Compton Castle in the parish of Marldon in Devon, is a fortified manor house in the village of Compton (formerly "Compton Pole"), about 5 miles (8.0 km) west of Torquay on the southern coast of Devon. The estate was home to the families of Compton, de la Pole, Doddiscombe, Gilbert and Templer. The castle has been home to the Gilbert family for most of the time since it was built. Listed as a Grade 1 set of buildings, it has been a National Trust property since 1951.
*** – History – ***
The castellated house was the seat of Sir Maurice de la Pole in the reign of King Henry II (1154-1189), after which family the manor was known as Compton Pole. The original undefended manor house was built in the mid-14th century and consisted of a hall flanked by solar and service rooms at each end - these were rebuilt in the later Middle Ages.
The fortress-like front was added in about 1520 by John Gilbert. The central hall was in ruins by the 18th century, but was faithfully reconstructed in the 1950s. Compton Castle's most famous inhabitant was Sir Humphrey Gilbert.(1539–1583), coloniser of Newfoundland and half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh; legend has it that Raleigh smoked the first pipe of tobacco in Britain while visiting Sir Humphrey.
Compton has grown from a manor house to the fortified structure you can now visit. The manor was enlarged in the 1450s and then, in response to French raids on Plymouth in the 1520s it was fortified. By 1785 the family had moved to Bodmin, Cornwall, and Compton fell into ruin and was sold.
Commander Walter Raleigh Gilbert bought the castle and surrounding orchard back in 1931 and started its restoration; he gave it to the National Trust in 1951 on the condition that members of the family should continue to occupy the castle. They still do, and administer it for the Trust. Fragments of the original stonework were found amongst the ruins in 1955 and were used as the basis for the Great Hall’s windows.
The world would be a different place without the Gilbert men and their exploration of North America. In 1583, in the name of the Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Humphrey Gilbert colonised Newfoundland. Two years later his half brother, Sir Walter Raleigh started planning the Roanoke Colony in North Carolina. Sir Humphrey’s youngest son Raleigh Gilbert continued exploring, settling the Popham Colony in Maine, in 1607. It only survived one year, succumbing to a bitter winter.
The great hall lacked a roof and needed a great deal of restoration work which was all done prior to the National Trust acquiring the property. In the hall there is a model of Squirrel, the ship in which Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed to Newfoundland (The crest of the Gilbert family is 'a squirrel sejant on a hill vert feeding on a crop of nuts proper'). To the west of the great hall is the solar, which served as a private retiring room away from the bustle of the great hall. It is approached by a 15th-century staircase. Another restored room is the kitchen, which is housed in a separate building because of the risk of fire it posed. To the right of the hearth, a stone stair led up inside a tower to what was probably a guard room.
External defences in the castle included two portcullises which could be lowered when the castle came under attack. Arrows could be shot through loopholes overlooking the gateway. The curtain walls had slits through which stones and boiling oil could be dropped on any attackers trying to scale the walls.
The castle was used as a location for the filming of the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility. Its Great Kitchen is notable for the insight it gives into medieval domestic life, and its small formal gardens are enclosed by a stone curtain wall to hold the warmth.
*** – Visiting – ***
Owing to Government guidelines relating to the coronavirus pandemic Compton Castle is currently closed.
The Watch Tower is an excellent place to stay. An intriguing three-storey abode, built into the walls of this small Devonshire castle. Enter The Watch Tower through a large wooden door to discover a carefully restored medieval gem. The three-storey building is built into the curtain wall of Compton Castle and features a narrow winding staircase and small peeping windows.
The castle is set in a landscape of rolling hills and orchards, close to the South Devon coastline. There are gardens of the estate to explore as well as the inside of the castle when it is open. Other nearby estates, which guests will have free access to, include to Coleton Fishacre and Bradley Manor. The seaside town of Paignton and its zoo are less than a 20-minte drive from here.
Braille guide and large print guides available. Access to Compton Castle is extremely limited as there are many changes in levels and steps. Please let them know when you arrive so that they can give you help with portable ramps.
Three steps to the entrance and the ground floor has steps, a ramp is available. Spiral staircases to other floors, access to the Solar is by spiral staircase only. Grounds are partly accessible and there are steps to the Rose Garden
*** – Facilities – ***
Location : Compton Castle, Gropers Lane, Marldon, Paignton, Devon, TQ3 1TA
Transport: Torquay (National Rail) then bus - 4 miles. Bus Routes : 27, 32 and 32B stop at Marldon 1.25 miles; 125 community bus from Paignton bus station: alight at Marldon. From bus stop, 1½ mile walk through narrow country lanes, steep in places.
Opening Times : Currently Closed.
Tickets : Currently Closed.
Tel: 01803 661906