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Things to see and do in Compton Castle

Three visitors, one in a wheelchair and a guide beneath the main portcullis at Compton Castle, Devon
Visitors beneath the main portcullis Compton Castle | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

A rare surviving example of a fortified medieval manor house, Compton Castle is known for its high curtain walls, towers and portcullis. Inside, the scene is just as grand, featuring a Great Hall and Sub Solar. Learn about the lives of the people that once lived here – and the people that live here today – by exploring what you can find at the castle.

Explore the Great Hall

In 1931, the castle was in complete ruin and the Great Hall was in need of complete restoration. It remained roofless until 1955 but has now been revived and is a light and impressive room.

The Great Hall is particularly atmospheric on chilly days, when apple wood burns on the fire, filling the hall with aromatic smells.

Look out for a model of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's ship the Squirrel, a treasured family piece. Gilbert was a great advocate for colonisation of both North America and Ireland. In 1583, he landed in Newfoundland and claimed the harbour and land around it for Queen Elizabeth I. This was the first English foundation in the Americas since John Cabot's expedition in 1497.

See the Solar and Sub Solar

The Sub Solar was originally a cellar, however, in 1450 the family decided that they wanted more space and so this whole block to the west of the Great Hall was rebuilt. The ceiling was raised to make a comfortable new room.

A climb up the 15th century staircase leads to the Solar; in large medieval houses the Solar was a private living room away from the noise of the Great Hall.

Inside The Hall at Compton Castle, Devon, showing the fireplace, long table and panelling of oak
Inside The Hall at Compton Castle | © National Trust Images / Francesco Venturi

The medieval kitchen

The large cooking fire was a constant danger to the rest of the house and so to reduce the risk of a fire spreading, as with other great houses, the kitchen was placed in a separate building. The high barrel roof and windows let out any smoke that did not go up the three-flued chimney.

Don't miss the defences

No castle is complete without its defences. The manor was enlarged in the 1450s and then fortified. However, the limited features and lack of a moat suggest that these additions were not designed just for defence. Although they offered some protection, they were probably as much an indicator of wealth and social status.

If there was a need for defence, 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 might have met stones or boiling oil thrown down holes high up on the walls.

To the right of the hearth, the kitchen opens into one of the inner towers originally built to help defend the castle. The tower has several floors and the room directly above may have been used as a guard room.

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Inside The Hall at Compton Castle, Devon, showing the fireplace, long table and panelling of oak

History of Compton Castle 

Follow the changing fortunes of this medieval castle, home to the Gilbert family for over 600 years, though its periods of disrepair and restoration.

Blue flowers bloom next to a gravel path with an apple tree in the background.

Things to see in Compton Castle garden 

The garden at Compton Castle is small but perfectly formed, its character and appearance changing with the seasons. Discover the variety of plants, sights and smells to be found here.