From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Okehampton Castle

50° 43′ 49.85″ N 4° 0′ 31.13″ W

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Okehampton Castle is a medieval motte and bailey castle located in Okehampton, Devon.

The Castle was built between 1068 and 1086 following the Norman conquest of England by Baldwin FitzGilbert. William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxon forces at the battle of Hastings in 1066, but violence continued to flare up periodically for several years after the invasion. Baldwin FitzGilbert was responsible for putting down a rebellion in Devon in 1068. He was rewarded with lands in the county and by the time of Domesday Book in 1086, he was listed as the owner of the Honour of Okehampton and well as the Sheriff of Devon and Constable of Exeter Castle. The Honour of Okehampton was a grouping of around 200 estates across Devon, guarded by several castles, including Baldwin's main castle at Okehampton.

Baldwin's castle was positioned to protect an important route from Devon into Cornwall, including two fords that formed a crossing point over the West Okement River, and to control the existing town of Ocmundtune. Baldwin also established a new town near the castle about half a mile away, complete with a market and a mill to grind grain, becaming known as Okehampton.

On Baldwin's death the castle was inherited by his daughter, Adeliza, but the family appear to have taken little interest in the property. Okehampton Castle does not seem to have played a part in the civil war from 1139 and 1153 known as the Anarchy. In 1173 Okehampton Castle passed to Renaud de Courtenay in marriage. The castle continued to have military utility and was requisitioned by Richard I between 1193 and 1194 to assist in the royal defence of Devon.

In 1297, the castle was redeveloped , expanding its facilities and accommodation to enable it be used as a hunting lodge and retreat. Extensive building work turned the property into a luxurious residence. As part of this development, the family created a large, new deer park around the castle, replacing the older, unenclosed hunting grounds. Fallow deer became common on the lands, although wild boar, foxes and hare were also hunted.

In the late 14th and early 15th centuries Okehampton Castle's facilities were extended further, as households, could be up to 135 strong.

The Wars of the Roses between the rival alliances of the Lancastrians and the Yorkists caused the castle and lands to be confiscated by Edward IV , which was later returned to the family by the Lancastrian Henry VI. John Courtenay died fighting for the Lancastrians at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 and the castle and earldom was again confiscated. When Henry VII took the throne at the end of the conflict in 1485, however, the earldom and Okehampton were returned to Edward Courtenay.

Henry VIII confiscated the castle in 1539, exictued Henry Courtenay, permanently breaking the link between the Courtenay family and the castle. The castle appears to have been abandoned and left to decay, the lead and some of the stonework were taken for use on other projects. The castle's deer park was then rented out by the Crown.

Ownership of the castle remained important, however, as from 1623 onwards ownership carried the right to appoint Okehampton's two Members of Parliament. Despite the battle of Sourton Down being fought in 1643 near Okehampton during the English Civil War, the castle played no part in the conflict. A bakehouse was established in the castle in the late-17th century, reusing parts of the western lodgings.[29] The deer park was removed during the 18th century, reverting to farmland.

In the 18th century, the castle became a popular topic for painters interested in the then fashionable landscape styles of the Sublime and the Picturesque. Richard Wilson painted the castle in 1771, dramatically silhouetting the keep against the sky, producing what historian Jeremy Black describes as a "calm, entranching and melancholic" effect.

In the early 20th century Okehampton Castle was bought by a local man, Sydney Simmons, who between 1911 and 1913 cleared away the vegetation that had grown over the castle and conducted some repairs to the stonework. Simmons passed the castle to the Okehampton Castle Trust in 1917, who carried out limited repairs over the coming decades. The Ministry of Public and Works took over the site in 1967 and extensive restoration work was subsequently carried out. In the 21st century, the castle is operated as a tourist attraction by English Heritage.

It is protected under law as an ancient monument and as a grade I listed building.