by Ben Johnson
Hemyock Castle is tucked away behind high stone walls in the peaceful village of Hemyock in the Blackdown Hills in Devon. Originally a medieval manor, in 1380 King Richard II granted the manor’s owners, Sir William and Lady Margaret Asthorpe, a licence to crenellate (fortify) their manor.
And so the castle was built, following a plan typical of late medieval castles: a high curtain wall surrounding a rectangular site, with four high round towers at the corners and central interval towers, all topped with crenellations.
The gatehouse to the castle is formed by two great 40 foot high towers with a portcullis and drawbridge over the moat. Through the gateway you can glimpse the village church of St Mary with its Norman tower, which is also well worth a visit.
During the Civil War the castle was used as a garrison for Parliamentarian troops and as a prison for captured Royalists, imprisoned until either they changed sides or were ransomed. Eventually after a short siege during the winter of 1643/4, Hemyock was captured by the Royalists. Once they had secured the castle, the Royalists released the prisoners, around 200 in number, and immediately hanged three of the Parliamentarian garrison. The remainder of the garrison troops were then marched off to prison in Exeter.
Not long afterwards, the castle was recaptured and remained in Parliamentarian hands until the Restoration in 1660, when King Charles II ordered that it be slighted, its walls and towers breached so that it could never again be held against the King.
The manor house then became a farm and the castle was used as a stone quarry for local buildings.
Today the castle remains in private hands and is open to the public on Bank Holiday Mondays (2pm to 5 pm) between Easter and September. When the castle is open, be sure not to miss the Interpretation Centre. Here you can follow the history of the castle through the centuries with the help of artefacts, paintings and life-size tableaux. And on a nice day, explore the tranquil gardens within the castle’s walls.
Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, Cullompton, Devon, EX15 3RJ