Things to See and Do
The South Gatehouse
The main entrance to the castle today, which in medieval times was the gateway to the castle park and faced away from the town. Erosion has caused the ground to drop but if you stand under the gateway arch, the original entrance level is around head height. Rebuilt and extended over three centuries, only the front wall remains today but it is still an imposing entrance to the site.
The Courtyard or Bailey
Walk through the South Gatehouse and you enter the courtyard or bailey which enclosed the main buildings of the castle, some of which you can still see the foundations of as you enter the site. In the South West corner is a stone walled pit, thought to be the base of a tower and you can walk around what was the administrative hall and kitchen which have been excavated in more recent years.
The Great Hall
Built in the 13th century on the site of three predecessors, the Great Hall remained in use as an Assize Hall until the 1600s before being demolished. You can see the site marked out in the grass today. At the back of the South Gatehouse, look down at the latrine pit cut into the rock, part of the residential block for the Earl of Cornwall.
Climb the Tower
The keep which sits on the summit of the protective mound is reached across a bridge over a 13th century ditch, part of Richard, Earl of Cornwall's defence improvements. The High Tower was built within the circular stone wall and you can see the joist holes for the roof.
With two rooms inside, the tower was two storeys high with a window and fireplace still in evidence. Climb to the top of the tower to be rewarded with breathtaking views out across the town and surrounding countryside.
The North Gatehouse
Known as the Town Gate in the Middle Ages, it was home to the Castle Constable. Now mostly demolished, inside the arch you can see the slot for the portcullis and looking through the doorway, you can view the room used as a prison. Past inmates include George Fox, the founder of the Quaker Society and the Catholic priest Cuthbert Mayne who was later tried and executed nearby.
Richard, Earl of Cornwall
The younger brother of King Henry III, Richard was Earl of Cornwall between 1227 and 1272. A highly educated, rich and powerful man, he had high ambitions but valued his Cornish and Devon estates due to the wealth derived from the local tin industry. Launceston was the administrative centre of his earldom and he extensively remodelled the castle and town during his time. Find out more in the guide book.
The Castle in Wartime
During the Civil War, the town and castle was held for the king except for two occasions when they were occupied by Parliamentarians before being captured by Fairfax's army in 1646. After this, work was carried out to patch up the defences but by 1650, the only part of the castle remaining was the North Gatehouse with houses and gardens occupying the ditch.
In later wars, the grounds were used to house a US field hospital with buildings set up in what is now the grassed area around the foundations which have been exposed to view.