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Compton Castle

A Grade II* Listed Building in Compton Pauncefoot, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.0293 / 51°1'45"N

Longitude: -2.5045 / 2°30'16"W

OS Eastings: 364713

OS Northings: 125667

OS Grid: ST647256

Mapcode National: GBR MV.HH93

Mapcode Global: FRA 56ND.D3D

Entry Name: Compton Castle

Listing Date: 24 March 1961

Last Amended: 17 February 2014

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1248632

English Heritage Legacy ID: 263364

Location: Compton Pauncefoot, South Somerset, Somerset, BA22

County: Somerset

District: South Somerset

Civil Parish: Compton Pauncefoot

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

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Country house, in the form of a Gothick castle, built during the 1820s by John Finden for John Hubert Hunt. Additions and alterations were made under the direction of Charles Biddulph-Pinchard some time after 1911, and the interior has undergone subsequent alterations from the 1960s onwards.


MATERIALS: the front, eastern, parts of the building are constructed of Ham stone ashlar, the rear parts being of coursed rubblestone. The roofs are of Welsh slate, with stone stacks. The windows of the principal part of the building have leaded lights; it is thought that the majority date from the phase of work of c 1911, or are later replacements, though a pair of original wooden sash frames with lozenge lights remains in the western first-floor window on the south front.

PLAN: the plan form is essentially square, revolving around a central octagonal stair hall, which rises through two storeys. The rooms open from the hall on the ground floor, and on the first floor, from a landing surrounding the hall. On the ground floor, the public rooms are situated to the east, with kitchens and service rooms to the west. There is a projection at the south-east corner, and extending from the north-east corner is the two-storey range now containing the reading room.

EXTERIOR: the principal portion of the house, to the east, is given a mock-defensive treatment, the four corners being marked by round turrets, and the entrance bay at the centre of the eastern elevation by a large square tower with a round turret to the rear; crenellations run around this eastern part, and the towers have machicolation and arrow loops. The central entrance tower is fronted by a tall porch with a pointed-arched opening, and a crenellated parapet with crocketed finial providing a balcony to the central front bedroom; this room is lit by a tall single window having a pointed segmental arch with hollow spandrels beneath a hoodmould. To either side of the entrance is a canted bay window, the ground-floor having segmental pointed-arched openings, with Y-tracery to the central windows. The bays were raised to two storeys in the early C20, the upper storeys having square-headed openings with pointed lights, the crenellated parapets which originally topped the single-storey windows having been replaced at the higher level. Both south and north fronts received new bay windows between the corner turrets in the early-C20: in each case, a double-height square bay with setback buttresses topped by crocketed finials, the six-light windows separated by blank panels, to the east, whilst the single-storey canted bay with arched windows of intersecting Y-tracery and a crenellated parapet on the south elevation was apparently constructed to match the original one on the north elevation. The oriel window to the south-east projection is probably an early-C20 addition. The crenellations to the rear wings were added in the early C20. To the north are the two service blocks, each having a hipped roof, and mullioned windows with hoodmoulds; some change has occurred to the fenestration of the north elevation of the north-west block since the mid-C20, with a new central window to the first floor, and the enlargement of the ground-floor window. Between these two windows, at the centre of the north elevation, the rear entrance is set back within a single-storey block fronted by a small crenellated porch; further back rises the two-storey main house, with a large pointed-arched with trefoil tracery lighting the stair hall. At the north-west corner of the building, the two-storey block with large upper windows lighting the reading room, and an outside stair to a north entrance; this block is thought to have undergone some rebuilding in the C20.

INTERIOR: the vaulted eastern porch is fitted with panelled benches, and leads, through oak double doors with linenfold panels and trefoil traceried glazing beneath a corresponding fanlight, to the reception hall, which has an original ribbed ceiling with bosses. The octagonal stair hall, entered through a reception hall, is a showpiece of Gothic stonework, having a shallow ribbed vault with a central boss of oak leaves, surrounded by glazed panels. The corbels are foliate, as are the capitals to the compound piers of the doorway leading from the reception hall to the stair hall. An octagonal arcade encloses the ground-floor passageway, and supports the gallery; the pointed-arched openings are separated by trefoil-panelled buttresses carrying the gabled landing newels above, which have foliate finials. Between paired buttresses are trefoil-headed lancet niches. The outer wall of the arcade has C20 Gothic timber panelling, which continues up the stair and around the gallery. The start of the Imperial stair is marked by tall trefoil-panelled and gabled newel piers; the iron balustrade taking the form of Gothic tracery with trefoiled lancets and quatrefoils continues around the gallery. The stair divides at the large traceried window with C20 glazing, containing armorial and memorial stained glass associated with the Hunt, Mason, and Hitchens families – all owners of the house in the C19 and C20. Beneath it, on the half landing, a small simple fireplace is incorporated in the stonework. The drawing room and study are entered from the reception hall, through openings with original trefoil panelling. The drawing room, to the south-east, has a ceiling in the form of a shallow 'vault', having radiating ribs with foliate bosses and corbels; the linen-fold panelling, of uncertain date, is not original to the room. The elaborate carved stone chimneypiece, with an ornate ogival hood to the opening, and carved saints beneath a castellated parapet, is thought to be Continental C15: this corresponds with the description in an 1845 inventory of a ‘Handsome carved castellated statuary & black & gold Chimney Piece’. The aperture to the original east window has trefoil panelling, and is framed by ribbing. The ceiling of the study is similar to that in the drawing room, as is the decoration of the east window aperture, though here there are quatrefoils above the panels; this room has late-C20 Gothic panelling and chimneypiece. Entered from the stair hall, the dining room to the south has early-C20 decoration in C18 style, with plaster mouldings including an oval of fruit and flowers to the ceiling, and swags to the frieze, and there are carved drops of fruit and flowers set within some panels. The chimneypiece and doorcase have matching early-C18 details, with bolection moulded architraves and swag and head friezes. This room saw some reconfiguration at the time of the creation of the bay window, and the room's decoration. The morning room, to the north, was probably decorated at the same time, and has an elaborate Jacobethan ceiling of geometrical ribbing. The panelling in this room is of limed oak, with Corinthian columns framing a bolection-moulded marble fireplace; the finely carved detailing to the pulvinated laurel frieze and the spandrels of the inset south cupboard suggests the incorporation of some reclaimed late-C17 material. On the first floor, the lancet panelling of the octagonal gallery has a timber frieze with Classical scenes of uncertain date above. The columned doorframes leading to small lobbies preceding the bedrooms are thought to be original. The central, eastern bedroom is entered directly from the gallery. The ceiling of this room is similar to those on the ground floor, with radiating ribs, corbels and central boss, and the opening to the balcony has lancet panelling; the room contains a number of reclaimed fittings. The remaining bedrooms in the principal portion of the house retain few visible original features.

