Notes: Located off Castle Street in Great Torrington. There are no signs but the castle site is occupied by a car park.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The remains of an earthwork, most likely the partial remains of a motte. The wider site has been extensively landscaped - not least with the construction of a car park - making it difficult to be certain whether the remains relate to the medieval fortifications that once occupied the site.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Bowling Green. The bailey was located under the modern bowling green. This was also the site of the fourteenth century manor house.
A motte-and-bailey castle built by a nephew of William the Conqueror, Torrington Castle was destroyed in the early years of the Anarchy. Rebuilt without Royal permission, it was demolished in 1228 and the site was later converted into a fortified manor house.
HISTORY OF TORRINGTON CASTLE
Although its dominant position makes it a strong candidate for an Iron Age or Saxon presence, the first known fortification at Torrington dates from the eleventh century. A note in the Domesday Book (1086) recorded the presence of a castle in the hands of William, son of Bishop Odo. It is probable this was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey castle, most likely on the site of the earthworks visible today. William was still in possession at the start of the Anarchy (1139-53), the civil war between King Stephen and Matilda over the right of succession to the English throne, and like many of the major landowners in the South West, was hostile to the King's claim. This prompted an attack on the castle in 1139 during which it was captured and burnt.
The castle was rebuilt on the same site as the original fortification, although it is unclear precisely when this happened. It was certainly in existence by the early thirteenth century when it was recorded as in the hands of William de Toriton. Situated on top of a steep scarp that descended down to the River Torridge, the earth mound visible today was probably part of the Keep (the remainder seemingly having occupied the modern car park) whilst the bailey lies under the bowling green. Like nearby Barnstable, this new castle was slighted in 1228 when Henry III instructed the Sheriff of Devon to demolish the fortification on the grounds it had been rebuilt without Royal consent.
The final castle at Torrington was a fortified manor house which was built in the fourteenth century by Richard de Merton. He seems to have gone to strenuous efforts to get Royal permission as licences to crenellate the site were granted in 1338, 1340 and 1347. The new structure was built within the castle's grounds under the modern bowling green. Little is known about it although it is unlikely it had any substantial defences. Certainly it played no part in the English Civil War - despite a skirmish in Torrington in 1643 and a major battle in 1646 - suggesting it was of no military value at this time. Subsequent landscaping has obliterated much of the remains of the earlier fortifications.
A pre-war photograph showed extensive earthworks where the car park now stands. The motte probably extended in this direction.