The comprehensive gazetteer and bibliography of the medieval castles, fortifications and palaces of England, Wales, the Islands.
The listings
Other Info
Print Page 
Next Record 
Previous Record 
Back to list 

Holwell Castle, Parracombe

In the civil parish of Parracombe.
In the historic county of Devonshire.
Modern Authority of Devon.
1974 county of Devon.
Medieval County of Devon.

OS Map Grid Reference: SS66974460
Latitude 51.18505° Longitude -3.90474°

Holwell Castle, Parracombe has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a probable Masonry Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Fine motte and bailey measuring 40m in diameter and 6.2m high above the bottom of a rock cut ditch which is 2.7m deep. The ditch is complete apart from on the north and west sides where the bailey impinges. Within the bailey are traces of five building platforms terraced into the hillside. On the summit of the mottte is a linear hollow thought to be the remains of the 1905 excavation. A survey carried out in 1995 after a period of drought located the keep on the summit and a wing hall on the motte slopes. (PastScape)

Although considered by earlier authorities to occupy a classically defensive position, Holwell Castle is geared specifically to overlook the existing settlement and especially the river crossing to the north-west; it also dominates the valley of the River Heddon running north-westwards. However, it is overlooked by higher ground to the south-east, and the motte has in fact been cut down into the end of the spur which makes it weaker when approached from this direction. It seems therefore that the castle's position is intended to dominate the settlement of Parracombe and specifically the river crossing (Wilson-North WR 3-SEP-93, RCHME Field Investigation).
survey was carried out after scrub clearance and after a period of drought. This enabled fine detail to be observed, including the base of the keep on the motte summit, the site of a wing wall on the motte slopes, and five platforms within the bailey. The most substantial of these, first observed in 1993 (above, Source 5) is probably the site of the hall. The absence of documentary evidence for the site means that its longevity is not known, however, the field evidence suggests that the buildings within the bailey were mainly of timber (or cob). (Wilson-North, WR 12-JULY-1995 RCHME Field Investigation). (PastScape)

On an estate called Holywell is a circular mound, named the Castle, on what account is not known. The adjacent grounds are higher than the mount; therefore it could not have been a place of defence. It appears like an ancient barrow. (J.T. 1811)

The domination of Parracombe by the castle is visual. The castle is placed to be fully seen from the town, were it a purely military building it could be argued that efforts would have been made to site the castle so the interior was less visible (or to put the building nearer to the river crossing), although other factors, such as access to a water supply or possible pre-existing earthworks, will also have effected the choice of location. As can be seen by the, ill-informed, view of the editor of Risdon's Survey the defensive quality of the site is open to question but its striking visual quality is not.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER   Scheduling        
Maps >
Streetmap   NLS maps   Where's the path   Old-Maps      
Data/Maps > 
Magic   V. O. B.   Geology   LiDAR   Open Domesday  
Air Photos > 
Bing Maps   Google Maps   Getmapping   ZoomEarth      
Photos >
CastleFacts   Geograph   Flickr   Panoramio      

Sources of information, references and further reading
Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.
It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Monument without consent. It is a destruction of everyone's heritage to remove archaeological evidence from ANY site without proper recording and reporting.
Don't use metal detectors on historic sites without authorisation.
The information on this web page may be derived from information compiled by and/or copyright of Historic England, County Historic Environment Records and other individuals and organisations. It may also contain information licensed under the Open Government Licence. All the sources given should be consulted to identify the original copyright holder and permission obtained from them before use of the information on this site for commercial purposes.
The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown. Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
Please help to make this as useful a resource as possible by contacting Gatehouse if you see errors, can add information or have suggestions for improvements in functality and design.
Help is acknowledged.
This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:52

Home | Books | Links | Fortifications and Castles | Other Information | Help | Downloads | Author Information | Contact