Fort Charles, Salcombe

Has been described as a Certain Artillery Fort

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameFort Charles, Salcombe
Alternative NamesSalcombe Castle; 'The Old Bulwarke'
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityDevon
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishSalcombe

Fort Charles, 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 1.2m 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. (Scheduling Report)

Fort Charles, otherwise known as Salcombe Castle, is a ruined building situated on a low rocky island at the mouth of Salcombe Harbour. This sub-triangular shaped island of resistant schist measures approximately 36.0m by 25.0m and it stands just above the high tide line although it is linked to the mainland at low tide. Much of the castle, dominated by the crumbling cliffs of the mainland, has been destroyed either deliberatly or to some extent by the destructive action of 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.

a) The semi-circular tower is constructed of local coursed rubble with, near its top, two square gun-ports as well as the possible remains of a third. This bowed wall which incorporates numerous ?put log holes, rises to a maximum height of c.7.0m and is approximately 1.8m thick. The weather-worn and crumbling southern end is apparently double-skinned being about 3.1m thick. The wall on the eastern side is 5.0m long and now ends in a collapsed state on the edge of a rock outcrop. Internally these walls are covered with ivy and the lower parts are submerged under dense thicket.

b) The tall stack of angular walling perched on a rock at the N corner of the island may represent the remains of a square tower. It stands to a height of c.6.0m and is set at an odd angle to the main wall on the SW side. The short length of walling on its southern side, on higher ground, is up to 2.5m high; both walls of coursed stone construction show evidence of repair.

c) The south side of the island is regularly swept by storm tides and as a consequence the surface layer of soil and stone along with any structures and even possibly some of the island itself has been washed away. The 'D' shaped bastion noted by Colvin (5) 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 4.0m long, 2.5m wide and 3.0m 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 2.5m and is 2.0m in diameter externally with an 0.9m internal diameter. It is probably a lookout but its date is unclear. (PastScape–Field Investigators Comments-F1 MJF 29-SEP-86)

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSX733380
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  • Duffy, Michael, 1999, 'Coastal Defences and Garrisons 1480-1914' in Kain, R. and Ravenhill, W., Historical Atlas of South-West England (University of Exeter Press) p. 158-60
  • Salter, Mike, 1999, The Castles of Devon and Cornwall (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 80
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  • Pevsner, Nikolaus, 1952, Buildings of England: South Devon p. 253 (slight)
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 102
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Wall, C., 1906, in Page, Wm (ed), 'Ancient Earthworks' VCH Devon Vol. 1 p. 623
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 31-2 online copy


  • Parker, R., Passmore, A. and Stoyle, M., 2005, 'Fort Charles, Salcombe: a Coastal Artillery Fort of Henry VIII, Refortified in the Civil War' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 63 p. 115-37
  • Karkeek, P.Q., 1877, 'Sir Edmund Fortescue and the siege of Fort Charles' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 9 p. 336-350 online copy


  • Historic England, 2016, Heritage at Risk South West Register 2016 (London: Historic England) p. 96 online copy
  • Historic England, 2015, Heritage at Risk South West Register 2015 (London: Historic England) p. 99 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 103 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 101 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 118 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 106 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 106 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2009, Heritage at Risk Register 2009 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 109 online copy