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HER Number:MDV8877
Name:Compton Castle, Marldon


Compton Castle a 14th century manor house fortified in the 15th or 16th century and restored in the 20th century


Grid Reference:SX 865 648
Map Sheet:SX86SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishMarldon
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishMARLDON

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Devon Record Office: 564M/6/120,124
  • National Trust SMR: 100496
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX86SE/5
  • Old Listed Building Ref (I): 100611
  • Old SAM County Ref: 114
  • Old SAM Ref: 34879
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SX86SE2
  • Tide Project: 24/03/2020

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • FORTIFIED MANOR HOUSE (Built, XIV to XV - 1301 AD to 1500 AD)

Full description

Swete, J., 564M/6, 120,124 (Record Office Collection). SDV340957.

Illustrations of Compton Castle by Swete.

Griffiths, D. M., Untitled Source (Personal Comment). SDV340951.

Compton Castle, 14th century manor house, fortified in 15/16th century and restored in the 1950's. Plan in National Trust pamphlet (by Everett) which shows entrance leading directly into an enclosed court, on the south side of which is the reconstructed great hall; another court is shown to the south of the great hall, but this is now only enclosed on the east side, by the continuation of the east range.

Parker, J., 1859, Untitled Source, 352-3 (Monograph). SDV275385.

Brief description of the house about 1859 is given. The hall was pulled down when the house was adapted for its present purpose, a farmhouse. Several rooms at the back have also been pulled down; the kitchen and offices are tolerably perfect.

Anonymous, 1862, Proceedings of the Congress of the British Archaeological Association at Exeter, 185 (Article in Serial). SDV57412.

Hills, G. M., 1863, Compton Castle, Devonshire, 1-12 (Article in Serial). SDV340952.

Situated in a deep valley, the castle is well preserved with the loss of only one important feature - the hall, which has now disappeared. It does not command a naturally strong position, and there are numerous ingenious devices on the walls to discourage attack. The building occupies the western half of an oblong court or bailey still enclosed on three sides by lofty walls. Building consists of north wing and a more extensive south wing, these connected by wall which completes its eastern front and contains entrance doorway. Other details: Plans.

Compton, C. H., 1883, Compton Castle (Article in Serial). SDV340964.

Gibbs, R., 1904-1905, Compton Castle, 209-16 (Article in Serial). SDV340963.

Other details: Plate.

Unknown, 1913, Untitled Source, 544-6 (Article in Serial). SDV339241.

The hall has now (1913) almost disappeared, but was originally opposite the gateway. The north block is ruinous. Other details: Plan.

Department of Environment, 1913 - 2002, Compton Castle (Schedule Document). SDV340953.

Fortified in the 15th century by one of the Gilberts. The irregularly shaped quadrangle is surrounded by a lofty wall in place of a moat or ditch. This is still in great part perfect. The hall and northwest portion of the house are now ruinous. The northeast containing the chapel is still roofed and in fairly good repair. The south range is well preserved and contains first floor rooms above it. A caretaker is resident in a few rooms in the south east corner. Other details: Monument 114.

Watkin, H. R., 1927, Proceedings of the Congress of the British Archaeological Association at Exeter, 147-50 (Article in Serial). SDV340954.

Built in present day castellated form between 1446 and 1475, though chapel may date from Norman days. Exceptional defensive precautions make it an unusual fortified private residence.Corbelled openings or coulisses built out over every opening or door. Originally surrounded by a wall 7.5 metres high with four towers at four corners. Irreparably damaged in 1646, although probably lived in for the next 150 years.

Everett, A. W., 1939, Compton Castle, 343-5 (Article in Serial). SDV340955.

The house that formed the nucleus of the castle was erected during the first half of the 14th century. No earlier house on the site prior to the 14th century. There was probably both an inner and outer court and a gatehouse. All but the hall was destroyed in the late 15th century rebuilding. Compton formed part of the large episcopal manor of Paignton and was held at an early period by the Compton family. It passed to the Gilberts in the early 14th century. Other details: Plates 20-21.

Pevsner, N., 1952, The Buildings of England: South Devon, 90 (Monograph). SDV336217.

The withdrawing room, chapel and south west tower, west of the great hall date to about 1420. The offices and towers on the east side are contemporary with the outer wall circa 1500.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1953, SX86SE2 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV340968.

1. Compton Castle medieval fortified manor house with remains of a Manor Chapel and the probable remains of a 16th century gatehouse (not in situ).
2. Gateway set in the wall of the forecourt dates from about 1550 and was in all probabilty the main gateway of the gatehouse. Not in situ but now opens into an orchard.
3. Manor Chapel stands nearly north to south in the northwest corner of the castle and has a doorway of the 1340 period and windows of between 1450-75. Other details: Plan + Illustrations.

