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LAUNCESTON CASTLE

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Launceston Castle, a medieval motte and bailey castle, is situated at the crossing of the River Tamar separating Cornwall from Devon, and was the principal castle of medieval Cornwall. Excavations in 1961-83 were focussed on the motte and its approaches, the area around the North and South Gatehouses, and a large area in the south west quarter of the bailey. Sunken-floored structures were identified, some of which were later replaced with timber and eventually stone-built buildings. The castle's standing structures mostly belong to the 13th century. The original motte was constructed in the late 11th century. The Norman bailey had a defensive enclosure comprising a clay and rubble rampart with timber walling on the outer face. Within the bailey were timber buildings. These buildings and part of the defensive structure were replaced with stone in the early 12th century. In the mid-late 12th century, the motte and bailey was replaced by a circular stone shell keep castle. There were substantial modifications in the mid 13th century when the castle became the chief legal and administrative centre for Cornwall under Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Within the shell keep, and rising to twice the height, a second circular 'high tower' was built. The narrow passage between the inner tower and the shell keep was roofed over a wall-walk level, providing a fighting platform. Access to the motte was strongly defended. A stone curtain wall was built on the rampart at all sides, stone towers were erected and in the re-planned bailey included a new Great Hall, a kitchen, a courtroom and yard areas. The castle was repaired in the 14th and 15th century, but by the mid-17th century the bailey was in ruin. After the Civil War the county gaol was re-established on the east side of the bailey. This was enlarged during the 1770s, but removed in 1840. During World War Two the Air Ministry occupied huts erected on the castle green and an American Military hospital was built in the bailey.

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