Torrington Castle, Great Torrington

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are earthwork remains

NameTorrington Castle, Great Torrington
Alternative NamesTorryton; Chepyngtoryton
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityDevon
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishGreat Torrington

Torrington Castle, was built in the reign of John by William de Toriton and was ordered to be destroyed in 1228 having been built without a license. It was rebuilt in 1340 by Richard de Merton, who obtained it through his wife Maud d'Argentine, granted to the Cary family by his daughter Eleanor and her husband Peter Veel, to clear debts, in 1386 and in 1401 was granted to Robert Chalons. The chapel dedicated to St James was all that remained in Leland's time. That was converted to a school-house and finally demolished in 1780. The earthwork remains include a mound, possibly the site of the keep, 36m by 18m overall, with an uneven top of about 18m by 9m by 2.7m. (PastScape)

Torrington Castle, which appears to have been built by Richard de Merton in 1340 (Torrington had the power of life and death within this manor.) , stood on the south side of the town, near the edge of a high and steep precipice, overlooking the river Torridge. A bowling green occupies the site. The chapel, which had been converted into a school-house, was taken down before the year 1780. (Lyson and Lyson 1822)

An unnamed 'castellum' belonging to William Fitzodo, the son of Odo who held Great Torrington in 1086, is recorded as having been captured and burnt in 1139. This probably refers to the timber motte and bailey in Great Torrington. The castle was presumably rebuilt as in 1228 it was demolished by the Sheriff of Devon and its ditches levelled. Licences to crenellate in 1338, 1340 and 1347 may refer to a house on the castle site. (Exeter Archaeology 2004)

Un-named castle of William Fitzodo captured in 1139. A castle demolished in 1228 due to lack of Royal Licence. In 1328, 1340 and 1347 Richard Merton received licence to crenellate the house, which is likely to be at the castle site as Merton's Holding in 1343 seems to be associated with the chapel. Gardens are referred to adjacent to the castle in the late 14th century

The boundary between borough and castle precincts was respected until relatively modern times. The site has a commanding position over the Torridge, with strong natural defences on the south. The name 'Barley Grove' on Castle Hill may be a corruption of 'bailey'. Possible that a sunken yard adjacent to possible motte earthworks is situated in the former ditch. Parchmarks visible on the bowling green suggest stone features survive beneath. 1987 watching brief at circa SS49691892 identified a coursed rubble wall, 4 metres long, 0.6 metres deep, 0.9-0.5 metres wide, with a narrower wall superimposed. The walls were possibly rendered. The wall contained pot of circa1200-1500, the narrow wall, pot of circa 1300-1500. There was also a possible floor of trodden clay and flat stones on the walls south side. Above the floor was circa 1200-1500 pottery and a worn coin of uncertain date. The building was probably domestic. The tail of a rampart of clay, gravel and stone at least 0.8 metres high was also identified. This could represent the corner of an enclosure, or possibly part of a tower bearing mound on the east perimeter. About 500 medieval sherds were also retrieved from a service trench around the north and north-east side of the bowling green and demolition rubble recorded. The pot was largely local North Devon unglazed coarseware from Barnstaple/Bideford, of circa 1200-1500 type, though the assemblage appears to be similar to 15th century deposits in Exeter. Extensive destruction of the site means that a full plan of the castle is not possible. Archaeological features lay beneath a strikingly thin overburden. (Higham and Goddard 1987)

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSS496189
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink

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  • Higham, Robert A., 1999, 'Castles, Fortified Houses and Fortified Towns in the Middle Ages' in Kain, R. and Ravenhill, W., Historical Atlas of South-West England (University of Exeter Press) p. 136-43
  • Salter, Mike, 1999, The Castles of Devon and Cornwall (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 65
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 64 (slight)
  • Higham, R. and Barker, P., 1992, Timber Castles (Batsford) p. 122, 134
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 121
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 252
  • Sanders, I.J., 1960, English Baronies p. 48-9
  • 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. 612
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 42 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 413, 414, 422 online copy
  • Lysons, D. and S., 1822, Magna Britannia Vol. 6 Devon p. 529 online transcription


  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 108
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1907, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 173 online copy


  • Higham, R.A., 1988, 'Devon Castles: an annotated list' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 46 p. 142-9
  • Higham, R. and Goddard, S., 1987, 'Great Torrington Castle' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 45 p. 97-103
  • Higham, R.A., 1982, 'Early Castles in Devon' Château Gaillard Vol. 9-10 p. 101-116
  • Alexander, J., 1941, 'Early Barons of Torrington and Barnstaple, Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 73 p. 153-79
  • Doe, G.M., 1941, Devon and Cornwall notes and queries Vol. 21 p. 195
  • Doe, G.M., 1939, Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 71 p. 60-1
  • Colby, F.T., 1875, Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 7 p. 90-1

Primary Sources

  • Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 53 online copy (The newer edition and translation by Potter, K.R. (ed), 1976 (2edn), Gesta Stephani (Oxford University Press) should be consulted for serious study. See also Speight, S., 2000, 'Castle Warfare in the Gesta Stephani' , Château Gaillard Vol. 19 [see online transcription >])
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1900, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1340-43) Vol. 5 p. 39 online copy
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1903, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1345-48) Vol. 7 p. 228 online copy
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 178


  • Exeter Archaeology, 2004, Archaeological assessment of land adjacent to Dartington Crystal, Great Torrington (Report - Assessment)
  • Watts, M.A., 1997, Great Torrington Castle: Excavation Prior to Extension to Bowling Club Pavilion and Observations During Relaying of Perimeter Path of the Green (Exeter Archaeology Report)
  • Higham, R.A., 1979, The Castles of Medieval Devon (University of Exeter PhD Thesis) Downloadable from EThOS