The Bishop's Palace at Chudleigh was intensively occupied for a significant period and the principal surviving building is unusual in its design in that the provision of vaults and mural passages indicate a dwelling of strength and defensible potential. The buried remains appear to be extensive and unharmed by subsequent activity.
The Bishop's Palace is situated on the southern fringe of the village of Chudleigh, on ground sloping downwards from the limestone outcrop of Chudleigh rocks to the south. The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of a palace of the bishops of Exeter in use from the second half of the 13th century until 1550. The visible remains exist in the form of a number of ruined and adapted stone structures together with a series of low earthworks. They include the remains of a perimeter wall enclosing a roughly triangular area, 171m by 130m, which contains parts of at least three substantial buildings, one of which is almost totally enclosed by modern farm structures. The modern farm buildings and farm yard lying to the north of the monument are not included in the scheduling. The walls are constructed of random rubble in local limestone and in places include red sandstone. Limestone is utilised for ashlar work and architectural detail. The principal remains, which are Listed Grade II-star, are those of a substantial building close to the west side of the enclosure, terraced into the hillslope to the south by at least 2.3m, and extending out from the terrace by over 12m. On its east and west sides are modern lean-to structures, and the first floor is a modern addition. The ground floor survives as two vaulted rooms with the vestigial remains of upper apartments indicated by the overall height of the walls of some 5m. Its existing length is 10m, but the entire eastern end has been removed. The vaults are aligned east/west, with sandstone ceilings, 3m high at the centres. The larger northern room is 6.8m by 5m, with a blocked window in the west wall. In its north west corner there is a spiral stair, with two steps remaining, partly housed in an external angle turret. There is a blocked external door in the north wall, and in the south east corner another blocked door apparently leading to the southern vault. All the openings leading from this room have vaulted ceilings. In the outer part of the ruined wall forming the north east corner of the building there are the remains of the end of a low vaulted passage. The southern room has a cobble floor and is 3m in width, narrowed to 2.6m at the western end by an offset in the south wall. Its original length is in excess of 3.8m as the east wall appears to be a later blocking. High in the west wall is a narrow window, opening through a wall of about 3m thickness. The south west corner of the room contains a narrow opening, apparently a borrowed-light window, for a mural (wall) passage contained within the offset in the south wall. The passage is some 3m in length and widens at both ends with curved walls. The south end is deeper than the floor of the room by at least 0.45m. The roof becomes higher to the west and is stepped, possibly constituting the underneath of a mural stair contained within the wall thickness. The passage continues at its west end, appearing to turn north behind the west wall of the vault. A small hole has been broken through the west wall north of the window to reveal a completely enclosed chamber of some 0.9m width, but unknown height and length. The first floor of the building would have opened directly onto the higher ground to the south. The walls are in general between 1.2m to 1.6m in thickness, constructed in limestone and sandstone. There is a chamfered plinth on the west wall and either two buttresses, or the remains of two further walls, on the north side. To the west, the space between this building and the perimeter wall appears to have been enclosed on the north side by a wall extending from the perimeter wall towards the stair turret, with an access-way adjacent to the turret. Approximately 42m to the south east of the vaulted building are the free- standing remains of the southern end of a building, of at least 9.5m width, terraced into the ground to the south. Part of the south wall survives to a height of about 3.8m internally and has a string course beneath the remains of a stepped triangular coping which indicates that the eastern half of the structure was not roofed. The east wall was lower and had an arched opening near the wall corner. In the western half there are the remains of a vault 2.95m in width separated from the courtyard by a wall. The length of the building is uncertain, but a distinct earthwork platform extends for some 18m to the north. Approximately 40m to the north east of the vaulted building are the free- standing remains of the outer wall of a building surviving to a height of about 2.4m and length of over 4.2m. The wall has a substantial rectangular offset bonded into its internal west face, with the remains of a window to the north side of this feature. The perimeter wall survives on the west side of the palace for a length of over 120m. To the north, at the farmhouse, it is incorporated into the back of the garages. The garages, except for the perimeter wall at the rear, are excluded from the scheduling. About halfway between