and withstood sieges during the Civil War. The remains consist chiefly of one tower.

Burton, S. H., 1954, Untitled Source, 162 (Monograph). SDV155995.

Ordnance Survey, 1963, Ordnance Survey 6 inch map (Cartographic). SDV166087.

'Fort Charles and remains of Salcombe Castle' shown.

Oppenheim, M. M., 1968, The Maritime History of Devon, 26,64,66 (Monograph). SDV155974.

There is no record of the construction of the castle in the Royal records, so it must be presumed that it was built by local initiative some time in the 1540s.

Department of Environment, 1974, Salcombe, 1 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV155971.

Salcombe Castle, 16th century, now a ruin, consisting mainly of one round tower, on the shores of the estuary. Part of Henry VIII south coast fortifications. Scheduled Ancient Monument. Other details: LBS 397209.

Colvin, H. M., 1982, History of the King's Works, 595 (Monograph). SDV155973.

The foundations of a larger D-shaped bastion with 6 or 7 gun-ports facing seaward can also be discerned.

Robinson, R., 1984, List of Field Monument Warden Visits 1984 (Un-published). SDV343082.

Turton, S. D., 1993, Archaeological Assessment of SWW Salcombe Marine Discharge Scheme, 3 (Report - Assessment). SDV174932.

Stoyle, M. J., 1994, A History of Fort Charles, Salcombe, Devon (Report - Assessment). SDV155977.

Possibly abandoned after invasion scare of 1540s, but apparently active again by late 1641. In 1643 Prince Maurice commissioned Fortescue to rebuild the fort, which was "utterly ruined and decayed". By July 1644 it was ready to resist attack. Surrendered to Parliament in 1646, but a 1647 order for demolition does not seem to have been immediately obeyed since, in 1654, the Marlborough Parish Register records the burial of 'a soldier of Fort Charles'. How much longer it continued in service is unknown, but the fact that so little remained in the 19th century, coupled with persistent local tradition that it had been destroyed by Parliamentarians, suggests that it was abandoned and slighted before the restoration. Around 1800, Hawkins described the ground plan "of an irregular form, circular on the south and west and convex in part towards the north-west, but at the end to the north-east, nearest Salcombe, is narrowed to a point where the circular sweep terminates, while a straight wall, extending half the length of the fort, faces the high lands on the back quarter called 'The Berry' he went on to note that "the part towards the sea has nothing left except the remains of one porthole, which is on a level with the water and commands the entrance of the harbour", and added that "the north-west section, which is principally in the direction of the land, is now standing entire, built of hewn stone, and appears to be about 40 feet high and 6 or 7 thick. Near the top there are 2 portholes and 7 musket holes, which, as the land in the rear has an abrupt elevation, seems to be all that could be of any service on that quarter". At the end of the 19th century a writer remarked that "a half-round tower facing towards the land is the principal surviving fragment", while more recent observers have noted that "the foundations of a larger D-shaped bastion with 6 or 7 gun-ports facing seaward can be discerned".

Griffith, F. M., 1995, DAP/YO, 7-8 (Aerial Photograph). SDV156001.

Griffith, F. M., 1996, DAP/ZK, 6-11 (Aerial Photograph). SDV156002.

Mottershead, D. N., 1997, A morphological study of greenschist weathering on dated coastal structures, South Devon, 491-506 (Article in Serial). SDV155979.

Fort Charles built of local greenschist is located on a rocky islet 50 metres by 30 metres at 1.2 metres elevation. The curtain wall 13 metres long is the only surviving remnant of the 16th century construction. The largest structure is the drum tower of 21 metres diameter by 13.3 metres high dating from the 17th century renovation and located to the southwest of the curtain wall. Remnants of the 17th century bastion remain up to 8 metres high to the north-east of the curtain wall. A lookout tower up to 4 metres high of unknown date occupies the southeast corner of the site.

Swete, J. (ed. Gray T. + Rowe, M.), 1997, Travels in Georgian Devon. The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete. Vol. 1, 198 (Monograph). SDV341166.

Swete describes the castle, which he drew from the other side of Salcombe Harbour, as 'very dilapidated...consisting merely of a broken tower of two'.

