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Lydford Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Lydford.
In the historic county of Devon.
Modern Authority of Devon.
1974 county of Devon.

OS Map Grid Reference: SX50848478
Latitude 50.64358° Longitude -4.10942°

Lydford Castle has been described as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Lydford Castle was built in AD 1195, as a purpose built prison for detaining royal prisoners, and took the form of a square stone tower or keep. It is also believed to have been used as the administration office for the Royal Forest of Dartmoor and as a Court of Law. In the 13th century, the castle was gaining importance as a Stannary Gaol, imprisoning people for offences related to tin-mining in the area. A second phase of construction began on the site at this time. This involved demolishing the upper part of the tower and adding two more storeys. The lower section of the castle was surrounded by earth to form a motte. On the north west side a narrow, rectangular bailey was added. The castle continued in use as a prison for several centuries. During the English Civil War, Lydford Castle was used by the Royalists as a prison or dungeon (in the lowest floor of the building) for Parliamentary supporters and soldiers. However it is recorded as in a state of disrepair in 1650 and major repairs were carried out in 1716 and 1733. In 1932, it was transferred from the Duchy of Cornwall to the guardianship of the Ministry of Works. The floors and lead roof of the castle have been destroyed. Restoration work was carried out to the rest of the monument in the 1950s. The tower is 14.5 metres square with 2.1 metre thick walls surrounded by an earthen motte measuring 45 metres by 35 metres. The tower has deeply splayed round-headed windows. The motte was once surrounded by a 4.5 metre deep ditch. The bailey covers an area 60 metre by 40 metre. The site was excavated in the late 1950s and 1960s. Located nearby, to the south of the castle, is an earlier Norman earthwork castle and to the north are the Saxon town defences. (PastScape)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
  • Websites (Gatehouse is not responsible for the content of external websites.)
  • Books
    • 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. 70-2
      Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 59-60
      Higham, R.A.,1987 'Public and Private Defence in the medieval South West: town, castle and fort' in Higham, R.A. (ed) Defence and Security in the South West before 1800 (Exeter Studies in History No. 19) p. 27-49
      Drage, C., 1987, 'Urban castles' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 117-32 online copy
      Mildren, James, 1987, Castles of Devon (Bossiney Books) p. 25-9
      King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 117
      Higham, R.A.,1980, 'Castles in Devon' in Timms, S. (ed), Archaeology of the Devon Landscape (Devon County Council) p. 70-80
      Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 258
      Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 235, 238
      Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 733-4
      Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 89
      Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
      Wall, C., 1906, in Page, Wm (ed), 'Ancient Earthworks' VCH Devon Vol. 1 p. 619
      Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 33-4 online copy
      Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 1 (London) p. 474-5 online copy
      Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 355 online copy
      Lysons, D. and S., 1822, Magna Britannia Vol. 6 Devon p. cccxlv-cccxlviii online transcription
  • Periodical Articles
    • Higham, Bob, 2010, 'Launceston, Lydford, Richard of Cornwall and the current debates' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 23 p. 242-51 online copy
      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' Château Gaillard Vol. 9-10 p. 101-116
      Saunders, A.D. et al, 1980, 'Lydford Castle, Devon' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 24 p. 123-86 online copy
      King, D.J.Cathcart, 1972, 'The Field Archaeology of mottes; Eine kurze übersicht' Château Gaillard Vol. 5 p. 101-112
      Wilson, D.M. and Hurst, D.G., 1965, 'Medieval Britain in 1964, II. Post-Conquest' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 9 p. 188 download copy
      1964, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 8 p. 252 download copy
      Thompson, M.W., 1961, 'Motte Sunstructures' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 5 p. 305-6 online copy
      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)
      1959, Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 91 p. 176-7
      Renn, D.F., 1959, 'Mottes: a classification' Antiquity Vol. 33 p. 106-12 (listed as siegework where the suggestion seems to be the mound around the tower is a siege work, turning a prison into a castle)
      1959, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 3 p. 307 download copy
      1958, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 2 p. 195 download copy
      Worth, R.N., 1883, Journal of the British Archaeological Society Vol. 39 p. 350-4
      Worth, R.N., 1879, 'Lydford and its Castle' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 11 p. 283-302 online copy
  • Guidebooks
    • Saunders, A.D., 1982 2edn, Lydford: Saxon Town and Castle (HMSO)
      Anon, 1964, Guide book (HMSO)
      Radford, C.A.R., 1947, Lydford Castle, Devon (HMSO) (abridged)
      Radford, C.A.R., 1935, Lydford Castle, Devon (HMSO)
  • Primary (Medieval documents or transcriptions of such documents - This section is far from complete and the secondary sources should be consulted for full references.)
    • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 175-6
      The Great Roll of the Pipe for the seventh year of the reign of King Richard I Michaelmas 1195 (Pipe Roll Society 44) p. xxvi, 126, 132
      E317 Devonshire/9 (Survey of Commonwealth (1650)) The National Archives reference
  • Other sources: Theses; 'grey' literature; in-house reports; unpublished works; etc.
    • Passmore, A.J., 2010, Archaeological Recording during Re-excavation of an Existing Service Trench at Lydford Castle, Lydford, Devon (Exeter Archaeology: Exeter) online copy
      Newman, P., 2000, The Town and Castles Earthworks at Lydford, Devon (English Heritage Survey Report)
      Higham, R.A., 1979, The Castles of Medieval Devon (University of Exeter PhD Thesis) Downloadable from EThOS
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This record last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014

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