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Hemyock Castle

Visited September 2016

Location Hemyock, Devon
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby No
Parking Yes 
Facilities Small gift shop
Map

 


 

 


Review

 

Hemyock is a small, privately owned castle near to Cullompton in Devon. It is open very infrequently, bank holiday Monday afternoons in the summer and one Sunday afternoon in September when it opens for Heritage Open Days. This is when we viewed it, and it was very busy, with adults and children alike being welcomed. The weather was lovely so I imagine that helped with the visitor numbers.

 

The castle was built to a rectangular plan, with a tower in each of the corners and a central gatehouse. The layout was said to be similar to Bodiam Castle in Kent. The site originally contained a manor house, but in 1380 Sir William Ashthorpe, was given a licenece to crenellate his manor. Apparently when the licence arrived the Ashthorpes had to call the local priest to tell them what it said as they could not read. Just goes to show that reading was a skill that even rich castle owners were lacking at that time  (why would you learn to read for yourself if you were rich enough to have someone do it for you?)

 

The castle was built of chert, a local stone, and was rendered white in colour. One of the surviving towers still has some of the original white render intact today. The double towers forming the gatehouse were originally forty feet high, and there was a portcullis and drawbridge over the moat. Whether these fortifications were needed because of a real threat, or whether they were just status symbols and used more as a deterrent to potential burglars is up for discussion. The remains of the gatehouse are considerably lower today, but one of the towers can still be climbed, although as the castle was very busy there was not much chance to enjoy the view as other people were waiting to come up. 

 


 

 


 

 

The castle was in constant habitation until the Civil War. At this time it was owned by the Popham family, Sir John Popham had been the judge who sentenced Mary Queen of Scots and Guy Fawkes to death. He reputedly died by falling of his horse into a deep bog, and descending down into hell!

 

During the Civil War it was first held by the Pophams for Parliament, then captured by the Royalists, then taken back by Parliamentarians who held it until the restoration of Charles II. At this point it was ordered to be demolished, so that it could not be garrisoned again for military purposes. The dungeon used to house the Civil War prisoners is open to visitors, it contains a life size model of a prisoner, and also pieces of pottery found at the castle, dating from medieval up until more recent times. The pottery is available to be handled, so children can get a closer look and touch, but very little ones might need to be supervised as some pieces have sharp edges.

 


 

 


 

Next to the dungeon is the North East Tower, which has a stone pit in the middle of the floor. There are many theories as to what this pit may be, one possibility is that the tower was a dovecote and the pit held a ladder to reach the higher nest boxes, there is a similar dovecote in existence at Dunster Castle. It may also have been a well, drawing water from the moat for non- drinking purposes. The tower is right next to the moat so this is possible.

 

The moat is still in existence in places, although it has silted up over time. A fraction of it is open to walk along, but it really is a short two minute walk. It is a good place to observe the scant fragments of the remaining castle towers.

 

The castle today has been incorporated into a house, with various outbuildings. One of them houses the interpretation centre, with its life size models depicting scenes from the castle history. The Ashthorpes receiving their licence to crenellate are there, as are some civil war characters with intriguing moustaches. There is a small table in here with souvenirs for sale, mainly postcards and tea towels. There was a box to put the money in, so very low tech, no fancy till!

 

As stated, it is a small castle, and  even continuing with a quick look around the rest of the buildings which contain a cider press and various farm displays it does not really take more than 45 minutes to an hour for the visit. There are no refreshments here, although on Heritage Open Day the neighbouring church was open and serving teas. There are allegedly toilets, but we did not find them so go beforehand just in case! (Update- the owners of the castle have confirmed there are no toilets on site, but there are public toilets in the village)

 

We actually spent most of the day at Hestercombe Gardens, just over the county border in Somerset, and went to Hemyock Castle in the afternoon. This made more of a worthwhile trip, as the castle on its own is very small and is not really worth travelling any distance to visit. 

 


 

 


 

More info:  Hemyock Castle

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