Page updated 7 June 2009
The Norman, Rougemont Castle was built on a knoll known as red hill, or rouge mont in Norman French, because of its red, volcanic rock. The Romans first fortified the position. The present castle was founded by Baldwin de Brionne after 1068, for William the Conqueror. The entrance is a square three storey gatehouse with an arched entrance that is the oldest non-ecclesiastical Norman arch in existence. The gatehouse had three internal wooden floors and a wooden drawbridge that crossed a moat. Little Castle Street was the original approach to the gatehouse.
There is a plaque by the gatehouse to Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards, Mary Trembles and Alice Molland who were tried in the castle for witchcraft. They were found guilty and are the last people in England to be executed for the crime. They were hung in Heavitree in 1682 and 1685. At the base of the gatehouse can be found three canons which are stamped Spanish Armada. In 1683, the accounts of Christopher the Duke of Albemarle who was the Lord Lieutenant of Devon, indicate he paid £600 for repairs to the two drawbridges, the second being at an entrance at Northernhay. (D&CN&Q) Andrew Brice indicates in his Gazeteer of 1751 that the two drawbridges no longer existed.
The castle survived a siege by King Stephen in 1140, from a siege castle thrown up at Danes Castle, just to the north. The castle was a traditional venue for a court and in 1607, a Sessions House was constructed in the inner bailey. In 1773, this building was demolished and a Palladian style County Courthouse, designed by Philip Stowey, was built. His original design was more elaborate so James Wyatt was brought in by the authorities to reduce the cost of building, resulting in a more austere structure. In 1895 the building was enlarged and again in 1905, when a neo-Palladian wing was added.
In Shakespeare's Richard III, the king recalls a premonition of his own death when he is shown the castle:
"Richmond - when last
I was in Exeter,
The Mayor in courtesy showed me the castle,'
And called it - Rougemont: at which name I started,
Because a Bard of Ireland told me once,
That I should not live long after I saw Richmond."
The interior of the castle has been used for some odd events. A sheep-shearing competition was once held in the grounds and it was the venue of the first Devon County Show. And for those interested in aviation, the castle yard was used for launching several balloon ascents, the earliest being in 1786, and another in October 1814. Other balloon ascents were made in 1848 and a hot-air balloon ascent was made from the grounds in 1886 by a Monsieur St Croix.
A new Crown and County Court has been opened during 2004 at the eastern end of Southernhay, near Magdalen Street. The grounds are at present used as a car park, and for Christmas 2007 a temporary ice-rink was set up, which was only partly successful due to the mild New Year. A proposed future use for the castle buildings is as a hotel and pub complex.
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