Okehampton Castle

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

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameOkehampton Castle
Alternative NamesOakhampton; Castellum Ochenemitonae
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityDevon
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishOkehampton Hamlets

Okehampton Castle was built shortly after the Norman Conquest and is strategically situated close to the centre of Devon where important routes meet, on a natural spur of shale that was separated from the hillside by a huge ditch. It was recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 AD as belonging to Baldwin of Brionne, who had become sheriff of Devon in 1070 AD. By 1274, the castle, in the ownership of the Courtenay family, had become semi-derelict. Several years later it was rebuilt and extended, not as a fortress but as an occasional residence at the centre of a great deer park. In 1539, Edward Courtenay was suspected of treason and was executed by Henry VIII. The castle was stripped of its fixtures and fittings and fell into decay, being used as a source of building material for local people. The castle includes a large mound, the motte on which is situated a stone keep. The extant remains include the structure of the 11th century square keep built by Baldwin. This was added to in C14 to create a three storey rectangular structure. The motte, which is about 8 metres in height, comprises of the natural spur and artificially built-up deposits. To the north-east of the motte was the bailey that contained the buildings used to feed and house the occupants. The surviving buildings mostly date to C14 and would have originally comprised of a great hall, stables, a chapel, kitchens and other domestic or storerooms. The bailey was defended by curtain walls, which may date to C12, along the north and south sides. At the north eastern end was a double gatehouse connected by a corridor. To the west of the motte are earthworks, which are thought to represent the remains of an earlier bailey of similar construction to the motte. The residual finds of Roman tile and pottery found near the castle are believed to indicate the possible site of a villa


Okehampton Castle is situated in a bend of, and to the north of, the West Okement River, about 500m south-west of the town of Okehampton. The site commands the valley through which the road from Devon into Cornwall ran, prior to the construction of the later road cut higher up the valley side to the north. The original castle was of motte and bailey construction and was built by 1086 AD, when it was recorded in the Domesday book as belonging to Sheriff Baldwin. The castle includes a large mound, the motte, on which is situated the keep. Part of this keep is believed to have been built by Sheriff Baldwin and is the oldest of the stone structures surviving. The 11th century keep was square but was added to in the 14th century to create a rectangular building which survives as a ruined structure three storeys high. The motte on which it sits has a summit of c.25m by 30m in diameter while at its widest point the base is over 60m across. The motte is partly made up of the natural spur of land on which the castle sits and partly of artificially built-up deposits giving it a height of about 8m. To the north-east of the motte is the main bailey of the castle, which contained buildings essential to the housing and feeding of the castle's occupants. The surviving buildings are mostly of 14th century date and many of the original buildings in the bailey would have been demolished to make way for them. The bailey buildings provided shelter for the inhabitants of the castle, store rooms and activity areas including domestic rooms, a great hall, stables, a chapel and kitchens. The defence was provided by curtain walls along the north and south sides of the bailey while a double gatehouse connected by a corridor provided a formidable entrance to the castle at the north-eastern end. Recent research suggests that the curtain walls follow the line of the earlier bailey defence and are probably of late 12th century date. To the west of the quarry ditch which surrounds the motte there is a spur on which an earthwork survives running roughly north-south before turning east along the top of the steep slope overlooking the West Okement River. This earthwork is probably the boundary of an earlier bailey than the one to the east and its construction is similar to that of the motte, both being built of quarried shale and soil. The castle site also contains further ruins to the north-west of the motte, within a compound north of the stream which runs through the site. These survive as a number of dispersed stretches of wall c.0.75m wide and varying from less than 1m to several metres long. These visible remains appear to be part of further buildings buried below the surface. The stream runs into the West Okement River north-east of the castle and is abutted by a number of slight earthworks which are thought to represent an additional defence on the northern side of the castle and a number of later structures built after the castle went out of use. Okehampton is the only castle in Devon mentioned in the Domesday book and was later acquired by the Courtenays who were responsible for the majority of the stone buildings which survive today. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

The strategic value of the site may be overstated and this castle may have been, from the start, a significant and major hunting lodge. De Brionnes main military and administrative castle was Rougemont Castle, Exeter. Significantly the castle lies some way from the town. The location and function should be compared with Restormel Castle, Cornwall and the recent work done on that castle by Oliver Creighton.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 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 ReferenceSX583942
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright doc and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

Calculate Print


  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 321
  • 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. 73-5
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 60-1
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 167-8
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus and Cherry, Bridget, 1989, Buildings of England: Devon (Harmondsworth) p. 610-12
  • Furtado, Peter et al (eds), 1988, Ordnance Survey guide to castles in Britain (London) p. 75
  • Mildren, James, 1987, Castles of Devon (Bossiney Books) p. 34-8
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 117-8
  • Higham, R.A., 1982, 'Dating in medieval Archaeology: problems and possibilities' in B. Orme (ed), Problems and case studies in Archaeological dating (Exeter: University of Exeter) p. 83-107
  • Morley, B.M., 1981, 'Aspects of Fourteenth-century Castle Design' in A. Detsicas (ed), Collectanea Historica: Essays in Memory of Stuart Rigold (Kent Archaeological Society) p. 104-13
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 270-1
  • Higham, R.A., 1977, 'Okehampton Castle' in Archaeological excavations (HMSO) p. 25-6
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 265
  • Young, E., 1931, Okehampton (Devon Parochial Histories, No. 1)
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 89
  • Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 178-9 online copy
  • Wall, C., 1906, in Page, Wm (ed), 'Ancient Earthworks' VCH Devon Vol. 1 p. 619-20
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 35-7 online copy
  • Bridges et al, 1889, Some Account of the Barony and Town of Okehampton (Tiverton)
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 356 online copy
  • Lysons, D. and S., 1822, Magna Britannia Vol. 6 Devon p. cccxlv-cccxlviii online transcription
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 1 p. 65
  • Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 2 p. 65-6 online copy



