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Hemyock Castle
Ancient Heart of the Blackdowns

Comparison Between Hemyock and Bodiam

Model of Hemyock Castle in 1380s. Note the white external rendering

There are some striking similarities between Hemyock and Bodiam castles:

Similar Castle Plan

The plan of the 1380 Hemyock Castle has similarities with Bodiam Castle in Sussex, built some 5 years later in 1385.

Both Hemyock and Bodiam are typical of small late medieval castles: rectangular sites with high round corner towers and central interval towers, connected by a high curtain wall; all topped with crenellations; surrounded by a water filled moat. Both had massive fortified gatehouses. The two castle were roughly the same size. Even the detail of Hemyock's NE Tower appears similar to Bodiam's Well Tower.

There were obvious differences:

Presumably, Hemyock Castle was more functional. Much of the accommodation would have been provided by Hemyock's old manor house so the defensive outer walls could be simpler. This would also have allowed the use of stronger more functional round towers whereas Bodiam required large rectangular towers in order to provide comfortable accommodation. Further accommodation was built into Bodiam's outer walls.

Bodiam had a huge, but easily drained, moat and complex entrance causeways.

Hemyock's moat was more functional but not easily drained. Hemyock's western entrance (now lost) may have included a short defensive causeway across the moat.

The massive gatehouse at Hemyock's eastern entrance was protected by a drawbridge across the moat and by outer bastions. (Now the "Guard Houses" holiday cottages.) However, in recent centuries there have been great changes around Hemyock's eastern entrance, including diversion of the stream (St. Margaret's Brook) which filled the moat, and extension of St. Mary's Church. It is just possible that originally, there was a more complex series of defences and water obstacles.

Built by a New Knight

When Sir Edward Dalyngrigge built Bodiam, he was a new Knight from a fairly modest background. It is assumed that he had made his fortune during the "Hundred Years War" between England and France.

Little is known about Sir William Asthorpe who built Hemyock. He was illegitimate, had distinguished himself in France, and been Knighted. Sir William had been prominent in public life for many years. In 1373, Sir William was appointed keeper of the Channel Islands. Presumably, he accumulated wealth in this role. It is not known whether he also obtained wealth from the wars.

Sir William may well have known the Dalyngrigge family. Amongst other opportunities, in 1377 when Sir William represented Devon at the last parliament of Edward III, Robert Dalyngrigge (Sir Edward's father) represented Sussex.

Married to an Heiress

Both Sir Edward and Sir William had "married well."

Sir Edward married Elizabeth, daughter of John Wardieu.

In 1362, Sir William gained royal permission to marry the 15-year old orphaned heiress, Margaret Dynham; in spite of strong objections from her relatives and other Devon lords.

Later History

The later histories of Bodiam and Hemyock were very different. Bodiam was used and adapted for several centuries. It was partially restored in the 19th/20th centuries and is now owned by the National Trust.

Hemyock's owner, Sir William Asthorpe, died in 1399 on Wednesday before St. Dionysius (ie. Wednesday 8th October), shortly after his wife Lady Margaret. It is not known whether his death was natural or connected with the turmoil at the end of the reign of King Richard II. Because Sir William was "illegitimate" and died without an heir, his estates were taken into the King's hands before some eventually reverted to his wife's family.

Hemyock Castle was later owned by several notable people including Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham who sentenced Sir Walter Raleigh, Mary Queen of Scots and Guy Fawkes to death.

During the Civil War (mid 1600s) Hemyock Castle was garrisoned by the Pophams for Parliament and used to imprison Royalists. Eventually it was captured by the Royalists in 1644, after a second short brutal siege. Not long afterwards, it was recaptured and held for Parliament until the Restoration in 1660, when King Charles II ordered that it be slighted – ie. partly demolished – to destroy its military value.

From then, the manor house became a farm and the castle ruins were used as a stone quarry for local buildings. General John Graves Simcoe bought Hemyock Castle in the 1790s following his distinguished career in the New World. He had visions of restoring the Castle to its former glory. Unfortunately he was too busy organizing the defence of Devon against the imminent threat of a French invasion and then died prematurely.

The site and manor house were sold in the early 1970s, without the farm land. Work continues to discover the history and to stabilize the castle remains.


In 1828, John "Mad Jack" Fuller bought Bodiam Castle, rescuing it from demolition. John Fuller was a supporter of slavery who had inherited and kept Jamaican plantations.

General John Graves Simcoe who bought Hemyock Castle in the 1790s, intending to restore it, abolished slavery in his province of Upper Canada in 1793 while serving as the first Lt. Governor.

Further information is available in the booklet "Hemyock Castle - The Continuing Story."

Links to Resources:

Historic England Geophysical Survey 14/1999:

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Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
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