Launceston Town Wall

Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence

There are major building remains

NameLaunceston Town Wall
Alternative NamesDunheved
Historic CountryCornwall
Modern AuthorityCornwall
1974 AuthorityCornwall
Civil ParishLaunceston

Small section and south gate of C13 stone wall survive. Built to form a common defence with the castle. Gate is Grade 1 listed, walls Grade 2-star.

Town gate. C14, slightly remodelled C17, pedestrian gate added 1887. Dressed volcanic agglomerate stone and greenstone to lower half, otherwise slatestone rubble with volcanic agglomerate dressings plus C17 granite dressings; pyramidal rag slate roof behind late C19 embattled parapet; stone stack over left-hand (west) wall removed C20: two square rooms over main gateway approached by stone staircase bridging smaller gateway. 3 storeys; 1-window range outer elevation and similar inner elevation. Both elevations have 2 chamfered pointed arches, the main arch fronting ribbed vaults; C17 three-light granite mullions with hoodmoulds to upper floors. Outer SE front has narrower pedestrian gateway on its left and main gateway with portcullis slots over. To outer side of passage are remnants of arch dated 1639 and fragments of tracery. Water point dated 1825 and inscribed "PCH" for Parr Cunningham Hocking, Mayor of that time, to right of inner elevation; this was the towns first public water supply. HISTORY: until the early C19 the rooms of the South Gate were used as a gaol for petty offenders and a prison for debtors. (Robbins p. 302). (Listed Building Report)

Leland (1506-52) found Launceston town wall, high, strong, defensibly set, but ruinous. Speed (1614) showed the wall extant between West and Southgate and Fiennes (1699) found the town still encompassed. A plan of Launceston Castle (1764) marks the wall from the Westgate to the castle and from the Northgate to the castle. By 1885, the only remains were at Blindhole (SX 3329 8461), near the Southgate, and near the north west entrance to the Castle Green. According to Peter, the total length of the wall was six furlongs (1.2km) and they were 6 ft (1.8m) thick

Sheppard notes that "the bank between Northgate and Southgate is still massive and can clearly be followed. Near the Southgate it is still topped by the wall". The stretch of wall from SX 3326 8455 to SX 3328 8470 is Listed, while King and Sheppard record remains visible from SX 3318 8481 to SX 3328 8458. The OS found the majority of walls in the town following the line shown by Peter are of rag with lime mortar, but without the thickness or height required for a town wall. Only one section, at SX 3329 8461 is of the expected width: it stands 2.3m high, is in reasonable condition, and in part acts as a back wall to a building. A further 6.0m of walling at foundation level is just visible adjoining the wall to the north. Another fragment of the wall at approximately SX 3309 8449 has been located and photographed by CAU. As a result, it is suggested that between the Westgate and the castle the wall did not take a straight line as suggested by Peter (followed by OS), but turned slightly east at SX 3310 8448 to follow property boundaries to a west gate at approx SX 3312 8445. Excavation by CAU in the grounds of the Eagle House Hotel (adjoining the north gate of the castle) revealed a section of the town wall running across a deep infilled area, probably part of the main ditch of the castle. The wall section is 6 ft thick (1.8m) and built of local slate bonded with clay mortar. The structure closely resembles the curtain walls of the castle. (Cornwall & Scilly HER)

There are no murage grants, and the town records, although they are a nearly complete series from 1334, contain only occasional references to the gates and none to the wall. (Turner)

Gatehouse Comments

How was the building and maintenance of the walls funded? From the castle's funds? Directly by the Earl of Cornwall?

- 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 ReferenceSX331846
Latitude50.6366004943848
Longitude-4.35953998565674
Eastings233100
Northings84600
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Mike Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

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Books

  • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 85
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 18, 24, 67, 72, 83, 214, 216, 238, 239-40, 26
  • 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. 25
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 18-19
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 78
  • Sheppard, Peter, 1980, The historic towns of Cornwall: an archaeological survey p. 75-6
  • Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 download/view online
  • Turner, H.L., 1971, Town Defences in England and Wales (London) p. 197
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Robbins, A.F., 1888, Launceston, Past and Present (Launceston) p. 301-2 online copy
  • Peter, R., 1885, Histories of Launceston and Dunheved (Plymouth) p. 233-9

Antiquarian

  • Speed, John, 1611-12, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain online copy
  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 62, 87-8
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1907, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 325 online copy
  • Celia Fiennes, 1888, Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary (London: Field and Tuer, The Leadenhall Press) Vision of Britain online transcription

Journals

  • Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Château Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86
  • Preston-Jones, Ann and Rose, Peter, 1986, 'Medieval Cornwall' Cornish Archaeology Vol. 25 p. 135-185 online copy
  • King, G. and Sheppard, P., 1973, 'Parochial Checklist of Antiquities; East: 1, St Stephen's by Launceston' Cornish Archaeology Vol. 12 p. 64-66
  • 1896, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 51 p. 341-3

Other

  • Peter Herring And Bridget Gillard, July 2005, Cornwall & Scilly Urban Survey: Launceston (Cornwall County Council) online copy