Dartington Hall

Has been described as a Certain Palace (Other), and also as a Certain Fortified Manor House

There are major building remains

NameDartington Hall
Alternative Names
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityDevon
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishDartington

Despite the demolition of the lodgings and long gallery around the inner courtyard, and the south end of the eastern lodgings range in the outer courtyard, well-preserved buried remains survive at Dartington Hall including walls, floors and stratified deposits. These relate to the buildings, a buried water supply culvert, and later garden features, which will add considerably to the future understanding of this monument. Holy wells are water sources with specifically Christian associations, sometimes originating as pre-Christian pagan sacred springs and often associated with beliefs in their healing properties. Most holy wells date from the later medieval period, but although they ceased to be built after the Reformation, their veneration and use as public water supplies continued. The spring head can take the form of lined well shafts or conduit heads on springs, sometimes with a chapel or shrine over it, often feeding a stone- lined reservoir which gathered the water at the surface. The holy well 150m south west of Dartington Hall survives well. Its well head and reservoir will contain remains relating to its construction and use, while waterlogged and other deposits relating to its veneration may survive beneath.

This monument, which falls into two areas of protection, includes ruins and buried remains of Dartington Hall, a medieval great house, which lies on the north side of a combe overlooking rolling countryside in the valley of the River Dart. It also includes a holy well. Extant and occupied buildings are Listed Grade I and are not included in the scheduling. The Hall, on the site of a manor first recorded in the ninth century AD, was developed between 1388 and 1400 as a country residence for John Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon, the half brother of King Richard II

To the south of the surviving hall range of the house, a grass lawn covers foundations and stratified archaeological deposits associated with three further ranges of buildings which, with the south range of the surviving hall, enclosed the inner court. These ranges covered a maximum area of 55m from east to west and 45m from north to south. Partial excavation in 1962 revealed the remains of a free standing stone building of early 14th century date, 8.2m wide and 14.6m long with walls 1.1m wide, aligned east to west 11m south of the hall range. The inner court was constructed in the late 14th century; the buildings containing residential apartments in the west with chamber wings to their west and a ground floor pentice facing into the courtyard to the east. There was also a storied long gallery to the south, overlooking at least one terraced garden and fishponds in the valley below, and a narrow range of unidentified buildings to the east. These buildings varied in their dates of construction, the west range being of late 14th and 15th century date, while the long gallery to the south was of early 16th century date. The buildings were demolished in about 1700, but part of the south wall of the long gallery, 24m long, 1m wide and 3.5m high was retained. A terraced garden 80m long and 13m wide and known as the Bowling Green forms the south side of the scheduling. Excavations here between 1991 and 1999 showed this to have been a formal garden of 17th century date, laid out with a parterre, the bedding trenches for which have been located. A water supply was brought in a covered culvert from a spring on the south side of the valley to the late 14th century kitchen on its east side. The outer courtyard was flanked by long ranges of lodgings, housing retainers of the Duke of Exeter, and dating from the late 14th century. The south end of the east range, comprising ten lodgings on two stories, with shared latrine wings to the east and external stairs to the west, was demolished in the early 19th century. Foundations and stratified remains of these lie within the east part of the scheduling. The site of the medieval church of St Mary, largely demolished around 1878 lies to the north west of the Hall. The buried remains of its nave is under grass but the 15th century tower remains at the west end of the site. The church tower is Listed Grade I. The slate headstone about 7m west of the church tower in memory of Edward Shapter is listed Grade II. A holy well lies at the head of the combe to the south west of the hall in the second area of protection. It consists of a rectangular depression, revetted with stone rubble, measuring 4.5m wide, 6m long and 1.2m deep. In the 19th century, the enclosure was dammed to make a pond, with a rustic cascade of limestone rubble on the south east side, falling 1.5m into the combe below. A shaft well, lined with stone rubble and measuring 4m deep, 1.3m in diameter at the top, widening to 2.5m at the bottom, lies 6m to the east, but is now covered over. (Scheduling Report)

