The remains of a double drum gatehouse, some towers, a medieval moat and a manor house with masonry from various eras. The castle is a private residence and therefore only open occasionally (Bank Holiday Monday afternoons) but is well worth a visit. There is access to the top of the gatehouse giving good views over the village.
1. The castle was predominately constructed from chert - a local flint stone.
Hemyock Castle Layout. The castle was constructed in a roughly rectangular configuration. It is uncertain whether the west tower was actually a second Gatehouse. The site of the original Manor House, which pre-dated the castle, is shown within the enclosure.
Car Parking Option
Notes: Castle is located in the village of the same name. When open car parking is available in the grounds however there is also a small village car park (details above).
Originally a manor house, Hemyock Castle was built by Sir William Asthorpe against a backdrop of political unrest caused by the Black Death and legal challenges by gentry opposed to his appointment as Sheriff of Devon. Although the defences were designed to impress, they weren’t functional and the site saw no action until the English Civil War.
HISTORY OF HEMYOCK CASTLE
Although the site may well have been occupied in Roman times (there is circumstantial evidence of an earlier Romano-British settlement), the first known fortification at Hemyock was a fortified manor house. This was built by the Hiddon family and later passed through marriage to the Dynhams and then again to Sir William Asthorpe, Sheriff of Devon. It was he who built Hemyock Castle after having received licence to crenellate (fortify) his existing residence from Richard II on 5 November 1380. He was probably motivated both by the increasing civil unrest, caused as a consequence of the Black Death and the impact of high taxes as a result of the Hundred Years' War, along with the need to make a clear statement as to his status. Bodiam Castle, to which Hemyock is often compared, was built for similar reasons. Sir William may well have had other motives however - following his tenure as Sheriff of Devon he was accused of embezzlement by the local gentry and briefly imprisoned in Fleet Gaol. He was pardoned by Richard II but the experience doubtless influenced the decision to build the castle.
Heymock Castle was built to a rectangular plan with circular towers in each corner and in the centre of each stretch of curtain wall except on the east side where a double drum gatehouse provided access (there may also have been a second gatehouse, in lieu of a tower, in the centre of the western curtain wall). The site was originally completely surrounded by a water filled moat supplied by St Margaret's Brook which originally used to run directly in front of the gatehouse rather than its modern path a few metres to the east. The gatehouse supported a drawbridge over the moat and was fitted with a portcullis. Despite this seemingly impressive configuration, some authors have described the defences as a 'sham'. The towers had no proper access, certainly not at ground level, and were apparently not built to support internal floors - in short they were for display purposes only.
The lack of substantial defences perhaps explains why Hemyock seemingly had a quiet existence with no record of any action being fought there during the medieval period. The castle did have a notable owner however - Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice to Elizabeth I and James I. He had the distinction of sitting in judgement of a number of prominent figures including Mary Queen of Scots (1587), the Jesuit priest Robert Southwell (1595), Sir Walter Raleigh (1603) and Guy Fawkes (1606).
When the English Civil War started in 1642, Hemyock Castle was still owned by the Popham family. Perhaps influenced by difficulties acquiring their inheritance upon the death of Sir John Popham in 1607, they supported Parliament and garrisoned the castle accordingly using the site as a prison for captured Royalists. However, the South West fell firmly into the Royalist sphere of influence and Hemyock Castle was captured after a short siege. 200 prisoners were released whilst 3 of the defending garrison were executed and the rest sent off to detention in Exeter Castle. However, as Royalists fortunes waned, their garrisons in the South West were systematically reduced. Hemyock Castle was retaken but the castle's involvement in the war was not overlooked and the site was slighted to prevent further military use. The locals subsequently plundered the ruins for building materials. The site itself became a farm and was partially restored, with gothic overtures, in the mid-nineteenth century by the Simcoe family. The site remained in this role until the 1970s when it was sold as a private dwelling.