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 275, 432 (Monograph). SDV17562.

Summary description in Hoskins.

Seymour, D. J., 1955 - 1958, The Smaller Manor Houses of Medieval Devon, 10 (Article in Serial). SDV6523.

Unique house, its restoration almost complete.

Everett, A. W., 1956, The rebuilding of the hall of Compton Castle, 75-85 (Article in Serial). SDV340956.

The hall had become ruinous by about 1750, and after the estate had been given to the National Trust, work begun in 1954 to rebuild the hall following as faithfully as possible the design of the original, evidence for which was obtained from a variety of sources. The progress of rebuilding and the eventual fitting out of the interior are described in some detail. The hall was circa 13 metres long by circa 6.5 metres wide and united the two wings. Other details: Figs 15-17.

Department of Environment, 1956, Totnes Rural District, 26 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV177635.

Well preserved fortified house of 14th century origin, rebuilt 15th and 16th century. Recently well restored.

Gillbert, W. R., 1957, Untitled Source, 171 (Article in Serial). SDV340965.

Walker, H. H., 1961, Notes for a Study of Bishop Walter de Stapledon and the Church in the West Country in the Early 14th Century, 313 (Article in Serial). SDV18677.

In the early 14th century, Compton was a sub-let portion of the Bishop's Manor of Paignton.

Higham, R. A., 1979, The Castles of Medieval Devon, 169-71,261,296,298,315,317-21,332 (Post-Graduate Thesis). SDV336189.

There were various phases of building from the 14th to the early 16th century. In its original form it was an undefended hall with chambers. It was partly rebuilt and enlarged in 15th century and one rectangular tower was added. Shortly after 1500 the major defences were built and the four towers were added, also a high enclosure wall with one angle tower, and a north facade with defended entrances and machicolations. At the same time additions were made to the domestic buildings. The enclosure wall probably continued northwards to include a forecourt now gone. The entrance facade is unique in Devon. In form, Compton Castle is transitional between the enclosure layouts of late medieval castles and defensive domestic sites. Other details: Figs 59-61.

National Monuments Record, 1980, SX8664:SF (Aerial Photograph). SDV340966.

National Trust, 1984, Compton Castle (Report - Survey). SDV340960.

The house is built on a platform, levelled into the hillside, and is roughly shaped like an 'H' in plan with square towers. There are 16th century additions. It is known to have suffered considerable damage during the Civil War, though there is no evidence that the house was directly under siege. The lack of a moat and external defence features suggest that the house was never designed to be a defensive site, but that the architectural alterations mentioned in other accounts afforded greater security during times of trouble. There is a tradition that Compton Castle has an underground passage out to Aptor in the parish of Marldon but there is no evidence of this.

National Trust, 1985, Compton Castle (Monograph). SDV354617.

Dating mainly from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, Compton is one of the few fortified houses that have survived without the alterations and additions which usually modify the character of buildings of this antiquity.
Compton has remained, with a single break, for six hundred years in the Gilbert family, illustrates both the responsibilities of property holders under the feudal system, and the romantic era of colonial expansion in the Elizabethan period, an expansion in which Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his younger half-brother , Sir Walter Raleigh, played so distinguished a part.
Of William Gilbert of Compton, his grandson, there is recorded a licence, dated 8th May, 1394: 'To receive in his ship called the Charity in the Port of Dartmouth, 100 pilgrims and ship them to Santiago to pay their vows and bring them back to England'. The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Spain was much followed in the Middle Ages, twenty ships having licence for this voyage in 1395. William was succeeded by his son Otho Gilbert. There are many records of Otho Gilbert's services, which were chiefly in providing West Country ships to serve in the French Wars. The following are interesting:
1st February 1460 - Commission to Baldwin Fulford, knight, Ortho Gilbert (and two others), to arrest the ships and vessels necessary for the conduct of an army ordered to go on the seas for the safe keeping thereof, and masters and mariners for the same.
6th January 1462 - Commission to William Boucher, knight, Phillip Courtenay, knight, Otho Gilbert, William Champernowne, and six others to take ships for the King's fleet against his enemies, within the ports of Devon and Cornwall and masters and mariners for the same, solders, smiths, carpenters, bows and bow strings, lances, cannons and powder…..meat and other victuals.
Otho's son John Gilbert died without issue, and was succeeded by Otho Gilbert, the eldest son of his brother Thomas. Otho had married Katharine, daughter of Sir Phillip Champernowne of Modbury and lived at Greenway on the Dart and was mother to John, Humphrey, Adrian and Elizabeth. After Otho Gilbert died Katharine Gilbert subsequently married Walter Raleigh, of Fardell, Devon, and gave birth to two more sons later knighted, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Carew Raleigh. John and Gilbert were also knighted. In fact Sir John Gilbert I, who succeeded to Compton in 1547 and was also Sheriff of Devon and Vice-Admiral of Devon, took a considerable part in the defence of the country against the intended Spanish invasion.

