St Michael's Mount

Cornwall, England

City/Town/Village: Cornwall
District: Cornwall
County: Cornwall
Latitude/Longitude: 50.1165, -5.47807
Postcode: TR17 0HT
(postcode is for sat-nav purposes only, and may not represent the actual address of the castle)


National Trust

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A monastery existed on St Michael's Mount in the 8th century and in 1042 it became a Benedictine alien priory. In the mid 11th century, it was granted to the French, Mont Saint-Michel, which was an independent Benedictine order. Seized and fortified by Henry de la Pomeray in 1193-4, the Mount was besieged, taken and restored to the monks, by Hubert Walter. In 1337, it was once again seized and fortified by King Edward III and by 1425 it had become a garrisoned fortress. During the War of the Roses, the Lancastrian Earl of Oxford captures the castle and was then besieged for six months in 1472-3. Given to Humphry Arundell at the Dissolution, there was a strong garrison of Royalists present during the Civil War, until it was taken by siege in 1646. Purchased by John St Aubyn in 1659, the construction of a private mansion, absorbed most of the remaining fortified structures. Sadly the only remaining fortifications are near the top of the Mount and consist of two lengths of Tudor curtain wall, with large splayed embrasures and a watch tower on the angle.

St Michael's Mount is a Listed Building. Here's what the official description says about it:

SW 53 SW

1/56 (was part of 9/157) St Michael's Mount


Priory castle, lady chapel and later private house. Circa 1135 built for Bernard of
Le Bec, remodelled in the C14, C15 and remodelled and extended in the circa 1870s by
Piers St Aubyn. Granite rubble with granite dressings. Scantle slate and dry
Delabole slate roofs with gable ends; embattled parapets to most roofs. Dressed
granite chimneys mostly C19, irregularly disposed. Flat roof terraces over much of
the C19 extensions carried on brick vaults.
Plan: irregular plan largely determined by the rocky outcrop on which the building
stands. The earlier domestic parts are within an L-shaped block comprising a south
range perched over a precipitous slope and the west entrance range. The west range
has a projecting tower at either end with the entrance on the left hand side of the
range between the towers. The entrance is within the thickest walling of the castle
and has a portcullis. To the right of the entrance is the Armoury (formerly a hall)
behind which at right angles is the Church of Saint Michael qv (separate item).
Projecting from the left hand tower is a thick buttress, possibly the truncated
remains of an outer entrance or gatehouse. In the outer angle between the west range
and the south range is a square block, probably formerly a tower, with a garderobe on
corbels or machicolations on its left hand side. Behind this block (now Sir John's
Room) is a lobby and behind the lobby, the Library, a C18 remodelling of probably a
former tower with access from it to the church. Adjoining the rear right hand corner
of the Breakfast Room is the former monks refectory, reroofed in the C15, embellished
in the C17 and the C18 and since the C17 known as the Chevy Chase Room. Under this
room is the Garrison room. Throughout the building are varied floor levels and
several straight flights and granite newel stairs linking the floors.
In circa the late C15 a Lady Chapel was built adjoining the north-east corner of the
church; this was remodelled in circa the 1760s and contains the Blue Drawing Rooms.
In circa 1826 the outer defences on the east and north sides were remodelled to
provide walks with granite balustrades around the lady chapel and in front of the
north doorway of the church.
This theme of extending the outer walls was continued in the 1870s when terraces
were added filling the south east angles and north and north west of the church. In
this way, using the steep slopes of the Mount, greatly increased accommodation was
provided (5 floors high at the south east corner, all below the floor level of the
Chevy Chase Room). The south east block comprises reception rooms and chambers over
a basement entrance floor with the floor levels linked by round newel stair turret.
The area north of the church was the service wing, including the kitchen (now the
Museum). Also at this time much of the old fabric was refloored and reroofed with
some new Gothic style windows added to existing openings or to newly cut or enlarged
openings. Above the terrace level there is a link building from the Blue Rooms to
the Long Passage south of the church which leads to a large stair turret in the angle
between the church, the Breakfast Room and the Chevy Chase Room. At the east end of
the Chevy Chase Room (the Smoking Room) there is also some Cl9 rebuilding, including
the addition of an oriel window in the south wall.
Exterior : the west wall contains much early masonry, the central wall is battered
half way up with granite weathering and there is the remains of a corbelled parapet
above the C19 windows. The 4-centred arched doorway is probably C16 and there is a
pistol loop in the tower left of the doorway. Above the doorway are the St Aubyn
Arms (St Aubyn impaling Godolphin) dated 1660. In front of the doorway is an
impressive flight of granite steps.
The south wall is the least altered elevation, rising sheer from the steep side slope
of the mount. The window openings are mostly small with C15 or C19 windows replacing
earlier lancets. To the right of the Garrison Room is an arched opening possibly a
former garderobe outlet.
The rear (east) wall of the west range has some earlier mullioned windows.
The north wall of the Chevy Chase Room has 1 C15 window to the main wall, right, and
C15 window to either side of a small north transept otherwise later windows, the
middle window fitted with fine glass of C15 and later, brought to the Mount in the
The former Lady Chapel has Y-traceried windows fitted with C18 sashes with wide
geometric glazing bars. There are other C18 sashes on the Mount, however, the
similar ones to the library are C19 copies. Some late C19 plaster embellishments
over the windows and to the parapet.
Interior : well described in the National Trust guide pamphlets and in St Michael's
Mount by John St Aubyn, but the principal features are:
Chevy Chase Room : fine C15 arch-braced roof structure; C17 plaster frieze depicting
the Chevy Chase; C17 coat of arms and some fine C18 Gothic style plasterwork. C16
doorway between this room and the Breakfast Room and a doorway to a probably C15
newel stair down to the garrison room below.
The Blue Drawing Rooms have fine C18 Gothic style plasterwork and other Gothic style
details: entrance hall: quatrefoil-on-square plan with vaulted plasterwork. Large
Drawing room: barrel-vaulted ceiling; trefoiled arcade to the cornice; chimneypiece
with ramped pediment to the overmantle and ogee-headed architraves. Small drawing
room: panelled plaster ceiling with modillioned cornice; vaulted plasterwork to the
bay window (east gable end) and unusual chimneypiece with latticed detail and breaks
in the entablature.
For History see : St Michael's Mount, by John St Aubyn.
Other useful sources : the National Trust guide pamphlets; report by Colonel Drewitt;
Borlase drawings and other old pictures displayed at the Mount; History of St
Michael's Mount, by Canon Thomas Taylor (1932); a history of St Michael's Mount by
Canon J.R. Fletcher, edited and completed by Dom John Stephan (1952) and A Guide to
St Michael's Mount with a summary of its history from legendary times, by Miss Joan
Wake, O.B.E. (1934).
St Michael's Mount is unique, there is no other building in England which has such a
remarkable situation. The medieval core is still very prominent and largely intact
in spite of the C19 accretions.

Listing NGR: SW5148229829

Information from British Listed Buildings

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