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Hemyock Castle
Ancient Heart of the Blackdowns

The Slighting of Hemyock Castle

Hemyock Castle was slighted (ie. destroyed) some time during or soon after the Civil War. The exact date and circumstances are not known. This page presents some information gleaned so far.

Possible Fates

So far, no definite evidence has been found concerning the fate of Hemyock Castle, but there are several possibilities

Destruction in the Siege?

By the time of the Civil War, the defences of Hemyock Castle were probably outdated and may well have fallen into disrepair. However, when the Castle was garrisoned for Parliament, it was presumably repaired and strengthened. It may have been modified and equipped with light cannon to supplement the original medieval arrow-loops and crenellations.

The short, brutal siege in 1644 probably caused much damage to the Castle before it was regained by Parliamentary forces. Thus the Castle may have been beyond economical repair.

Destruction by Parliament?

According to the Calendar of State Papers, several castles were destroyed in the late 1640s to save the cost of garrisons and the danger that they might be held against Parliament. For example in 1651, Parliament gave the order to remove the garrison and destroy the nearby Taunton Castle, although there seems to have been some prolonged scandal about this.

As early as November 1644, there had been concern that forts and garrisons could prolong or ferment a war rather than finish it.

According to Sir John Meldrum, at the Committee of both Kingdoms, 2 Nov 1644, Liverpool:

"France, Italy, and the Low countries have found by experience during these last three hundred years what losses are entailed by places being fortified, while the subjects of the isle of Britain, through absence thereof, have lived in more tranquillity. If Gainsborough had not been razed by my order, the enemy might have found a nest to have hatched much mischief at this time. Reading might have produced the same effect if the fortifications had not been demolished. ....."

No direct evidence has yet been found, but Parliamentary forces may have destroyed Hemyock Castle when it was no longer needed.

Destruction by Charles II?

According to local tradition, King Charles II commanded the slighting of Hemyock Castle because it had been held by Parliament against the King. No direct evidence has yet been found, but there are two relevant entries in the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series for June 1661:

Item 33: List of the King's forts, castles, and places of strength in England.

Item 36: Note [by Nicholas] that owners of castles, who are private persons, are to give security to the Lord Lieutenant for their safe keeping.

These show that the new King had commanded surveys of all remaining defences in England and that he was concerned about any that could represent a future threat to him. Later, he commanded the strengthening of coastal defences against the real threat of invasion (or smuggling!), but at this time he was still concerned about the internal threat.

Hemyock Castle was known to have been held by Parliament against the King so the owner may have been unable or unwilling to give the Lord Lieutenant satisfactory security.

It is also possible that the owner made a pragmatic decision in all the circumstances and used the Castle as a stone quarry; preferring not to provoke the new King.

The entrance towers and east gatehouse seem to have survived longer, possibly until the 1750s when the then farmer demolished the tops of these towers. Perhaps the castle's owner had been allowed to retain the massive gatehouse as a personal defence against bandits and outlaws?

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