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. (PastScape)
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)
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.