Parker, R. W., 1998, Archaeological Recording at Fort Charles, Salcombe, 1994 and 1997 (Report - Survey). SDV155978.

Field survey and fabric recording by Exeter Archaeology between July 1994 and September 1997. During these works the remains of a circular oven were discovered, fixing the probable position of the kitchen. Partial sections and plans of 2 gun ports and a plan of the tower at second floor level produced. Other details: Plans, photographs.

Horner, W., 1998, DAP/ACB, 8-15 (Aerial Photograph). SDV141771.

Unknown, 1998, Untitled Source, 7 (Article in Serial). SDV155999.

Parker, R. W., 1999, Archaeological Recording at Fort Charles, Salcombe 1994-1998, 3 (Report - Survey). SDV344564.

The fourth phase of archaeological work involved the production of measured drawings of facework and features on the external face of the drum tower, prior to consolidation. This area was affected by large shear cracks, and was severely eroded at the base. The recording was limited to a narrow vertical strip which extended from the bedrock to the summit of the tower, and allowed the position of the ground-floor gun port to be fixed in relation to the second-floor ports. A section through the tower was also drawn, showing the position and depths of the offsets in the 17th century masonry cladding the earlier tower. Other details: Figure 1, Plate 4.

English Heritage, 2001, Salcombe Castle, Devon (Correspondence). SDV356765.

Site visited on 20th February 2001. Apart from the tower to the north of the main keep, there does not appear to have been significant deterioration to the structure in the last three years. Measures to repoint the exposed and eroded areas of masonry at the base of the keep on the west side have been particularly effective. See correspondence for full details.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2002, Fort Charles (Schedule Document). SDV155980.

An artillery castle constructed in the 1540s by order of King Henry VIII, and sited on a natural rock island near the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary. Local views of the estuary from Salcombe to the sea are visible from the fort. The fort was later reconstructed and strengthened in 1643 on the orders of Prince Maurice. It was then besieged by Parliamentary forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax between 15th January and 7th May 1646, when its Royalist garrison, under the command of Sir Edmund Fortescue, surrendered. A small watch tower was built onto the ruins of Fort Charles in the 18th or 19th century.
The monument survives as a ruin, best preserved on the landward side, where a large semicircular, four storey tower of dressed slate rubble on the south west side of the site is flanked a short distance to the north east by the remains of a narrower rectangular tower. The two are connected by a straight section of wall facing the cliff. Large quantities of earth and rubble lie against the interior, preserving remains of several rooms. On the seaward side of the fort, traces of a semicircular battery of at least two storeys survive, with six gunports facing across the estuary at ground floor level. These are visible as cuts in the rock, with one pier surviving between the gunports; a shaped corbel which supported the gunport lintel survives on its south west. A door connected the south-west tower with the battery. Low walls projecting from the now buried rear part of the fort show that a rectangular kitchen with an oven on its west side abutted the straight wall on the landward side, while rooms on either side lay within the two flanking towers. The only identifiable entrance is a sally port at the north east end of the main gun battery. This had a narrow `L'-shaped passage 1.2 metres wide, with doors at its inner end into the basement of the north tower and the seaward gun battery. A large stone pier at the south-west corner of the kitchen partly supported the first floor, with a recess for a newel stair alongside, leading to a second gun deck above the first.
The monument is a Listed Building Grade II.

Parker, R. + Passmore, A. + Stoyle, M., 2005, Fort Charles, Salcombe: A Coastal Artillery Fort of Henry VIII, Refortified in the Civil War, 115-137 (Article in Serial). SDV325642.

The ruins of Fort Charles, which stands on a low outcrop of rock near the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary, are very fragmentary and much obscured by fallen debris and foliage. Nevertheless it is an important survival of a 16th century coastal artillery fort It was probably originally built in response to the invasion scare of the mid 1540s and was rebuilt by Sir Edmund Fortescue in 1643 and the landward side of the defences strengthened. The fort was besieged by Parliamentarian forces and surrendered in 1646 and was subsequently slighted or abandoned. At some point, probably in the early 19th century, a small lookout turret was added to one of the last remaining parts of the battery. Building survey has shown that the 16th century fort had an irregular ground plan, with a battery accommodating six cannons facing the sea, and a tower and kitchen behind. On the first floor were domestic quarters; above these was a gun platform. Other details: Report also on CD in HER.