When intelligence of the preparation and sailing of Philip of Spain's great armada reached Queen Elizabeth in 1588 she set about the preparation of her own fleet, caused warning fire beacons to be assembled all along the Channel, and arrayed and exhorted an assembly of her army defending London and the Thames. The Gilbert brothers and their cousins in Devon played a significant part in preparing for battle on what was to decide England's fate for centuries to come. From their manor at Greenway they had forged close connection with the Port of Dartmouth.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583, led the expedition that took possession of St John's, Newfoundland

On 25th March, 1584, Queen Elizabeth renewed Sir Humphrey Gilbert's charter in the name of his half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh for exploration in America and in April Raleigh dispatched an expedition to explore and recommend a site for a colony. A fleet sailed from Plymouth the following year commanded by Sir Richard Grenville, including John Wihite, who painted some fine watercolour pictures now in the British Museum. They constructed Ford Raleigh in August 1585 and explored the area round Roanoke Island, naming the territory discovered Virginia in honour of the Queen. This event marked the birth of English-speaking America which took place twenty-two years before Jamestown was founded and thirty-five years before the Pilgrim Fathers set foot on Plymouth Rock.

Snell, R., 1986, Green Lanes in Devon Project (Un-published). SDV8442.

Griffith, F. M., 1987, DAP/JC, 1-4 (Aerial Photograph). SDV340967.

Griffith, F., 1988, Devon's Past. An Aerial View, 87 (Monograph). SDV64198.

Compton Castle is a fortified manor house, but fortifications seen in the aerial photograph are in fact one of its latest phases. The earliest building on this site was probably the house of which the original great hall was the principal part, dating from the early 14th century. The present great hall is a reconstruction of this building based on architectural evidence. It is actually the most recent structure in the picture, having been built in the 1950s. At either end of the great hall were service rooms.

Higham, R. A. + Freeman, J. P., 1996, Devon Castles (Draft Text), 5, 12, 14, Gazetteer (Monograph). SDV354350.

Estates at Compton are referred to from the mid 12th century but the surviving buildings date from the 14th century. Theey comprise a hall and solar of circa 1340 which were subsequently fortified. A tower was built circa 1450 but the main period of fortification took place circa 1520 when a crenellated enclosing wall with two portcullised entrances was built. This linked two new wings in front of the hall and enclosed the area to the rear of the house. Four more towers with gunports at ground level were also added. The late date of these defensive features and the thiness of the outer walls and lack of wall walks suggests that they were perhaps intended more for display than any serious defensive capability. The hall was reconstructed in the 1950s.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2002, Medieval fortified house at Compton Castle (Schedule Document). SDV340961.

Medieval fortified house at Compton Castle. The monument includes the buried and earthwork remains of a Medieval fortified house, an associated fishpond and later garden features at Compton Castle. The house faces north across a shallow valley. The double courtyard plan contains the hall, chapel, private chambers and service ranges of a 14th century manor house heavily rebuilt in the later 15th to early 16th century by the Gilbert family. The present house contains substantial parts of the latter period of construction which was contained within a high enclosing wall with a watch tower at its southeast corner. The front wall of the outer courtyard was heavily defended with a central gatehouse with portcullis, capped with machiolated battlements.To the rear of the house parts of the service ranges surrounding the inner courtyard have been removed, their foundations underlying lawns and paths. In the later 16th to early 17th century a third courtyard was laid out to the north, fronting the house with a threshing barn on its west side. Between this courtyard and the road to the north slight earthworks remain of terraced formal gardens, divided from the orchard to the east by a stone rubble faced ha ha, while earthworks of a fishpond in the valley floor to the west measure 40 metres from north to south by 20 metres east to west and up to 1.5 metres deep, with a dam at the west end 10 metres wide and up to 1.2 metres high. A stream runs along the north side of the pond beside the road. At the southwest corner of the fishpond a tree bole has a circular mound 4 metres in daimeter at its centre. The standing buildings of the fortified house, its curtain walls and other boundary walls, paths, courtyard surfaces and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included. Other details: Monument 34879.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2007, Marldon (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV340962.