Medieval mansion in educational use. Built 1388-1399 by John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon and later Duke of Exeter; altered in 1560-1, C17 and 1740 and restored 1926-36 by William Weir for L K Elmhurst. Limestone and shale rubble with Beerstone dressings. Slate roofs with raised gable end verges. Large courtyard plan. Hall range on south side has porch to screens passage, 3-storey low east end with chambers above buttery and pantry and central axial passage to large detached kitchen. At high end of hall large fireplace and block of apartments partly rebuilt and (or) raised to 4 storeys in 1560-1. On west side of courtyard range of 10 pairs of lodgings and on east side remains of range which probably comprised 14 pairs of lodgings. On north side of courtyard the so-called 'gate-house' range (probably workshops and dormitory). At east end of north range large 14- bay barn (circa C15) with later engine house on north side. Hall range has battlements, 4 large pointed arch hall windows (C20 copies of C18) with buttresses between, entrance to left of centre with large 3-storey porch with moulded pointed arch, polygonal stair turret in left angle and bellcote (1737 bell). Rear (S) elevation of hall range has similar hall windows, high left end 4 storeys and projects and at low right end detached kitchen (now attached), square plan with high level lancets. West lodgings range, 2 storeys and attic, 18 window bays, mostly 1740 and C20 fenestration but some original 2-light stone mullion transom windows with shouldered head lights and 2-storey porches with 4 centred arches and stairs to chambers; 2 porches on right (N) largely unaltered but others lost stairs and centre porch missing; at rear of west range row of lateral stacks. North range centre porch missing; at rear of west range row of lateral stacks. North range has rough stone round archway and C20 windows and barn on east has steeply pitched roof and semi-polygonal engine house on outer north side. Surviving north end of east range has 2 gabled wings and lateral stack at back. Detached wall of former south courtyard has seven 4-centred arches and overlooks so-called 'tiltyard' (AM113) Interior: Hall porch has ribbed vault with Richard II's arms (1390). C20 hall roof by W Weir. Large fireplace unusually situated at high end of hall. Rebuilt screen with gallery above. 4 doorway in screens passage serving stairs to chambers, buttery and pantry and central axial passage to detached kitchen which has 2 enormous fireplaces and rebuilt roof by W Weir. Lower end chambers have some early C17 panelling, moulded plaster emblems and C20 roof, but with impression of original roof in end gable. High end apartment block remodelled circa 1740 but C16 roof survives; circa 1740 stairhall and staircase. South end of lodging range has corridor behind suite of C18 panelled rooms on first floor, large chamfered cross- beams below. 9 bays of roof at north end of lodgings survive, but restored, and closed-truss at centre. Drawing of contemporary galleon scratched on plaster of partition. "Gate-house" range has 6 bays of arched brace raised cruck trusses with king-posts and collar purlins, square-set clasped purlin and wind braces. Note: Although the north range is believed to be the earlier hall of the Fitzmartins there is evidence for it being contemporary, or nearly so, with Holands hall range, since the lower gable end wall of hall range has impression of a roof truss similar to that of north range. East and west lodging ranges were probably added circa 1393-1400, the east side of hall has remains of circa late C14 wall which seems to be semi-defensive and probably had private quarters for John Holland's family, but circa late C13 foundations were discovered during excavations (1962) which may be remains of the Fitzmartin's manor house. In 1740 Arthur Champernowne remodelled part of the interior of the apartments at the high end of the hall. Little alteration to the plan until early C19 when part of east range was demolished. The work carried out by the elmhurst's between 1926 and 1936 was largely restoration, including reconstruction of hall roof which had been dismantled in 1813, but the barn in the north range was converted into a theatre in 1933-8 by R Hening and Walter Gropius. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Occasional said to be fortified but usually, and convincingly, called undefended; It is possible Holland planed a gatehouse but none was ever built and the entry is a simple gateway, there is no moat, there are only a few token crenellations on the main hall but none on the exterior of the wings. The frequent references to this house in castle studies shows the ambiguous status of 'defences' to the understanding of castles. This was a palace of a major magnate, notable for being without defensive features. However, the large lodging ranges would have housed a considerable force of knights (possibly up to 100), as part of the retinue of John Holland, and would have been better defended, during periods of occupation, than most 'fortified' manor house.

- 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 ReferenceSX798627
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Copyright Graham Tait and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image
Copyright Graham Tait and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image
Copyright Graham Tait and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image
Copyright Graham Tait and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image
Copyright Graham Tait and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image
Copyright Graham Tait and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image
Copyright Graham Tait and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image

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Guide Books

  • Snell, Reginald, 2008 (rev edn), Short guide to the buildings and architecture of Dartington Hall online copy


  • Emery, Anthony, 2006 Sept 30, 'Dartington Hall reconsidered' paper given at Castle Studies Group autumn conference, The Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House, London.
  • Currie, C.K., 1995, Excavations in the gardens of Dartington Hall, Devon; Third interim report, 1995 (CKC Archaeology) online copy
  • Bonham-Carter, V., Dartington Hall, 1925-56 a report in the Dartington archive