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Powderham Castle. Photo by Ted and Jen.
Powderham Castle. Photo by Ted and Jen.

Powderham Castle, Devon

Work began on Powderham Castle by the Courtenay family in 1391, on land that had been in the family (on the mother, Margaret de Bohun’s, side) since at least the Domesday BookThe two-million-word report of the survey commissioned by William the Conqueror into land-holding and worth in England and parts of Wales. Its name comes from the a reference to the final account at the Last Judgement, as it was such a complete record.. The senior branch of the Courtenay family were the Earls of Devon, seated at Tiverton Castle, who lost their title (twice) under the Tudors, first by marrying Henry VII’s sister-in-law, Katherine of York, and secondly for treason during the reign of Mary I. The Powderham Courtenays had stayed somewhat cleaner and quieter and eventually became the de jure (from 1556) and de factoA Latin phrase meaning 'in fact', but not necessarily in law. (from 1831) Earls of Devon. Their seat has remained at Powderham since. The castle itself has undergone complete renovation and reconstruction several times (including after the successful ParliamentarianA supporter of parliament, particularly during the Civil Wars of 1642-1651. attack during the Civil War), retaining only one of its original six towers, becoming a stately home rather than a fortified structure.

As Powderham Castle remains a residence, it is still in full working order, but is also only accessible by guided tour. The tour guides are certainly enthusiastic, and very knowledgeable about the rooms, fixtures and fittings. However, when it came to the history they were either unwilling or unable to talk about it: much was glossed over or left out entirely, such as the charges of treason against the family or their involvement in the Civil War. It was therefore only through independent research that we discovered the juicy and interesting stories behind the castle. On the plus side, we had been worried about controlling two young children during the hour-long tour, but the guide was exceptional in keeping the children interested and occupied, including letting them find and open the hidden doors and secret passages.

There are plenty of activities for children to participate in, including three nature trails and on event days a further trail. There is an activities corner, a walled garden play area and pets corner, as well as trailer rides through the deer park and a working forge (which is operated independently). As such, there is enough to occupy a good three hours, if not more. The best part of the visit for us was the pirates event happening in the grounds. Run by the Pocketwatch Theatre Company, it provided an hour of learning to sword fight, playing games and general tomfoolery that kids and adults alike loved. This company does all the special events at the castle, and it is well worth planning a visit around them.

Overall, the castle makes a good day out for a family, but, sadly, don’t expect to learn much from it!

To find out more about visiting Powderham Castle, click here.

Author Info

Debbie Kilroy

Having read history at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate, where I won the Kenrick Prize, I worked as a trouble-shooter in the public sector until I took a career break in 2009. Thereafter, I was able to pursue my love of history and turn it into a career, founding Get History in 2014 with the aim of bringing accessible yet high quality history-telling and debate to a wide audience. Since then, I have completed a Masters in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, from which I received a distinction and the Kellogg College Community Engagement and Impact Award. As well as continuing to write for and expand Get History, I am now a freelance writer and historian. I have worked with Histories of the Unexpected, Inside History, and my article on the first English parliament of James I, which won the ICHRPI Emile Lousse essay prize (2019), will be published in Parliaments, Estates and Representation 41 (2021). 

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Powderham Castle, Devon
Powderham Castle, Devon
5.2
out of 10

Importance

3/10

Information and collections

3/10

Child friendly/fun factor

9/10

Presentation

6/10

Value for money

5/10

Pros

  • +Enthusiastic and friendly staff
  • +Lots to do with the children
  • +The special events are fantastic

Cons

  • -Lack of historical information, and little historical value
  • -Access to the house is by guided tour only
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