A family affair

An illustration of Compton Castle in the 1800s

An illustration of Compton Castle in the 1800s

Today, as well as being open to the public, the castle is the home of Geoffrey and Angela Gilbert and their family. The land was originally held by the de Compton family. The marriage of Joan de Compton to Geoffrey Gilbert in 1329 brought the two families together and the Gilberts have been adding, altering and renovating their home ever since.

Facts and figures

  • The walls are three feet thick local limestone with red sandstone and Beer stone dressings
  • Missiles could be dropped through ‘machicolations’ - projections from the roofline with slots in the floor
  • The defensive curtain wall surrounding the castle is 7.3 metres high
  • In 1583, in the name of 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

The life and times of Sir Humphrey Gilbert

Whilst volunteering as a room guide at Compton Castle, Rhys Ridgwell had an idea to create a film in first person narrative of the life and times of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, interspersed with an historical timeline of Tudor England.

Working with Timetunnel Videos, this fantastic film was created, and is now shown in the Medieval Kitchen. It provides a great introduction to visitors to the castle, and highlights the uniqueness of the property.



By 1800 the family had moved to Bodmin, and Compton fell into ruin and was sold. Commander Walter Raleigh Gilbert bought the castle and surrounding orchard back and started its restoration.

Defeating the Armada

Model of The Revenge the ship of Sir Francis Drake © National Trust

Model of The Revenge the ship of Sir Francis Drake

Compton is just three miles from inviting anchorage at Torbay, so would have been in the front line of any Spanish invasion. As Vice-Admiral of Devon, Compton Castle's Sir John Gilbert (1533-96) played a leading part in marshalling ships, men and supplies to meet the Armada in 1588, while Sir John's brothers provided ships for the English fleet. The fleet commanders, Sir Frances Drake and Sir John Hawkins, were both Devon men; their defeat of the Spanish Armada was one of the proudest moments in Devon's maritime history.


The roofline of Compton Castle, showing some of its defences © National Trust

The roofline of Compton Castle, showing some of its defences

No castle is complete without its defences. The manor was enlarged in the 1450s and then fortified in response to French raids on Plymouth in the 1520s. A close eye could be kept on the two portcullises from the lookout holes close to the ground, and arrows fired through loop holes, kept attackers at bay. Anyone that got through and climbed the walls met stones or boiling oil thrown down holes high up on the walls.