The rear service wings retain no original features on the ground floor, or in the bedrooms on the first floor. At the north-west corner is the library, which has an old stone bolection-moulded fireplace, and late-C20 panelling. Leading from this, further north, is the reading room, a late-C20 conversion, with late-C20 fittings, including panelling, a stone fireplace, and a queen-post roof with cusped windbraces.

We have considered whether powers of exclusion under s.1(5A) of the 1990 Act are appropriate, and consider they are not.


Compton Castle was constructed for John Hubert Hunt c 1820-5. The Hunt family appears to have had an estate centred on Compton Pauncefoot since the mid-C17; John Hubert Hunt inherited the estate from his father in 1807. He never married and it was not until his later years that he created the new house and park. The suggestion in the current list description that the house incorporates part of a C17 house is refuted by the map evidence of an 1800 survey of the estate, which shows the site of the castle as open farmland. Following Hunt's death in 1830, the house was rented to a succession of tenants; the 1831 advertisement notes that the house 'although of modern creation is in strict accordance with the ancient style of Architecture' and that the surrounding gardens and parkland, complete with cascades and waterfalls, are 'so beautiful as really to be an Elysium', whilst William Phelps, in his 1836 History of Somerset illustrated 'a castellated mansion delightfully situated in a small amphitheatre of wood', going on to describe the house thus: 'The building consists of a massy square embattled tower, with wings; the angles surmounted by turrets; with a large bay window in each apartment; and a handsome entrance porch in front of the tower. The entrance hall and staircase are highly ornamented in a Gothic style, and the coup d’oeil on entering the castle is particularly striking and grand. The hall is an octagon, with a groined ceiling; having a gallery round it, communicating with a handsome staircase right and left. A row of slender clustered columns with pointed arches support the gallery, and a large pointed window with stained glass throws a sombre light over the whole. The apartments are of a moderate size, and unite the essential qualities of a mansion, viz. Comfort and convenience.'

Hunt's architect is generally thought to have been John Finden, who exhibited drawings for the ‘Elevation of a House now building for J. H. Hunt Esq, at Compton Pauncefoot’ at the Royal Academy in 1821. Finden, who worked in both London and Somerset, was not prolific; Compton Castle is his only known extant building, and was probably his most significant commission, others including municipal buildings and more modest private houses. The similarities between Compton Castle and the work of Robert Smirke – particularly at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire – have been noted (Colvin, 2008, 375), and it is likely that Finden was aware of Smirke's designs; there were professional connections between the Finden and Smirke families. Finden is not known to have worked on landscape commissions, and it must be supposed that Hunt was closely involved in the creation of the landscape, or possibly that another designer was employed.

The house appears to have remained largely unaltered during the course of the C19; tenants generally had the building, furnished, on leases of three or five years, and presumably would not have been in a position to undertake works in their own right. However, certain garden features mentioned in 1831 but now no longer in evidence may have disappeared during that time. The Husey-Hunt family eventually sold the house in 1911; the next owner, William Peake Mason, later Lord Blackford, had substantial alterations and additions made under the direction of architect Charles Biddulph-Pinchard. Further alterations were made to the interior of the house, and to the grounds, by subsequent owners, from the 1960s onwards.

Reasons for Listing

Compton Castle is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: an engaging Gothick castle of the 1820s by John Finden, a minor architect, with an effective symmetrical composition, enlivened by neo-Norman and Early English details. The early-C20 additions by Charles Biddulph-Pinchard are sympathetic and add to the building's interest;
* Interior: the centrally-planned interior, built around a fine vaulted hall, is well-handled; the hall is essentially intact, whilst other rooms retain original features in keeping with the overall conception of the castle, as well as high-quality later decoration;
* Group value: as part of a wider contemporary estate, conceived as a whole; the house is set within a Picturesque landscape, registered at Grade II, with a listed grotto and cascade, whilst the curtain walls, stable block, garden buildings and lodges are also listed at Grade II.

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