Berry Pomeroy Castle
Berry Pomeroy Castle consists of a Tudor mansion within the walls of an earlier castle. It is located about a mile north-east of the village of Berry Pomeroy, near Totnes, Devon, England ( grid reference SX839623). It occupies a limestone outcrop that overlooks the deep, wooded, narrow valley of the Gatcombe Brook. Between 1980 and 1996 the castle was subjected to extensive archaeological excavations that have clarified much of its history and overturned previously-held opinions.

History

The Pomeroys
The Pomeroy family had held estates at Berry Pomeroy from Norman times. Early documents refer to a " messuage" or "capital messuage" at Berry. The first reference to a castle appears in 1496, when Elizabeth, widow of Richard Pomeroy, was assigned a third of both the castle and the capital messuage. The document makes it clear that these were on different sites. The design of the gunports in the gatehouse and St. Margaret's Tower, which together with the curtain wall are the oldest parts of the castle, indicates that it was probably built in the late 15th century, making it one of the last traditional personal castles built in the country. The archaeological evidence agrees with this late date: no traces of any earlier buildings were found, and virtually no medieval pottery was recorded. The evidence, therefore, suggests that the stone castle was built in the late 15th century, on a favoured site within the Pomeroy's deer park, not far from their existing manor house. Under the Pomeroys the castle consisted of a dry moat, gatehouse and ramparts surmounted by the curtain wall with buildings disposed around the wall on the inside. Due to the extensive remodelling that took place later, very few archaeological remains survive to show the exact placement of these original buildings. In 1978, a wall painting was discovered in the upper storey of the gatehouse, hidden behind a thick layer of vegetation. It is a representation of the Adoration of the Magi and has been dated to c. 1500.

The Seymours
In 1547 Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector to the young King Edward VI, bought the castle from Sir Thomas Pomeroy. He bought many other properties at around this time, and may never have visited Berry Pomeroy. He fell out of favour with the court and was beheaded on a charge of treason in 1552, upon which all his lands were forfeit to the Crown. It was not until 1558, after complex property dealings, that his son by his first marriage, Sir Edward Seymour, gained title to the castle. He became a considerable landowner and High Sheriff of Devon. Between 1560 and 1580 he removed the earlier Pomeroy buildings inside the castle walls and erected a new four-storey house at the north end of the courtyard. After Sir Edward's death in 1593, his lands passed to his son, another Edward, who added the North Range to the castle in about 1600. In the late 16th century there was concern at the threat of a Spanish invasion and he received a commission as Colonel and he was twice Sheriff for Devon. He died in 1613, two years after being created a baronet. There is a well-preserved monument to him in Berry Pomeroy Church. Sir Edward Seymour, 2nd Baronet, his son, was Governor of Dartmouth and a member of parliament and was knighted in 1603. He was much involved in shipping and lived in style at the castle until the Civil War, when he sided with the Royalists. He was captured and while he was imprisoned in London the castle was raided by Parliamentarians. His estates were sequestered by Cromwell, but he was allowed to stay at the castle, where he died in 1659. His son, another Edward (later the 3rd Baronet), was also a Royalist and was appointed a colonel in 1642. In the latter part of the Civil War he was imprisoned in Exeter and was not released until 1655. After the Restoration in 1660, however, his life took a turn for the better and he was soon a Deputy Lieutenant for Devon. He later became a Vice-Admiral and member of parliament for Totnes. On his death in 1688 an inventory of the castle was drawn up. It indicates that the house then contained around fifty rooms, although it is likely that the buildings were in poor repair, due to the vast expense Seymour had incurred in the Royalist cause. His son, Edward, 4th Baronet, was aged 55 when his father died, and was an earnest politician – he was member of parliament for Exeter and from 1673 Speaker of the House of Commons. Because of Berry Pomeroy's distance from London and the poor condition of the castle, he preferred to live at Bradley House in Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire, which he had also inherited. Although there is no documentary evidence, it is likely that he stripped the castle of useful materials to fund the rebuilding of Bradley House which he completed in 1710. Certainly, Berry Pomeroy Castle was a ruin by 1701 when John Prince, who had known the castle in its heyday, said in his book The Worthies of Devon: …The apartments within were very splendid; especially the dining room, which was adorn'd, besides paint, with statues and figures cut in alabaster 'tis now demolished, and all this glory lieth in the dust…

Today
Today the castle is a grade I listed building. It is still owned by the Duke of Somerset, though it is now administered by English Heritage . There are a number of legends associated with the castle, and it has a reputation of being haunted. The castle is approached by a modern half-mile long wooded drive that runs alongside the original drive which is visible as an earthwork in the adjacent woods. The main carpark is in the quarry that was the source of much of the slate used for the building.

Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator
  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com