Bickleigh Castle is a remnant of an important fortified house set in a beautiful position among woods in the valley of the River Exe.
The house is at the centre of a group of buildings of various ages.
The oldest is the chapel which has a 12th century doorway and a 15th century wagon roof and is claimed to be the oldest complete building in Devon. In the Middle Ages this chapel would have been used by the Bickleigh family but in the early-15th century the estate passed to a junior branch of the Courtney family of Powderham Castle.
They were probably responsible for the imposing stone gatehouse, which is the main survival of the medieval domestic buildings.When it was built the gatehouse led into a courtyard with a hall and ancillary buildings but today their exact position is uncertain. The gatehouse is three storeys high with a rib-vaulted passageway on the ground floor. This is flanked by an Armoury, which has a collection of Cromwellian armour, and a Guard Room with 17th century furniture and paintings including a portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria.
The large chamber above (the present Great Hall) has late-16th or early-17th century mullioned windows. The furniture dates mostly from 17th century but the screen was purchased in the 20th century.
In the early 16th century Bickleigh Castle passed by marriage to Sir Thomas Carew (from another important west country family).
During the Civil War the Carew family paid for their Royalist sympathies when most of the residential buildings at Bickleigh were destroyed by Parliamentarian troops under General Fairfax. After the Restoration Sir Henry Carew repaired the gatehouse and built the thatched building on the north side of the former courtyard which now contains 16th and 17th century furniture. The Garden Room beyond this has a carved overmantel of 1626 which was probably moved here from one of the ruined parts of the house.
After Sir Henry's death in 1681 the estate passed to his daughter who was married to a distant cousin, Sir Thomas Carew of Haccombe. From this time until the early 20th century parts of the castle were used occasionally as the residence for younger sons of the Carew family who served as rectors at Bickleigh church. The rest of the buildings were used as cottages and farm stores. The Carew family sold the estate in 1923.
At this time the present picturesque moated gardens were laid with a charming set of Italian gates by the side of the road.
The present owner purchased Bickleigh Castle in 1970 and created a museum of domestic objects and a display of World War II escape and espionage equipment.