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HER Number:MDV8540
Name:Kingswear Castle, Kingswear


Kingswear Castle was built in 1491 to 1502 as part of the defences at the entrance to Dartmouth harbour. Square on plan, with a low circular detached tower to north-west. It was converted into a summer residence in the mid 19th century.


Grid Reference:SX 891 502
Map Sheet:SX85SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishKingswear
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishBRIXHAM

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX85SE/20
  • Old Listed Building Ref (I)
  • Old SAM Ref: SX85SE17
  • Tide Project: 30/07/2020

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • ARTILLERY FORT (Built, XV to XIX - 1491 AD to 1855 AD (Between))

Full description

Adams, M., 1900, The Castle, Manor-house and Church of Clifton, near Dartmouth, 506 (Article in Serial). SDV172286.

Kingswear castle, once a defensive site, now a dwelling house. The wooden roller used for easing the chain over the cliff edge was found buried in the wall of the ground floor of the round fort.

Windeatte, E., 1914, The borough of Clifton-Dartmouth-Hardness and its mayors and mayoralties. Part 4, 422-3 (Article in Serial). SDV172527.

O'Neil, B. H. St J., 1935, Dartmouth Castle and other defences in Dartmouth Haven, 129-158 (Article in Serial). SDV177411.

Kingswear Castle. Built to match the tower of Dartmouth Castle, it was later converted into a dwelling-house. Date of construction circa 1500-1. This may well have been first constructed by John Corp who was granted a license to crenellate in 1402.

Russell, P., 1947 - 1949, Dartmouth: Pre-reformation the Castle and St Petrox, 200 (Article in Serial). SDV172956.

The commencement of the building of the tower of Kingswear Castle is referred to in the Mayor of Dartmouth's accounts 1488-1494.

Russell, P. + Yorke, G., 1953, Kingswear and its Neighbourhood, 72-73, Pl. 12 (Article in Serial). SDV176862.

Loomie, A. J., 1963, An Armada Pilot's Survey of the English Coastline, October 1597, 288-300 (Article in Serial). SDV23874.

A survey of 1597 mentions a chain stretched across the harbour between Kingswear and Dartmouth castles, and artillery trenches adjoining each.

Department of Environment, 1970, Addendum to Totnes RD (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV172531.

Square tower of stone rubble. Crenellated parapet stepped up to rear with octagonal stair turret, some window opening, converted to casements, much restored. Commanding topographical position.

Griffith, F., 1988, Devon's Past. An Aerial View, 84 (Monograph). SDV64198.

Aerial view looking up the Dart estuary with the tower of Kingswear Castle visible at the bottom right.

Haslam, C., 1990, Landmarks in Coastal Defence, 3-5 (Article in Serial). SDV173195.

Possibly begun in 1491, but more probably built in one go, 1501-2, at which date it is recorded as complete. The second earliest fortification in the country specifically designed for artillery - its only predecessor being Dartmouth Castle, to which kingswear is the companion in a unified system of defence.
Gun room on ground floor, with additional gun loops on the first and second floors and a platform on the roof of timber planks caulked with tar. It was largely redundant by 1600. One round of repairs in the later 17th century century, when the principal gun platform is recorded as being on the roof. Early 19th century illustrations show its upper storey in ruins.
It was converted to summer residence in 1855, with new floors and roof, rebuilt parapet and a new round tower added. Restoration work commenced in 1987. Timber plates running through the embrasure cills were reinterpreted as devices to prevent recoil. The ground floor battery was reinstated by the removal of kitchen, scullery and concrete floor. Oak embrasure shutters were repaired and new ones made. Three shutters are possibly 17th century in date. The first floor held a garderobe and fireplace. Victorian features were retained, but the floor was raised 0.2 metres to its original height. The second floor retained the least Tudor detail with 17th-18th century window openings and room divisions added in 1855. These subdivisions have been removed but Victorian window joinery and other carpentry has been retained. The pitched roof has been replaced by a flat roof with a lean-to bathroom in position of a long-removed shelter against the rear parapet.

Griffith, F. M., 2000, Kingswear Castle (Ground Photograph). SDV172536.

Site visit 17th November 2000. The castle is now converted into letting accommodation by the Landmark Trust.
The chain (contra Griffith 1984 and Loomie 1963) appears in fact to have stretched from Dartmouth Castle to the terminal beneath Gomerock Castle, not Kingswear Castle.

