The original undefended manor house was built in the mid-14th century and consisted of a hall flanked by solar and service rooms at each end - these were rebuilt in the later Middle Ages. The fortress-like front was added in about 1520 by John Gilbert. The central hall was in ruins by the 18th century, but was faithfully reconstructed in the 1950s.
Compton Castle's most famous inhabitant was Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539–1583), coloniser of Newfoundland and half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh; legend has it that Raleigh smoked the first pipe of tobacco in Britain while visiting Sir Humphrey. The castle was home to the Gilbert family until the estate was sold in 1785 whereupon it gradually declined until a descendent bought it back in 1931; he gave it to the National Trust in 1951 on the condition that members of the family should continue to occupy the castle. They still do, and administer it for the Trust.
The castle was used as a location for the filming of the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility. Its Great Kitchen is notable for the insight it gives into medieval domestic life, and its small formal gardens are enclosed by a stone curtain wall.
There is another Compton Castle at Compton Pauncefoot, Somerset.
- Map sources for Compton Castle