Compton Castle a Medieval fortified house, seat of the Gilberts and property of the National Trust. Circa 1320 manor house with work of circa 1450, extended and fortified in circa 1500 to early 16th century. Restored circa 1930-55. Hall rebuilt 1954-5. Built of local limestone rubble with red sandstone and white Beer-stone dressings and granite corbels, lintels and copings. Slate roofs. Only parts of the screens passage survive of the early 14th century four-bay hall which was reconstructed in the 20th century. At the west end the solar and withdrawing room with a polygonal bay window to the west, a large tower on the south west and a chapel projecting at right angles to the hall to the north west are all circa mid 15th century. The chapel has Perpendicular four-light windows and a pointed turned vaulted roof with a priest's room above. At the east service end of the hall the buttery and pantry and offices including angle towers to the northeast and southeast and the kitchen wing to the southeast with another tower on the southeast corner are all circa 1500. Also of circa 1500 is the north front wall in line with the end of the projecting chapel and service wings which forms a small court in front of the hall. This front elevation is almost symmetrical and has a contemporary corner tower to the right hand (northwest) to balance the left hand (northeast) tower, both gabled (although in different directions) and with corbelled oriels. The main portcullis entrance is slightly to left of centre with its corbelled machicolations and battlements to the high courtyard wall, the Perpendicular north window of the chapel on the right hand and the service room to the left. To the far left another portcullis to the postern gateway. Outer walls to the east, west and south with another tower on the southeast corner circa early 16th century. All the towers are square with gabled roofs. Compton was abandoned by the Gilbert family in circa 1750 (in favour of Sandridge, Stoke Gabriel) and became a farm. It was bought back by the Gilberts in the 20th century. As well as reconstructing the hall Compton was thoroughly restored. Originally the land was held by the Comptons. Joan daughter and heiress of William de Compton married Geoffrey Gilbert who built the house in circa 1320. It was the home of Sir Humphrey Gilbert the explorer and navigator who annexed Newfoundland in 1583. Sir Humphrey Gilbert was half brother of Sir Walter Raleigh. References: Country Life, volume 170, page 1546, 5 November 1981. Transactions of the Devonshire Association, volume 88, pages 75-85. National Trust Guide Book, 1952.

Listing NGR: SX8653764855 Other details: LBS No 100611.

Berry, N., 2009, Land at Compton Castle, Devon, 5-9, 68-9 (Report - Survey). SDV347354.

Other details: Site Inventory map (3) 077; Figures 3-5, 14-16, 20.

Historic England, 2019, Compton Castle, Marldon, South Hams (Correspondence). SDV364857.

Historic England Application for Scheduled Monument Consent to undertake works for installation of a lightning protection scheme.

Walls, S., 2019, Installation of Lightning Protection System at Compton Castle, Marldon: Monitoring and Recording (Report - Watching Brief). SDV363526.

