Berry Pomeroy Castle (1915)


Author(s): Whitley. H. Michell Origin: DA Transactions
Topic(s): buildings and castles Year published: 1915
Location(s): Berry Pomeroy Pages: 285-293
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By Mr H. Michell Whitley.

(Read at Exeter, 21st July, 1915.)

Amongst the castles of Devon, two stand out pre-eminent for the magnitude of the ruins and beauty of situation, Berry Pomeroy and Okehampton.

Each is built on a rocky spur of the hills, overlooking a lovely valley, and each is encircled with finely timbered woods, and this is especially the case with Berry Pomeroy, which is renowned for the magnificent trees overshadowing the glen through which the approach road runs.

A full description of Okehampton Castle is given by Dr. E. H. Young in the Devonian Year Book for 1914 and 1915, but no detailed architectural description of Berry Pomeroy Castle has heretofore been published, and the object of the present paper, based on an accurate survey on a large scale by the author, is to supply this much-needed want.

Ralph de Pomeroy, one of the knights in William the Conqueror’s army, was liberally rewarded for his services by the gift of fifty-six manors in Devon; the entry in the Exeter Domesday with reference to Berry is as follows : —

“Ralf has a Manor called Beri (Berry) which Alric held on the day on which King Edward was alive and dead, and it paid geld for two hides. These can be ploughed by 25 ploughs. Thereof Ralf has 1 hide and 4 ploughs in demesne, and the villeins have 1 hide and 17 ploughs. There Ralf has 45 villeins, 17 bordars, and 16 serfs, and 8 head of cattle, and 16 swine, and 560 sheep, and 100 acres of wood, and 10 acres of meadow, and 40 acres of pasture. This is worth 12 pounds, when Ralf received it 16 pounds.”

The name of the manor, which means a fortified place, shows that the English owner Alric had a castle there for his residence, and the protection of his tenants and flocks and herds in time of war.

Such a castle in Saxon times generally consisted of a motte or mound thrown up from an encircling ditch, and a bailey or base-court, enclosed by a mound and ditch, the defences being completed by a timber stockade, whilst the houses were of the same material.

Many of these castles retained their timber stockades until the thirteenth century, Barnstaple Castle being a Devon instance, the masonry walls of which were being built in 1273.

The castle and manor continued in the Pomeroy family until the middle of the sixteenth century, when Sir Thomas Pomeroy headed the Western rebellion. Pole, in his description of Devon, states that “Sir Thomas consumed his estate and decayed his house, he sold Berry with other his lands unto Edward Seamor, Duke of Somerset, which Duke gave this Berry unto the Lord Edward which he had by his first wife,” and the castle has remained in the Seymour family ever since.

There are no existing remains of the fortified house of Alric the Englishman. Probably a deep ditch, which is now filled up, was cut across the narrow neck of land connecting the rocky knoll on which the castle is built with the steep hillside on the south; and the enclosure, measuring about 250 feet square, was surrounded by a stout stockade, which probably remained, as at Barnstaple, until the Pomeroys built their castle about the end of the thirteenth century.

There is extant a survey of the lands and tenements of Henry de la Pomeroy in Berry, in the county of Devon, dated 13 March, 1292. At this date there was at Berry a hall with the chambers, the kitchen, grange, other buildings, and gardens, worth 40s. per year. A dovecot worth 2s. 6d. a year; also a park worth yearly in pannage and herbage one mark and no more because it is overdone with wild beasts. Henry de la Pomeroy came of age in this year, and the evidence of the oldest part of the existing ruins would show that he erected the castle.

The boundary of the park can still be traced, enclosing an area which measures on the Ordnance Map 340 acres.

On the 9th Dec., 12th Henry VII (1497), the escheator of Devon held an inquisition at Bery Pomerey to settle the portion of Elizabeth, late the wife of Richard Pomerey, Knight, and assigned for her third of the honor and castle of Bury, a great chamber beyond the castle gate, with the cellar on the left of the gate, with two chambers beyond, and belonging to the same great chamber. A kitchen, a larderhouse, and a chamber beyond the kitchen. For her third of the capital Messuage of the Manor of Bury Pomery, a pantry and buttery up to the chamber there called “Stuerdes chambre” (the Steward’s Chamber), with a moiety of the Bakehouse, Bruhouse, Keychen, and Larderhouse: a stable for horses with a loft built over it, a barn called Barle barne, and a house called ” Kystelys Barne.”

Also a third part of the park of Bury Pomerey for a third part of the deer, containing by estimation 30 acres of land, viz. from “Slade Gate” to “William Tud is Style” to the west up to “Sonde Gate,” and from “Sonde Gate” up to the said “Slade Gate.”

The park was surrounded by a wall about seven feet high, built of excellent coursed rubble dry masonry. Three-fourths of this wall still stand, but where it ran through what is now woodland, the roots of the trees have overthrown it.

The existing ruins are of two distinct periods; first, those of the castle of the Pomeroys built in the last quarter of the thirteenth century, and secondly, those of the stately mansion built by the Seymours about the middle of the sixteenth century. The original castle probably consisted of three towers and a gatehouse, placed at each angle and connected by curtain walls; the work remaining is the gatehouse and St. Margaret’s tower, with the southern curtain wall joining them and a portion of the western curtain wall from the gatehouse northwards, the whole of the remainder being cleared away for the erection of the sixteenth-century buildings.

