Tudor fortification and a Victorian bachelor's residence
The original garrison probably came by boat from Dartmouth, to a landing place near the Castle or perhaps along a path above the shore from Kingswear village. When Seale Hayne restored the Castle in 1855 he made a new drive down from an existing lane further up the hill. As you stand outside the main entrance you can see above you the shutes of the machicolations, down which water could be poured on fires lit by attackers against the door.
Immediately inside the door, steps descend into the gun battery. In the 19th century a landing was made here by taking down a wall on the right, to give access directly to the stairs. This we blocked up again, to recreate the original access. In 1987 we found the ground floor divided into a kitchen and pantry. We stripped these out to recover its appearance in 1502. The floor itself, which had been considerably lowered, is now back at its original height level with the cills of the gun embrasures. Guns of the period were normally mounted on wooden beds, without wheels, so they had to be slid forward into position. In the cills of each embrasure there was once an oak plate, with a socket in its centre. This, it seems, was for fixing the guns and preventing recoil. One section of the first bedrock floor was found to act as a guide for the level and gradient of the new floor, which slopes to allow water to flow out. The new paving is of Lundy slate.
The rectangular gunports with their splayed embrasures were a great advance on anything that had gone before, allowing as they did a wider field of fire - although still very restricted. When not in use they were sealed with shutters. Three old, 17th or 18th-century, shutters survived. These have been repaired and new oak ones made to the same pattern, closed by a chain and cleat. Above the gunports are openings which run right through the wall, which might have been smoke vents, or spyholes. The magnificent oak beams support a new first floor. Because of their size they had to be worked outside the castle, before being manoevred into place in the original beam pockets. These were found to be several inches higher than those used for the Victorian ceiling beams.
We thought to begin with that the stair had been altered because at its top the steps and newel post are of one piece of stone, while lower down the steps are of rubble masonry and the newel post shows the stumps of other steps, cut off. Then, when taking away a concrete stair leading up from the ground floor, the bottom of the spiral was found, running right down to ground level and built well into the Castle wall. It seems that any interference - now or at a previous date - would result in the stair's total collapse, so it must always have been as it is now. The stone for the newel may have been reused from another building.
The first floor contains a mixture of Tudor and Victorian work. Since this was probably the guardroom, where the soldiers of the garrison spent most of their time, they were allowed a fire at which to warm themselves. Another convenience was discovered in 1989. The large east window had only been inserted quite recently. Before that, there was a recessed cupboard there, used as a wine store by Seale Hayne. When investigating its cill, the original seat and shute of a garderobe were found, with a small window beside it.
In times of war the room also served as a gun platform. In the lower embrasures, the rare oak plates survive intact. Smaller guns would have been lifted onto trestles and then slid forward into position. The upper ports would have been for siting and possibly for small arms. The gunports have all been provided with new oak window surrounds. The floor, which like the ground floor had been lowered by several inches, is once again at its original level, but the oak boards seen from below are not in fact visible here. Insulation was laid on top of these and then the Victorian elm boards laid down again, to keep the warmth in. When plasterboard was removed, the beams of the Victorian ceiling were discovered above. These were repaired and a new boarded ceiling fitted.
This room enjoys the finest views in the Castle. That it was also used for fighting is proved by the existence of several gunloops, most of which have been blocked up. The present, larger windows cut through these, but date from before 1855 - whether they are the gunports for the large guns of the late 17th century is uncertain. If they are, the guns must have been mounted on a platform. In the 19th century this floor was divided into bedrooms and dressing rooms, which we have removed to recreate a single large room.
The Tudor roof was at a substantially lower level than the present one and according to the survey of 1661 was made of calked timber, like the deck of a ship. Water ran off through scuppers, which could be seen in the walls of the second floor. It is likely that a new, higher, roof was put on in the late 17th century, but this was lost in 1855. We removed the Victorian pitched roof, which was leaking badly and have replaced it with a paved platform.
The parapet round the three seaward sides of the Castle dates from 1855, but at the back the higher parapet and the little turret are original. In this wall are the sockets for a covered platform built out over the main wall walk, allowing defenders to fire over the top of the parapet. The new bathroom occupies a similar position.
At the foot of the stairs a narrow passage leads to the small round tower. For some time this tower puzzled the experts, who thought that it seemed earlier than 1855 and suggested that it might have been a powder magazine - a very large and damp one if so. It is now agreed that it is entirely Victorian and that Thomas Lidstone was very good at copying the earlier work. It has been given a new roof and floor.
The architects for the restoration were Messrs Caroe & Partners of Wells; the interior work was carried out by St Cuthbert Builders, of Porlock and the exterior work by Exeter Cathedral Workshops.