  • Creighton, O.H., 2010, 'Room with a View: Framing Castles Landscapes' Château Gaillard Vol. 24 p. 37-49
  • Harfield, C.G., 1991, 'A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book' English Historical Review Vol. 106 p. 371-392 view online copy (subscription required)
  • Higham, R.A., 1989, 'A knight to remember: the building enterprises of Hugh Courtenay(1276-1340)' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 121 p. 154
  • Higham, R.A., 1988, 'Devon Castles: an annotated list' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 46 p. 142-9
  • Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 311
  • Higham, R.A., 1982, 'Early Castles in Devon' Château Gaillard Vol. 9-10 p. 101-116
  • Higham, R.A., Allan, J.P. and Blaylock, S., 1982, 'Excavations at Okehampton Castle, Devon: Part 2, the Bailey' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 40 p. 19-151
  • Higham, R.A. and Allan, J.P. 1982, 'Okehampton Castle' Archaeology in Devon Vol. 5 p. 26-7
  • Higham, R.A. and Allan, J.P., 1981 'Okehampton' Archaeology in Devon Vol. 4 p. 25
  • Youngs, S.M. and Clark, J., 1981, 'Medieval Britain in 1980' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 25 p. 200 download copy
  • Higham, R.A. and Allan, J.P., 1980-1, 'Okehampton, Devon' CBA Newsletter and Calendar 4 p. 121
  • Higham, R.A. and Allan, J.P., 1980, 'Excavations at Okehampton Castle, Devon: Part II, the bailey. A preliminary report' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 38
  • Higham, R.A. and Allan, J.P., 1980 'Okehampton' Archaeology in Devon Vol. 3 p. 21
  • Higham, R.A. and Allan, J.P., 1979-80, 'Okehampton, Devon' CBA Newsletter and Calendar 3 p. 129
  • Higham, R.A. and Allan, J.P., 1979 'Okehampton' Archaeology in Devon Vol. 2 p. 15
  • Webster, L.E. and Cherry, J., 1978, 'Medieval Britain in 1977' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 22 p. 168-9 download copy
  • Webster, L.E. and Cherry, J., 1977, 'Medieval Britain in 1976' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 21 p. 234 download copy
  • Higham, R.A., 1977, 'Excavations at Okehampton Castle, Devon. Part 1: the motte and keep' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 35 p. 3-42 (thorough excavation report)
  • Webster, L.E. and Cherry, J., 1976, 'Medieval Britain in 1975' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 20 p. 184 download copy
  • (Higham, R.A.), 1975, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 19 p. 239 download copy
  • (Higham, R.A.), 1974, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 18 p. 175 download copy
  • (Higham, R.A.), 1973, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 17 p. 161 download copy
  • King, D.J.Cathcart, 1972, 'The Field Archaeology of mottes; Eine kurze übersicht' Château Gaillard Vol. 5 p. 101-112
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • Young, E.H., 1915, 'Oakhampton Castle' The Devonian Year Book p. 110-20 online copy
  • Young, E.H., 1914, 'Oakhampton Castle' The Devonian Year Book p. 105-13 online copy
  • Armitage, E., 1904 April, 'The Early Norman Castles of England' English Historical Review Vol. 19 p. 209-245, 417-455 esp. 241-2 online copy
  • 1901-1902, 'A Tour across Dartmoor into North Devon by the Rev. John Swete 1789' Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries Vol. 1.1 p. 121-6 online copy
  • Worth, R.N., 1895, 'Okehampton Castle' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 27 p. 124-36 online copy

Guide Books

  • Endacott, Alan, 2002, Okehampton Castle (London: English Heritage)
  • Higham, R.A., 1984, Okehampton Castle: Official Handbook (HMSO)
  • Anon, 1969, Okehampton Castle (HMSO)

Primary Sources

  • 1086, Domesday Book online copy See also The Devonshire Association, 1884-92, The Devonshire Domesday and Geld Inquest (Plymouth) Vol. 1 p. 378-80 [online copy > http://archive.org/stream/TheDevonshireDomesdayAndGeldInquestVol11884-92/ZdevonshireDomesdayv1copy01bod#page/n446/mode/1up]
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 176


  • Shapland, Michael, 2012, Buildings of Secular and Religious Lordship: Anglo-Saxon Tower-nave Churches (PhD Thesis University College London) esp. chapter 7 online via UCL Discovery
  • Probert, S A.J., 2004, Okehampton Castle and Park, West Devon (Survey Report. English Heritage Report. AI/03/2004)