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Restormel Castle
Lostwithiel, Cornwall
associated engineer
Not known
date  begun circa 1200
era  Medieval  |  category  Castle  |  reference  SX103614
Restormel Castle's circular stone keep was built some time in the 13th century. We know that it was surrended by Thomas de Tracy to the government in 1265 and granted to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1268. The site was previously home to a 12th century Norman motte (mound) and bailey (walled enclosure).
Restormel — the name of both the castle and a Cornish administrative district — means “roughland on a bare rounded hill”. This hill overlooks what would have been a major crossing point of the River Fowey at Lostwithiel Bridge.
As mentioned above, Restormel Castle was granted to the Earl of Cornwall in 1268. It was inherited by his son Edmund, who died without heir in 1299, whereupon the Earldom (now Duchy) reverted to the Crown. Edward the Black Prince, first Duke of Cornwall, held court during several visits here in the mid-14th century and established a deer park in the castle grounds.
During the English Civil War (1642-51), although in a ruinous condition, Restormel was occupied by the Parliamentarian army of Lord Essex. However, his forces were defeated in August 1644 by those of the Royalist Sir Richard Grenville. The castle is still owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. It was administered by the Ministry of Works between 1925 and 1984, after which it passed into the care of English Heritage.
The castle complex as we see it today comprises the circular keep with a square stone gatehouse on its south west side and a rectangular wing to the north east. The gatehouse once had a drawbridge. The whole sits on a natural rock mound, surrounded by a wide circular flat-bottomed ditch and bank. The 15m wide ditch was 4m deep. It was never water-filled but would have collected rubbish, rainwater and effluent — making it rather unpleasant!
The keep is constructed from locally quarried slate with window and doorway arches of dressed white stone from Pentewan (16km to the south west ). It encloses a courtyard and the remains of the kitchens, cellars, great hall, solar, bed chambers and guard rooms.
The outer diameter of the keep is 38m and its outer wall is 2.4m thick. A still-passable wall-walk runs along the top, some 8m above the courtyard, protected by a 1.6m high battlement parapet. The keep's inner wall is 1m thick and lies 5.6m inside the outer wall. The space between is divided into rooms, which consequently have curved walls either end. The largest room is the 19m great hall, which once had a timber roof structure.
The north east wing is 9.3m wide and contains a chapel with windows to three sides on the upper level. The chapel measures 7.6m by 5.5m wide internally. The end wall to the east is just 1.1m thick. Its window was blocked up with masonry during the Civil War when the wall was adapted to support a cannon platform overlooking the river.
The gatehouse probably dates from the early 13th century. Its inner gateway is flanked by stone stairs leading to the upper floor. The remainder of the structure is likely to be late 13th century. The whole complex was rendered and would have been limewashed, makiing it white.
Also in the courtyard are the remains of the circular well, located in an 8m deep chamber. The well may date from the 12th century, as part of the keep is built over it. At a later date, supplementary water was brought by lead pipe from a nearby spring.
Research: ECPK
b i b l o g r a p h y
"Cornish Place Names & Language" by Craig Weatherhill
Sigma Leisure, Cheshire, 1995
"Restormel Castle" by C.A. Ralegh Radford
English Heritage, London, 1991
"Restormel Castle" edited by Susannah Charlton
English Heritage, London, 2003
"The Castles of Devon and Cornwall" by Mike Salter
Folly Publications, Malvern, 1999

Restormel Castle