Passmore, A. J., 2005, Fort Charles, Salcombe: the 2005 condition survey (Report - Survey). SDV324924.

Conservation works on the exterior elevation of the tower in 1998 involved the repair of two vertical cracks. The western crack had reappeared by 2005 and the masonry was heavily weathered with hairline cracks visible below the string course. The masonry at the southwest end of the tower was rebuilt in 1994 which has halted the deterioration of the exposed core although the wall is being undermined at the base of the repair. The exposed core material of northeast range is being undermined and weathered causing some instability and collapse. A programme of monitoring (eg every 5 years) was recommended.

National Monuments Record, 2009, 444277 (National Monuments Record Database). SDV343476.

Field Investigation 29th Septermber 1986. Fort Charles, known as 'Salcombe Castle', is a ruined building situated on a low rocky island at the mouth of Salcombe harbour. Much of the castle has been destroyed either deliberately or to some extent by the sea. The surviving walling, located chiefly on the landward side of the island is quite impressive and comprises (a) a semi-circular tower with a short stretch of walling on its east side; (b) an isolated stack of walling and a length of angular wall; (c) on the seaward side, an 'island' of masonry crowned by a small circular building. The semi-circular tower (a) is constructed of local coursed rubble with, near its top, two square gun-ports and remains of a third. This bowed wall which incorporates numerous ?putlog holes, rises to a maximum height of circa 7 metres and is circa 1.8 metres thick. The south end is circa 3.1 metres thick. The wall on the eastern side is 5 metres long and now ends in a collapsed state on the edge of a rock outcrop. Walls are covered with ivy. The tall stack (b) of angular walling perched on a rock at the northern corner of the island may represent the remains of a square tower. It stands to a height of circa 6 metres and is set at an odd angle to the main wall on the south-west side. The short length of walling on its southern side, on higher ground, is up to 2.5 metres high; both walls of coursed stone construction show evidence of repair. The surface layer of soil and stone along the seaward side of the island along with any structures and even possibly some of the island itself has been washed away. The 'D' shaped bastion noted by Colvin cannot now be traced however a curious circular building set on a stack of masonry survives on the rocky plateau. The sub-triangular shaped stack of masonry is 4 metres long, 2.5 metres wide and 3 metres high; it could be part of the original fabric of the castle wall or it may have been constructed from reused material. The circular building on its top, approached by a flight of crude steps, is constructed of coursed stone blocks with small fillerstones. It has a domed stone roof with a flat headed door located on the landward side and four embrasured slit windows which offer an over 180 degree vista across the mouth of the estuary. It stands to a height of 2.5 metres and is 2 metres in diameter externally with an 0.9 metres internal diameter. It is probably a lookout but its date is unclear. Other details: SX73NW 5.

English Heritage, 2009, Heritage at Risk Register 2009: South West, 109 (Report - non-specific). SDV342694.

Extensive significant problems. Principal vulnerability coastal erosion.

English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010: South West, 102 (Report - non-specific). SDV344777.

English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011: South West, 106 (Report - non-specific). SDV355280.

Extensive significant problems. Declining. Principal vulnerability coastal erosion.

South Devon AONB Unit, 2014, Fort Charles Castle, Salcombe (Ground Photograph). SDV356934.

