Berry Pomeroy CastleAncient lands, an ancient castle, ancient ghosts? Hmm, possibly. Berry Pomeroy Castle lies within an ancient Deer Park upon a natural outcrop overlooking the Gatcombe Valley. Inhabited by two of the foremost families in Devon region, Berry Pomeroy Castle is now a romantic ruins believed by some to be haunted by ancient spirits.
Berry Pomeroy Castle owes its name to Ralf de Pomeroy, a faithful follower of William the Conqueror. He was rewarded for his valour in the Siege of Exeter with 57 manors. The Pomeroys would go on to become one of the most powerful feudal houses in Devon.
The earliest castle here was probably a scarped and palisaded shell-keep following the contour of the knoll on which it stood. These fortifications were later replaced by stone but most of the Norman remains which you see at Berry Pomeroy today date from the 13th century when Berry Pomeroy Castle was completed for Henry de Pomeroy. Legends at Berry Pomeroy start with Henry's support of a rebellion against Richard I. Forced to flee for his life, local tradition claims he blindfolded his horse and forced him down a precipitous slope at the north of the castle and broke his neck. The truth is just as lurid. In a bid to avoid the forfeiture of the family estates for treason, he ordered the family surgeon to bleed him to death.
The medieval castle of Berry Pomeroy was largely replaced by the middle of 15th century and a gatehouse, rampart terrace and corner towers were also added to refortify the structure. The Catholic Pomeroys enjoyed a strong successive line until the early years of the reign of Edward VI. During this era of change toward Protestantism, Berry Pomeroy Castle was sold to one of Edward's right-hand men, Lord Protector and 1st Duke of Somerset. The sale may have been voluntary or induced by Pomeroy's political and religious associations. Whatever the case, Berry Pomeroy Castle passed into the Seymour family hands and they would retain the property until the maintenance of the property passed into the hands of the English Heritage in 1977.
The Duke of Somerset added a new range of buildings to the complex but was not enjoy them for very long. He was executed shortly after by political rivals. However, he had already made unusual provisions for his titles and properties to be passed to his younger son while his first born was given Berry Pomeroy Castle but disinherited in all other respects. Despite this slighting, Edward Seymour went on to become a great defender of Devon and was also a favourite with Elizabeth I. However, the failure of succession caused a grief not easily forgotten. Over a century later, it is said that Prince William of Orange remarked to Sir Edward Seymour, “I think, Sir Edward that you are of the family of the Duke of Somerset.” The paradoxical retort came quickly, “Pardon me, your highness, the Duke of Somerset is of my family.”.
Succession problems aside, the early Seymour heirs to Berry Pomeroy Castle quickly began a revamp of the old Berry Pomeroy Castle. They cleared part of the interior and erected in its place a magnificent Tudor building, the remains of which are still the most striking part of the castle today. It was a mansion flooded light with huge mullioned widows occupying over half of the frontage. The interior was equally elaborate with marble mantelpieces, fluted Corinthian pillars and paneling shaped from precious woods. The total cost was 20,000 pounds, a staggering amount in the Tudor era. These sumptuous surrounds saw five generations of the Seymours come and go but due to financial constraints works on the north range were never completed. The Seymour family abandoned Berry Pomeroy and moved their main residence to Wiltshire. Although the house was stripped of its furnishings, valuable masonry and lead roof, tradition has recorded a totally different tale. Legend has it that during a prolonged absence of the Seymours, lightning struck and the roofs of Berry Pomeroy Castle were set ablaze. It was never repaired.
On your visit, you'll be able to see the romantic remains of the once splendid Tudor mansion and the 15th century gatehouse, rampart and curtain walls. On the first level of the gatehouse is the chapel with its striking granite arcade. In the eastern tower, don't miss the 16th century wall painting depicting the Three Kings and Christ in the chapel. On the next level lies the guardroom with staircases leading to the basement and its gunports. From the guardroom you could access the rampart and the U-shaped St. Margaret's Tower.
If you're lucky (or unlucky....it's totally a matter of opinion), you may also spot the Blue Lady or the White Lady. The White Lady, haunts the tower and the dungeons. It was in these dark recesses that Margaret Pomeroy was imprisoned by her cousin Eleanor Pomeroy and left to slowly and painfully starve to death. The Blue Lady is an even older relic dating to the Norman era of the castle. It is said that one of the Lords raped his daughter completing the crime by murdering his child 9 months later in one of the upper chambers. If you fail to see either of these two wonderful dames, you may experience a sudden chill, hear spooky thuds and screams, all of which have nothing whatsoever to do with the winds whistling in the open ruins.
Address: Berry Pomeroy Castle
Postcode: TQ9 6NJ
Town/city or near: Totnes
Open daily at 10am from 1st April to 31st October. Closes at 5pm in April, May, June and September, at 6pm in July and August and 4pm in October.