castle ruins provide not only a viewpoint of the
Conservation Area, but a suitable place from which
the visitor can start to explore the ancient borough.
As the winding path up the castle mound is followed,
the whole of Plympton St. Maurice is revealed. The
pattern of the streets around the Church takes shape
with Plympton House beyond. There are views of old
rooftops, back gardens, and even a farmyard below.
To the north the land slopes up to the Ridgeway,
and, to the south, beyond the houses that pack tightly
between the Castle Green and the Longbrook stream,
fields and woods reach up to the skyline. Early
settlers were attracted to this sheltered and fertile
valley, and the low spur projecting westward towards
what was once a tidal creek proved an ideal site
for a Celtic fortification. The Saxon name Plymentum
for the village which grew up here probably derives
from the Celtic Pen-lyn-don (fort at the head of
a creek). It is thought that the Saxons constructed
a wooden fort here as protection against enemies
such as the Danes who landed on the south Devon
coast in 851. A son of Alfred the Great acquired
the manor of Plymentum in 904. It was known as Plintona
at the time of the Doomsday Survey in 1086, but
it became Plympton Erle (Earl) after the manor had
been granted to Richard de Redvers, who was made
Earl of Devon in the reign of Henry I. The castle
we see now was probably built by Richard's son Baldwin.
It was a motte and bailey castle. A fourteenth century
drawing shows a roofed round stone tower, some thirty
feet high, on the motte, or mound. Timber reinforcing
within the walls has since decayed, leaving "tunnels"
in the stonework. As can be imagined, these "tunnels"
have given rise to fanciful tales of secret passages!
The living quarters and storehouses were in the
bailey, but these buildings have vanished. The course
of the surrounding moat can still be traced: in
Henry VIII's time it was stocked with carp. There
was an entrance at the west end of the bailey, where
a drawbridge crossed the moat from a fortified gateway
or barbican. The house called Castle Barbican now
was probably another entrance on the north side
leading to the path across the Pathfields. This
path is lined with 31 lime trees planted in 1898.
In 2003 a parallel line of lime trees was planted
to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. It
is used'as a short cut to the Ridgeway and makes
a very pleasant rural walk, especially in July when
the lime trees are in flower. The field nearest
the castle is called Castle Hayes. Here cattle belonging
to the castle were grazed and cows are still sometimes
pastured here. In this field the covered remains
of St. Thomas or Pound Well can be seen. Would the
inhabitants of the castle have relied on this Well
for their water supply?
townsfolk of Plympton drew water from here for 500
years. The castle is remarkable as having undergone
two sieges. In 1136 Baldwin de Redvers, lord of
the manor, rebelled against King Stephen who sent
two hundred knights and archers to take Plympton.
In 1224 Fawkes de Breaute, who had married a Redvers
widow rebelled against Henry 111. Henry sent the
Sheriff of Devon to attack the castle with ten knights,
sixty serjeants and three siege-engines. The castle
surrendered after a fifteen day siege In 1370, the
Black Prince, returning from the wars in France,
paid a visit to the partly restored castle. It was
used as a stronghold for Royalists in the Civil
War, when they besieged Plymouth from 1642 to 1646.
Prince Maurice had his headquarters here with five
regiments of horse and nine of foot soldiers, but
it was taken by the Parliamentary force in 1644.
and musket balls, dating from this period, have
been found in local gardens. The bailey, or castle
green, continued to play an important part in the
life of St. Maurice. In the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, circuses and fairs were held here regularly.
There was maypole dancing, wrestling, cock-fighting
and prizefighting. There were also "grinning" matches
which were probably similar to the "gurning" competitions
still held today in the Lake District where villagers
compete to pull the ugliest face.
the newly elected mayor provided a bull for baiting,
and at one time there was an annual "jingling" match
between "smart dashing lads" for a hat and a guinea
prize. Jingling was a popular game at village fairs
in the eighteenth century. All players were blindfolded,
except one who ran about ringing a bell in each
hand, while the others tried to catch him. However,
some of these diversions got out of hand and, after
fighting broke out at the annual fair on May 29th,
St. Maurice's Day, 1786, the fair was stopped for
twenty years. Early in the nineteenth century Lord
Boringdon, who then owned the castle, sent a plough
and two horses to plough up the green. The mayor
and members of the corporation removed the horses
and burned the harnesses and plough, and the villagers
danced in celebration. In 1896, Lord Boringdon's
successor, now Lord Morley, gave up his rights to
the green to the parish council. After the victory
at Waterloo in June 1815, there was "feasting and
frolicking" and in 1856 at the end of the Crimean
War, all the inhabitants of Plympton sat down to
a meal laid out on tables on the green. Royal weddings
and jubilees were celebrated there, and each Empire
Day, in the early years of this century, school
children went "ring singing" on the mound, or ring,
as it is locally called. Since the establishment
of the Plympton St. Maurice Civic Association in
1968, a fair, The Lamb Feast, has been held on the
castle green in June.
© MILLS, Audrey F, 1981: Plympton St.
Maurice Guide, First Edition, Plympton St.
Maurice Civic Association