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Originator:Salvatore, J. P.
Summary:Motte and bailey site of Barnstaple Castle. Barnstaple Castle protected the lowest point at which the taw could be forded in medieval times. The castle was sited within the w corner of the earlier Anglo-Saxon defended town or burh and it was probably under construction by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 although it is not recorded in documents until the C12. Comprises a courtyard or bailey area originally enclosed by a bank and moat which stood on the nw side of a motte which was equipped with its own associated set of defences thus creating a stronghold within the castle. The bailey would have held some of the working buildings of the castle constructed either in timber or in stone. The earth and stone-built motte, which stands about 14m high with a diameter of just over 60m, retains masonry fragments of a stone defensive wall and an inner circular tower known as a donjon or shell keep with wing walls descending the motte. In plan it was roughly circular and comprised 2 concentric walls. Another wall 1m thick bounded the edge of the flat top of the motte. A document of 1274 indicates the presence of a hall, chamber, and kitchen on the motte. The structure is considered by Higham to be a shell keep with enclosed tower similar to contemporary Norman castle architecture at Launceston in Cornwall and Plympton in Devon. The rampart and ditch which defended the bailey were part excavated in 1972-75 and from these excavations it could be suggested that the bailey rampart was about 10m wide and probably revetted with vertical timbers although its height remains unknown. It was fronted by a berm 4-5m wide and then a ditch which, because its depth has been demonstrated to be well below the high water mark, may be more correctly termed as a moat fed by channels connected to the River Yeo. The full width of the bailey moat has not yet been established although it appears to exceed 5m. A flat-bottomed trench located between the rampart and the ditch is considered to be a robber-trench of a stone wall about 1m thick which was added to the front of the rampart in the late medieval period. The motte mound was surrounded by a an encircling moat found in an excavation of 1927 to be about 16m wide and 4.5m deep. It is assumed that the motte must have been connected to the bailey by some means, probably by a drawbridge. A moat of this size must have utilised river water by the linking of the nearby Rivers Taw and Yeo although it was not until the C13 that castle defences made extensive use of water-filled moats and Barnstaple Castle appears to have been in decline by that century. Although an Early Norman castle might be expected at Barnstaple, as was the case at Exeter and Totnes, there is no documentary evidence of such a castle until the early C12. By the reign of Stephen in 1136 Barnstaple Castle was abandoned as being too weak to defend but it was rebuilt after 1139 by Henry Tracy and his descendants. In 1228 the defences were reduced in height on the orders of Henry III and the castle was in disrepair by the end of the C13. The whole site is recorded as utterly ruinous by the time of John Leland's visit in 1540 during the reign of Henry VIII.

Associated Monuments (1)

MDV14592Barnstaple Castle (Monument)