Image attached to email showing collapsed walls after winter storm.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV141771Aerial Photograph: Horner, W.. 1998. DAP/ACB. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 8-15.
SDV144702Monograph: Hawkins, A.. 1819. Kingsbridge and Salcombe. Kingsbridge and Salcombe. Unknown. 87-97.
SDV155967Schedule Document: Ministry of Works. 1948. Salcombe Castle. The Schedule of Monuments. Foolscap.
SDV155971List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1974. Salcombe. Historic Houses Register. A4 Spiral Bound. 1.
SDV155973Monograph: Colvin, H. M.. 1982. History of the King's Works. History of the King's Works. Part 4 ii (1485-1660). Unknown. 595.
SDV155974Monograph: Oppenheim, M. M.. 1968. The Maritime History of Devon. The Maritime History of Devon. Hardback Volume. 26,64,66.
SDV155977Report - Assessment: Stoyle, M. J.. 1994. A History of Fort Charles, Salcombe, Devon. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 94.53. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV155978Report - Survey: Parker, R. W.. 1998. Archaeological Recording at Fort Charles, Salcombe, 1994 and 1997. Exeter Archaeology Report. 98.05. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV155979Article in Serial: Mottershead, D. N.. 1997. A morphological study of greenschist weathering on dated coastal structures, South Devon. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 22. Unknown. 491-506.
SDV155980Schedule Document: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2002. Fort Charles. The Schedule of Monuments. A4 Stapled.
SDV155984Article in Serial: Karkeek, P. Q.. 1877. Sir Edmund Fortescue and the siege of Fort Charles. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 9. A5 Hardback. 341-2.
SDV155993Monograph: Murray, J. 1859. Handbook for Devon and Cornwall. Unknown. 66.
SDV155994Monograph: Fox, S. P.. 1874. Kingsbridge and its Surroundings. Unknown. 159-67.
SDV155995Monograph: Burton, S. H.. 1954. The South Coast of Devon. Unknown. 162.
SDV155999Article in Serial: Unknown. 1998. Devon Archaeological Society Newsletter. 70. Unknown. 7.
SDV156001Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1995. DAP/YO. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 7-8.
SDV156002Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1996. DAP/ZK. Devon Aerial Photograph. 6-11.
SDV166087Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1963. Ordnance Survey 6 inch map. Ordnance Survey 6 inch map. Map (Paper).
SDV174932Report - Assessment: Turton, S. D.. 1993. Archaeological Assessment of SWW Salcombe Marine Discharge Scheme. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 93.58. A4 Stapled + Digital. 3.
SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 471.
SDV324924Report - Survey: Passmore, A. J.. 2005. Fort Charles, Salcombe: the 2005 condition survey. Exeter Archaeology Report. 05.52. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV325642Article in Serial: Parker, R. + Passmore, A. + Stoyle, M.. 2005. Fort Charles, Salcombe: A Coastal Artillery Fort of Henry VIII, Refortified in the Civil War. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 63. Digital + Paperback Volume. 115-137.
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/6/176.
SDV338894Record Office Collection: Unknown. 1803. Lease of Berry and Fort Plot, Salcombe. Ref; 74/75/4-5. 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. 198.
SDV341465Article in Monograph: Wall, J. C.. 1906. Ancient Earthworks. Victoria History of the County of Devon. Hardback Volume. 623.
SDV342694Report - non-specific: English Heritage. 2009. Heritage at Risk Register 2009: South West. English Heritage Report. A4 Bound +Digital. 109.
SDV343082Un-published: Robinson, R.. 1984. List of Field Monument Warden Visits 1984. Lists of Field Monument Warden Visits. Printout.
SDV343476National Monuments Record Database: National Monuments Record. 2009. 444277. National Monuments Record Index. Website.
SDV343477Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1951 - 1980. SX73NW5. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV344564Report - Survey: Parker, R. W.. 1999. Archaeological Recording at Fort Charles, Salcombe 1994-1998. Exeter Archaeology Report. 99.11. A4 Stapled. 3.
SDV344777Report - non-specific: English Heritage. 2010. Heritage at Risk Register 2010: South West. English Heritage Report. Digital. 102.
SDV355280Report - non-specific: English Heritage. 2011. Heritage at Risk Register 2011: South West. english Heritage. Digital. 106.
SDV356765Correspondence: English Heritage. 2001. Salcombe Castle, Devon. Memorandum. Digital.
SDV356934Ground Photograph: South Devon AONB Unit. 2014. Fort Charles Castle, Salcombe. Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV69274Related to: Beacon to east of Fort Charles (Monument)
MDV69275Related to: Old Harry Beacon (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV3447 - A history of Fort Charles, Salcombe, Devon
  • EDV3448 - Archaeological recording at Fort Charles, Salcombe
  • EDV3449 - Archaeological assessment of SWW Salcombe marine discharge scheme
  • EDV3453 - Condition Survey at Fort Charles, Salcombe
  • EDV4679 - Archaeological Recording at Fort Charles, Salcombe 1998

Date Last Edited:Dec 1 2021 1:57PM