Paignton Bishops Palace

Has been described as a Certain Palace (Bishop)

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NamePaignton Bishops Palace
Alternative Names
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityTorbay
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishPaignton

The Bishop's Palace in Tower Road in Paignton survives as a clearly defined walled area with part of its medieval walling still standing, as well as a corner tower of the 14th century still standing to its full height. Only a small number of bishops' palaces were built within any one See. Of the palaces provided for the Exeter bishops only the fragmentary remains of those at Bishop's Clyst and Bishopsteignton bear comparison with Paignton, but later development has impacted upon the survival of both sites. Thus, the Bishop's Palace at Paignton with its surviving curtain walling and largely undisturbed interior, together with the ruins identified as a chapel attached to the palace, provides a well-preserved example of this class of monument. The palace will provide archaeological evidence relating to the lives of its inhabitants and of the bishops who stayed there, the role of the palace in relation to the local contemporary community, and the wider ecclesiastical influence exerted in medieval times.

The monument includes the standing and buried remains of the medieval walled palace of the Bishop of Exeter in Paignton (the medieval walls of which are Listed Grade 2star) and the standing and buried remains of what is considered to be part of the private palace chapel, Listed Grade II. Apart from the fragmentary remains of the chapel, none of the original internal buildings of the palace stand above ground although the walled enclosure, rebuilt in places, stands to full height over part of its circuit and one corner tower survives and is Listed Grade II star. The palace, which had much open ground to the south until at least the mid-19th century, lies within the urban spread of the town, and its walls enclose an early 20th century vicarage (Listed Grade II). The palace has been the subject of a survey conducted in 2001 by English Heritage. The Bishop's Palace comprises the residual remains of the Bishop of Exeter's episcopal residence at Paignton

The property was used as a manorial centre and occasional residence of the bishops from the 11th century until the early 16th century when it was reported to be in a state of advanced decay. Bishop Osbern has sometimes been credited with the erection of the palace around 1100 but no building work of such an early date is known to survive. However, Bishop Grandisson is recorded as having used the palace as a place of residence in the years of his bishopric (1327-1369) during which time the full panoply of buildings typically associated with a medieval episcopal house of the period are likely to have been erected. These would include, apart from the main residence itself, a hall for receiving guests, various ancillary buildings, and a chapel. Excavations carried out in the late 19th century are believed to have revealed the footings of some of the main palace buildings, but the records of these investigations are unfortunately lost. A consequence of the excavations appears to have been a rise in the level of the ground surface within the walled enclosure due to the spoil having been left on site; some importation of soil may also have taken place to level the area in advance of new building work. More recent archaeological recording undertaken by English Heritage has shown that there is evidence to suggest the presence of major stone buildings of probable 13th century date within the later walled enclosure. The same programme of recording has demonstrated that the crenallated curtain wall as it stands represents a number of different builds and repairs with the earliest walling examined dated to the 14th century. The curtain wall was proved to have incorporated existing buildings within its circuit. This shows clearly on the northern precinct wall where an 18m stretch of walling has an internal face displaying joist sockets and the scarring of a return wall at its eastern end. This wall was part of a building of at least the 13th century which underwent a varied and complex history of development before its outer face was employed as a section of the enclosure, the curtain wall being butt-joined to its outer corner. Medieval work is thought to be in evidence in three of the four walls of the enclosure and it is distinguishable by the consistent use of red/pink breccia sandstone and the regular occurrence of putlog holes and slit loops for the firing of arrows; the whole of the west wall is of post-medieval work as well as those parts of the other three sides not clearly identifiable as medieval. The policy of fortifying bishops' residences was the result of unrest in the country as a whole and stemmed from the gradual increase in the wealth and power of the bishops who needed to maintain control and authority over their manors. The resulting defences were designed and built therefore to serve against civil discontent. A date sometime in the 14th century for the erection of the curtain wall coincides with this period of unrest and would accord well with the licence to crenellate which was granted to The Bishopric of Exeter in 1379, apparently for a rural residence, although it is uncertain whether this relates directly to Paignton. Located in the south east corner of the precinct is a tower which rises well above the 3.5m height of the curtain wall. This tower, which is variously called the Bible Tower or Coverdale Tower, is so named after Bishop Miles Coverdale whose translation of the Bible was mistakenly thought to have been undertaken whilst he was in residence at Paignton; it was later shown to have been completed in Antwerp some years before he became Bishop of Exeter. The tower, which is built of random breccia rubble which matches the curtain wall, is believed to have been built in the mid- to late 14th century, probably within a few years of the curtain wall. The windows are indicative of a first phase in the 14th century followed by a partial refenestration in the 15th century. The tower was restored extensively, probably during the late 19th century or the early 20th century, perhaps both. Almost certainly incorporated into the walled enclosure of the 14th century was the building which survives as a ruin in the south west corner of St John the Baptist's churchyard. The position and form of this building make it very likely to have been the private chapel of the Bishop of Exeter and thus part of the palace complex. The construction of a road in the post-medieval period, which necessitated the demolition of part of the northern and eastern curtain walls, appears to have destroyed part of the chapel and to have divided what did remain from the main palace buildings. The present precinct wall shows post-medieval walling at the points where the road was driven through, suggesting that at some stage after 1840, when the road is shown to exist on a tithe map, a decision was taken to reinstate the walled enclosure, perhaps for the privacy of the new vicarage of 1910, but omitting the chapel which is known to have been a ruin by that date. The English Heritage studies of 2001 have supported the view that the visible ruins in the churchyard represent the eastern end of the chapel of the 13th century together with an associated sacristy (room for storing vestments and sacred vessels) on its north wall. Contemporary documentary records indicate that the chapel at the bishops' residence at Paignton was dedicated to St Mary. The palace precinct returned to being a place of ecclesiastical residence in 1910 with the construction of a vicarage within the walls. The vicarage was constructed on a purpose-built mound and therefore stands above and seals any earlier medieval building foundations. A 20th century parish hall also stands within the grounds. (Scheduling Report)

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 ReferenceSX886607
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  • Bishop, H., 2012, 'The Palace of Paignton' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 144
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  • Tapley-Soper, H., 1942-6, Devon and Cornwall notes and queries Vol. 22 p. 78-80
  • Alexander, J.J., 1936, 'Paignton and Miles Coverdale' Devon and Cornwall notes and queries Vol. 19 p. 128
  • Couldrey, W.G., 1932, 'Memories and Antiquities of Paignton' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 64 p. 228


  • Historic England, 2016, Heritage at Risk South West Register 2016 (London: Historic England) p. 211 (re-entry) online copy
  • English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 199 online copy
  • Bishop, Hal, 2007, Old Paignton Conservation Area Character Appraisal (Torbay Council) p. 11-12 online copy
  • Payne, Naomi, 2003, The medieval residences of the bishops of Bath and Wells, and Salisbury (PhD Thesis University of Bristol) Appendix B: List of Medieval Bishop's Palaces in England and Wales (available via EThOS)