the garages and the vaulted building the wall is interrupted by a square, tower-like structure, projecting to the west. The wall extends to the south beyond the vaulted building to become lost in the hedge-line. At no point does it retain a coping; the highest surviving section, 2.7m internally, occurs opposite the vaulted building where the ground is terraced. Between the tower and the terrace the wall contains putlog holes (for scaffolding), and has four small, deeply splayed, arched loops, in random rubble, that narrow at the outer face to 60cm by 7cm. There is evidence of a former opening to the immediate north of the tower. A section of the wall is visible along the southern perimeter of the palace where it acts as a retaining wall to the higher land to the south, surviving to a height of about 0.6m above the terrace. On the eastern side the only visible remains are an isolated section some 8m in length and 2m high, engulfed within the hedge some 9m south of the stables. The earthworks are more distinct in the upper, southern end, of the enclosure. Apart from some more obvious terraces, most of the earthworks are amorphous, and probably represent building debris. Although the manor of Chudleigh appears to have belonged to the bishops of Exeter before the Norman Conquest, the first reference to episcopal property in the parish occurs in a charter of Bishop Bartholomew (1161-84). There is no reference to a dwelling until the episcopal registers commence in the second half of the 13th century which record that Bishop Bronescome (1257-80) was present in the manor for several days in almost every year of his bishopric. The first reference to official business being undertaken occurs in 1321 when Bishop Stapeldon (1307-26) conducted an ordination in the chapel. A hall is referred to in 1350 in the bishopric of Grandisson (1326-69), and a chancellery in the bishopric of Brantyngham (1370-94). More importantly, in 1379 Brantyngham obtained a licence to crenellate, the only such licence for an episcopal manor in Devon. The register of Bishop Lacy (1420-55) contains the most abundant references to the structure in which the Register's chamber, new lower chamber, parlour, and a chapel or oratory adjoining the great chapel, are referred to. Chudleigh appears to have been one of the most popular rural houses with successive bishops spanning 150 years: Stapeldon, Grandisson, Brantyngham, Stafford (1395-1419), and Lacy, all being in residence for significant periods. Bishop Lacy died at Chudleigh. The registers of subsequent bishops have not been published, but a survey undertaken after the bishopric of Redman (1495-1501) states that the buildings were in need of essential repair. In 1550, Edward VI compelled Bishop Vesey to dispose of the manor, which was conveyed to Thomas Brydges. In 1598 it passed to Thomas Hunt, and was sold by that family in 1695 to the Cliffords who retained ownership until recently. The present farmhouse, a Listed Building Grade II, has no parts earlier than the late 17th century. The site was called Palace Farm in the late 18th century, at which time the area of the ruins was utilised as an orchard. This is the first reference to the site as a palace rather than a manor. At that time it was recorded that an arched gateway was in existence in the garden of Palace Cottage. In the mid 19th century it was recorded that burials were disturbed in the eastern corner of the orchard when the road to the quarry was widened. The freestanding remains and the perimeter wall are Listed Grade II-star. (Scheduling Report)
Remains of Bishop's Palace. Medieval. Local grey limestone rubble, partly roofed over with corrugated iron on trusses with a 1950's date. The scheduled site suggests extensive remains below ground. The most substantial remains above ground consist of a partly 2-storey block incorporating walling which continues as the west boundary wall of the garden in front of Palace Farm. The plan of this block includes, at ground floor level, 2 vaults, 1 with a rounded and 1 with a pointed arch. At the north end these vaults are completed by a section of wall (probably at one time external) with a well-finished plinth that rises at the west end. The wall has a blocked, deeply-splayed arched window and the remnants of a stone newel stair. To the north of this wall and parallel to it, a second section of wall extends as re garden boundary wall, and contains several deeply splayed slit windows, mostly blocked. The relationship between the surviving remains above ground and what may be below ground remains conjectural. The Bishop of Exeter had selected a site in Chudleigh for a rural palace as early as 1080 and the "See's ownership is confirmed some hundred years later in an undated charter of Bishop Bartholomew (1165 -1184)" (Crockett). In 1550 Bishop Veysey was obliged to alienate the properties and rights pertaining to Chudleigh which were dispersed into secular ownership. The building above ground is clearly part of a site of major historical and archaeological interest. (Listed Building Report)
The ruins of the Bishop's Palace at Chudleigh and its associated earthworks were surveyed in March 1999 by the RCHME Exeter Office. A large scale drawing and interpretation of the upstanding ruins were completed at the same time by Exeter Archaeology. (PastScape)