Mottershead, D. N., 2000, Weathering of Coastal Defensive Structures in South-West England: A 500 Year Stone Durability Trial, 1143-1159 (Article in Serial). SDV173200.

A geomorphological weathering experiment was conducted at historic sites exposed to coastal salt erosion for 500-600 years. The lithology of Kingswear Castle belongs to the Dartmouth group which has a high rock density but the high feldspar and chlorite content reduce durability.

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

Map object based on this source.

English Heritage, 2014, National Heritage List for England, 1108543 (National Heritage List for England). SDV355683.

Kingswear Castle. Blockhouse for the defence of Dartmouth Harbour, converted into summer residence. Built in 1491 to 1502 as part of the defences at entrance to Dartmouth harbour on the east side and with Dartmouth Castle on the west side of the estuary. Slate rubble with red sandstone dressings. Square on plan with slightly battered walls. Corbelled embattled parapet, stepped up to higher level on north side. North side has chamfered two-centred arch doorway and corbelled machicolations above, and an octagonal stair turret to right on north west corner, with battlements, small four-centred arch windows at top and loops below. On the other sides four- centred head openings and loops at high level and square openings below with relieving arches. Low circular detached tower to north west with corbelled embattled parapet, openings with cambered arches, and round stair turret on south east side also with corbelled parapet with battlements. C20 concrete accretions linking it to main building. There was a fort on the Dartmouth side of the harbour mouth as early as 1388 but the existing Dartmouth Castle was begun in 1481 and most of the surviving work is of 1488-94. By the mid C17 the long range guns installed at Dartmouth Castle made Kingswear Castle obsolete and it was abandoned. But it was held by Sir Henry Cary for the King during the Civil War and captured in 1646 by Sir Thomas Fairfax. Further defences for Kingswear were built by the Royalists in the form of the redoubt immediately above the town. Kingswear Castle was converted into a summer residence (for Major Charles Seale- Hayne) in 1855 by T Lidston, architect, and it is still used for this purpose. Reference: B.H. St J O'Neil, "Dartmouth Castle and other defences of Dartmouth Haven", Society of Antiquaries 1936.
Date first listed: 8th October 1949

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, Unknown, Kingswear Castle (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV172529.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV172286Article in Serial: Adams, M.. 1900. The Castle, Manor-house and Church of Clifton, near Dartmouth. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 32. A5 Hardback. 506.
SDV172527Article in Serial: Windeatte, E.. 1914. The borough of Clifton-Dartmouth-Hardness and its mayors and mayoralties. Part 4. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 46. Hardback Volume. 422-3.
SDV172529Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. Unknown. Kingswear Castle. SX85SE17. Card Index.
SDV172531List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1970. Addendum to Totnes RD. Historic Houses Register. Unknown.
SDV172536Ground Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 2000. Kingswear Castle. Slide.
SDV172956Article in Serial: Russell, P.. 1947 - 1949. Dartmouth: Pre-reformation the Castle and St Petrox. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 23. Unknown. 200.
SDV173195Article in Serial: Haslam, C.. 1990. Landmarks in Coastal Defence. Fortress. 4. Unknown. 3-5.
SDV173200Article in Serial: Mottershead, D. N.. 2000. Weathering of Coastal Defensive Structures in South-West England: A 500 Year Stone Durability Trial. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 25. Unknown. 1143-1159.
SDV176862Article in Serial: Russell, P. + Yorke, G.. 1953. Kingswear and its Neighbourhood. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 85. A5 Hardback. 72-73, Pl. 12.
SDV177411Article in Serial: O'Neil, B. H. St J.. 1935. Dartmouth Castle and other defences in Dartmouth Haven. Archaeologia. 85. Unknown. 129-158.
SDV23874Article in Serial: Loomie, A. J.. 1963. An Armada Pilot's Survey of the English Coastline, October 1597. The Mariner's Mirror. 49. Unknown. 288-300.
SDV355681Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2014. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital. [Mapped feature: #108637 ]
SDV355683National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2014. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Website. 1108543.
SDV64198Monograph: Griffith, F.. 1988. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Paperback Volume. 84.

Associated Monuments

MDV8519Related to: Artillery fort at Dartmouth Castle (Building)
MDV58669Related to: Bank and Ditch south of Gommerock (Monument)
MDV8520Related to: Gomerock Tower, West of Castle Road, Kingswear (Monument)
MDV39413Related to: World War II Pillbox west of Kingswear Court (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Sep 11 2020 12:21PM