Powderham Castle

Powderham Castle

Victorian Gatehouse

Victorian Gatehouse


The manor of Powderham is named from the ancient Dutch word polder, and means "the hamlet of the reclaimed marsh-land". At some time after 1390 the mediaeval core of the present structure was built by Sir Philip Courtenay (d. 1406), the 5th or 6th son of Hugh Courtenay, 2nd Earl of Devon (d. 1377). The Earls of Devon were seated at Tiverton Castle until 1556, and their cousins of this cadet line known as "Courtenay of Powderham" continued to exist in parallel, not always on amicable terms, as prominent county gentry, arguably the leading and most prestigious gentry family of Devon, actively engaged in the local administration of Devon as JP's, sheriffs and MP's. From 1556, on the extinction of the senior line of Courtenay of Tiverton, the Courtenays of Powderham had become retrospectively, as was decided by law in 1831, de jure Earls of Devon, and became de facto Earls from 1831 when the title was confirmed to them in law. They had however shortly before obtained the right to sit in the House of Lords when created Viscounts.


The original building on the site was a fortified manor house, the appellation "castle" was added probably no earlier than the 17th century. The building has never been a true castle, that is to say with a keep and moat, although it did possess a curtain wall and yard on the east side (now the rose garden) as shown in a 1745 engraving by Buck. Leland mentioned a barbican or bulwark in this area, but these were demolished as part of the 18th-century landscaping works designed to provide an uninterrupted view from the lower rooms towards the Exe Estuary. Many castle-like elements on the west front (main entrance) were added in the 19th century. The gatehouse was built between 1845–47 to a design by Charles Fowler. The tall rectangular structure beyond with a tower to the north is essentially the original fortified manor house. The projection from the lower storey to the north in lighter stone with three Gothic-style windows is the Victorian dining hall, designed by Fowler.


During the Wars of the Roses the enemies of the Courtenay Earls of Devon of Tiverton Castle were the Bonville family of Shute. Their distant cousin at Powderham, Sir William Courtenay married Margaret Bonville, daughter of William Bonville, 1st Baron Bonville (1392–1461), which confirmed Powderham as a Bonville stronghold against the Earls of Devon. On 3 November 1455 Thomas de Courtenay, 5th Earl of Devon (1414–1458), at the head of a private army of 1,000 men, seized control of Exeter and its castle and laid siege to Powderham for two months. Lord Bonville attempted to raise the siege and approached from the east, crossing the River Exe; he was unsuccessful and was driven back by the earl's forces. On 15 December 1455 the Earl of Devon and Lord Bonville met decisively at the Battle of Clyst Heath, where Bonville was defeated and after which the earl sacked and pillaged Shute. During the Civil War Powderham Castle was garrisoned by 300 Royalist soldiers under the command of Sir Hugh Meredith. In December 1645 a Parliamentarian detachment under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax tried, without initial success, to capture it but it fell on 25 January 1646 to Col. Robert Hammond. The castle was badly damaged in the assault and remained, in places, open to the elements until the early 1700s when it was repaired by Sir William Courtenay, 2nd Baronet (d. 1735).


The ground floor of the Castle is accessible to wheelchair users. A wheelchair is available for loan, whilst in the Castle only. The tractor/trailer has a ramp and the Walled Garden Play Area & Pets Corner is accessible, although there are some steep slopes.


Location : Powderham Castle, Kenton, Exeter, Devon EX6 8JQ

Transport: Exeter St Davids (National Rail) then bus OR Starcross (National Rail) 2 miles bus or walk. Bus Routes : 2 Stagecoach from Exeter/Newton Abbot.

Opening Times : Sunday to Friday 11:00 - 17:00.

Tickets : Adults £11.50;  Children £9.50;  Seniors £10.50

Tickets Gardens Only: Adults £8.50;  Children £6.50;  Seniors £7.50

Tel: 01626 890243