Archaeological monitoring and recording was undertaken by South West Archaeology Ltd. (SWARCH) during the installation of a lighting protection system at Compton Castle, Marldon, South Hams, Devon. The ten small excavated holes revealed that as was to be expected there is a degree of recent makeup of ground, particularly to the south and east of the Castle. The area of the courtyard and to the north and west of the Castle appears to have been subject to more substantive landscaping and below the modern surface and features in Conductor Pits 8, 9 and 10 the natural was encountered. Whilst most of the excavated holes produced CBM, slate fragments, lime mortar and stone, none of this was retained. Two small finds were retained from the rubble deposits: from conductor pit 1, a single sherd of white refined earthenware (6g) and from conductor pit 3, an iron buckle from a horse bit.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 275, 432.
SDV177635List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1956. Totnes Rural District. Historic Houses Register. A4 Spiral Bound. 26.
SDV18677Article in Serial: Walker, H. H.. 1961. Notes for a Study of Bishop Walter de Stapledon and the Church in the West Country in the Early 14th Century. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 93. A5 Hardback. 313.
SDV275385Monograph: Parker, J.. 1859. Some Account of Domestic Architecture in England. Unknown. 352-3.
SDV336189Post-Graduate Thesis: Higham, R. A.. 1979. The Castles of Medieval Devon. University of Exeter Thesis. Unknown. 169-71,261,296,298,315,317-21,332.
SDV336217Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1952. The Buildings of England: South Devon. The Buildings of England: South Devon. Paperback Volume. 90.
SDV339241Article in Serial: Unknown. 1913. Archaeological Journal. 70. Unknown. 544-6.
SDV340951Personal Comment: Griffiths, D. M..
SDV340952Article in Serial: Hills, G. M.. 1863. Compton Castle, Devonshire. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 19. Unknown. 1-12.
SDV340953Schedule Document: Department of Environment. 1913 - 2002. Compton Castle. The Schedule of Monuments. Letter.
SDV340954Article in Serial: Watkin, H. R.. 1927. Proceedings of the Congress of the British Archaeological Association at Exeter. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 33. Unknown. 147-50.
SDV340955Article in Serial: Everett, A. W.. 1939. Compton Castle. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 71. A5 Hardback. 343-5.
SDV340956Article in Serial: Everett, A. W.. 1956. The rebuilding of the hall of Compton Castle. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 88. A5 Hardback. 75-85.
SDV340957Record Office Collection: Swete, J.. 564M/6. Illustrations by Swete. Unknown. 120,124.
SDV340960Report - Survey: National Trust. 1984. Compton Castle. National Trust Archaeological Survey Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV340961Schedule Document: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2002. Medieval fortified house at Compton Castle. The Schedule of Monuments. Letter.
SDV340962List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2007. Marldon. Historic Houses Register. Website.
SDV340963Article in Serial: Gibbs, R.. 1904-1905. Compton Castle. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 3. Unknown. 209-16.
SDV340964Article in Serial: Compton, C. H.. 1883. Compton Castle. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 39. Unknown.
SDV340965Article in Serial: Gillbert, W. R.. 1957. Archaeological Journal. 114. Unknown. 171.
SDV340966Aerial Photograph: National Monuments Record. 1980. SX8664:SF. National Monuments Record Photograph. Photograph (Paper).
SDV340967Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1987. DAP/JC. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 1-4.
SDV340968Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1953. SX86SE2. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV347354Report - Survey: Berry, N.. 2009. Land at Compton Castle, Devon. National Trust Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 5-9, 68-9.
SDV354350Monograph: Higham, R. A. + Freeman, J. P.. 1996. Devon Castles (Draft Text). Devon Castles. A4 Unbound + Digital. 5, 12, 14, Gazetteer.
SDV354617Monograph: National Trust. 1985. Compton Castle. Compton Castle. A5 Paperback.
SDV363526Report - Watching Brief: Walls, S.. 2019. Installation of Lightning Protection System at Compton Castle, Marldon: Monitoring and Recording. South West Archaeology. MCC19. Digital.
SDV364857Correspondence: Historic England. 2019. Compton Castle, Marldon, South Hams. Scheduled Monument Consent Letter. Digital.
SDV57412Article in Serial: Anonymous. 1862. Proceedings of the Congress of the British Archaeological Association at Exeter. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 18. Unknown. 185.
SDV64198Monograph: Griffith, F.. 1988. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Paperback Volume. 87.
SDV6523Article in Serial: Seymour, D. J.. 1955 - 1958. The Smaller Manor Houses of Medieval Devon. Transactions of the Torquay Natural History Society. 12. Unknown. 10.
SDV8442Un-published: Snell, R.. 1986. Green Lanes in Devon Project. Green Lanes in Devon Project. Not applicable. Unknown.

Associated Monuments

MDV30706Parent of: Cider Pounds at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV30706Related to: Cider Pounds at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV19563Parent of: Compton Castle Medieval Chapel (Building)
MDV8879Parent of: Cross at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV8879Related to: Cross at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV8880Parent of: Effigy at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV80193Related to: Castle Lane, Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV30706Parent of: Cider Pounds at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV30706Related to: Cider Pounds at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV19564Related to: Compton Castle Barn (Building)
MDV8879Parent of: Cross at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV8879Related to: Cross at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV80216Related to: Earthworks in Former Orchard, Castle Barton (Monument)
MDV21473Related to: Earthworks south of Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV80205Related to: Gatehouse, Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV80207Related to: Higher and Lower Park, Compton (Monument)
MDV44001Related to: Orchards, Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV80191Related to: Possible Former Gateway at Compton Castle (Monument)
MDV80194Related to: Remains of a Medieval Fortified House, Fishpond and Later Garden Features (Monument)
MDV44000Related to: Walled Garden at Compton Castle (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV8249 - Monitoring and Recording: Installation of Lightning Protection System at Compton Castle, Marldon (Ref: MCC19)
  • EDV8251 - Monitoring for Installation of electric cable: Compton Castle (Ref: MCC20)

Date Last Edited:Nov 4 2022 10:16AM