Holwell Castle, Parracombe

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

There are earthwork remains

NameHolwell Castle, Parracombe
Alternative Names
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityDevon
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishParracombe

Fine motte and bailey measuring 40m in diameter and 6.2m high above the bottom of a rock cut ditch which is 2.7m deep. The ditch is complete apart from on the north and west sides where the bailey impinges. Within the bailey are traces of five building platforms terraced into the hillside. On the summit of the mottte is a linear hollow thought to be the remains of the 1905 excavation. A survey carried out in 1995 after a period of drought located the keep on the summit and a wing hall on the motte slopes. (PastScape)

Although considered by earlier authorities to occupy a classically defensive position, Holwell Castle is geared specifically to overlook the existing settlement and especially the river crossing to the north-west; it also dominates the valley of the River Heddon running north-westwards. However, it is overlooked by higher ground to the south-east, and the motte has in fact been cut down into the end of the spur which makes it weaker when approached from this direction. It seems therefore that the castle's position is intended to dominate the settlement of Parracombe and specifically the river crossing (Wilson-North WR 3-SEP-93, RCHME Field Investigation).

survey was carried out after scrub clearance and after a period of drought. This enabled fine detail to be observed, including the base of the keep on the motte summit, the site of a wing wall on the motte slopes, and five platforms within the bailey. The most substantial of these, first observed in 1993 (above, Source 5) is probably the site of the hall. The absence of documentary evidence for the site means that its longevity is not known, however, the field evidence suggests that the buildings within the bailey were mainly of timber (or cob). (Wilson-North, WR 12-JULY-1995 RCHME Field Investigation). (PastScape)

On an estate called Holywell is a circular mound, named the Castle, on what account is not known

The adjacent grounds are higher than the mount; therefore it could not have been a place of defence. It appears like an ancient barrow. (J.T. 1811)

Gatehouse Comments

The domination of Parracombe by the castle is visual. The castle is placed to be fully seen from the town, were it a purely military building it could be argued that efforts would have been made to site the castle so the interior was less visible (or to put the building nearer to the river crossing), although other factors, such as access to a water supply or possible pre-existing earthworks, will also have effected the choice of location. As can be seen by the, ill-informed, view of the editor of Risdon's Survey the defensive quality of the site is open to question but its striking visual quality is not.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSS669446
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  • Houldsworth, M., 2005, 'An A-Level Student's Thoughts on Holwell Castle' North Devon Archaeoogical Society Newsletter Vol. 9 online copy
  • 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. 87 (slight)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1
  • Grinsell, L.V., 1970, The archaeology of Exmoor: Bideford Bay to Bridgwater p. 134-5, 213
  • Wall, C., 1906, in Page, Wm (ed), 'Ancient Earthworks' VCH Devon Vol. 1 p. 620
  • J.T. (ed), 1811, 'Addition to Risdon's Survey' in Tristram Risdon, The Chorogphaphical Description or Survey of the County of Devon (London) p. 432 online copy


  • Higham, R.A., 2000, 'Paracombe: Holwell Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 157 p. 445-8
  • Higham, R.A., 1988, 'Devon Castles: an annotated list' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 46 p. 142-9
  • Higham, R.A., 1982, 'Early Castles in Devon' Ch√Ęteau Gaillard Vol. 9-10 p. 101-116
  • Barham, 1839, Royal Institute of Cornwall 21st report p. 28


  • English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 90 online copy