The Reverend John Prince, Vicar of Berry Pomeroy, in his Worthies of Devon, thus describes the castle ruins ad they existed about the year 1700 : —

“Berry Pomeroy Castle is situate in a deer park upon a rock on a rising ground from the east and north over a pleasant rivulet running through the park aforesaid which empties itself into the Hemms at Little Hempston.

“It was a castle standing a mile distant towards the east from the parish church of Bery aforesaid. What it was in its antique forme can hardly be calculated from what at present remains standing, which is only the front facing the south in a direct line of about 60 cloth yards in length. The gate standeth towards the west end of the front, over which carved in moor stone is yet remaining Pomeroy’s Arms. It had therefore a double portcullis, whose entrance is about 12 feet in height and 30 feet in length, which gate is turretted and embattled, as are the walls yet standing home to the east end thereof, where answereth yet in being a tower called St. Margaret’s, from which several gentlemen of this county antiently held their lands. Within this is a large quadrangle, at the north and east side whereof the honourable family of Seymour (whose possession now it is) built a magnificent structure at the charges as fame relates it of upwards of twenty thousand pounds but never brought it to perfection; for the west side of the quadrangle was never begun. What was finished may be thus described. Before the door of the great hall was a noble walk whose length was the breadth of the court, arch’d over with curiously carved free-stone supported on the fore part by several stately pillars of the same stone of great dimensions after the Corinthian order, standing on pedestals, having cornices or friezes finely wrought, behind which were placed in the wall several seats of frieze-stone also cut into the form of an escallop shell, in which the company when aweary might repose themselves. The apartments within were very splendid, especially the dining-room which was adorned, besides paint, with statues and figures cut in alabaster with admirable art and labour; but the chimney-piece of polished marble, curiously engraven, was of great cost and value. Many other of the rooms were well adorned with mouldings and fretwork; some of whose marble clavils were so delicately fine that they would reflect an object true and lively from a great distance. In short the number of the apartments of the whole may be collected hence; if report be true, that it was a good day’s work for a servant but to open and shut the casements belonging to them. Notwithstanding which ’tis now demolished and all this glory lieth in the dust buried in its own ruines, there being nothing standing but a few broken walls which seem to mourn their own funeral.”

Passing into details, the annexed plan of the ruins is reduced from an accurate survey to a scale of 8 feet to an inch and shows Pomeroy’s work in black, whilst that of the Seymours is hatched. The court of the inner ward is about 80 feet from east to west, and varies from 70 to 86 feet north to south. The gatehouse is 33 feet wide and 31 feet deep, besides which it has two flanking towers with semi-sexagon projections of 5 feet in the front on each side of the entrance.

The entrance passage is 31 feet long, 8 feet 6 inches wide, and about 11 feet high, with a plain barrel vault. There was originally a ditch, probably dry, across the narrow neck of land joining the castle to the hill on the south; but this has been filled up, possibly at the time of the additions and alterations carried out by the Seymours.

There was an exterior drawbridge, the sockets for the axles and the holes carrying the beams for the lifting chains still remain. Ten feet within this is the groove for the portcullis, opening into the chamber above. Here, as in many other instances, the portcullis groove stops about a foot above the door sill, showing that the spikes at the lower end of the grate were of this length.

15 feet 6 inches beyond the portcullis was the portal, closed by a gate opening inwards. This entrance has been lengthened for a distance of 11 feet 6 inches beyond the gate with an inner portal arch, this work apparently dating from alterations carried out by the Seymours. The arch is of rough masonry, and there are no “meurtrières” or openings into the chambers above through which spears could be thrust or missiles thrown on besiegers below.

The parapet between the two towers flanking the gateway is however carried on an arch between the angles of the towers, in advance of the outer wall of the gatehouse, forming a machicolation or opening behind, through which missiles could be dropped in front of the drawbridge on besiegers; these machicolations were not built in England before the latter part of the thirteenth century.

Prince states that over the gateway the arms of Pomeroy are carved in moor stone, and Lysons says that he was informed that they still remained in 1774, although then overgrown with ivy; at present no shield is to be seen.

The parapet connecting the flanking towers is battlemented, and the latter, although plain now, had battlements as shown in Buck’s drawing taken about 1734.

Over the entrance is an opening for a window, now robbed of its mullions. In Buck’s drawing it is shown as complete, of two lights with geometrical tracery of the Decorated period in the head under a pointed arch, dating the work at about the last quarter of the thirteenth century.

The basement floor of the two towers is at the level of the ground outside.

On each side of the entrance passage is a chamber 6 feet 3 inches wide, with semicircular ends occupying the angular projections of the towers. There are three loopholes for cross-bows in both chambers, which are approached by stone steps from the portcullis room above. At the rear of the western tower is a small porter’s lodge opening into the inner ward, lit by a small one-light window.

The portcullis or guard room is 22 feet 6 inches wide and 28 feet long and was built or remodelled by the Seymours in the sixteenth century.

It is divided into two parts by two octagonal granite columns, and arches carrying a wall with corbels for the roof, the inner portion occupying a width of 16 feet and the outer the towers.

There is a fireplace without hood in the centre of the inner wall, an opening for a large window on the east of the fireplace and a loophole on the west, both looking into the inner ward, and three loopholes in the angles of the towers, with the opening for a window over the entrance already mentioned. The access to this room is by a door with a four-centred sixteenth-century arch in the eastern wall opening on to the curtain walk close to the vice by which it is approached from the inner ward.

In the vice leading to the eastern chamber below there is also a square opening for musketry which commands the rampart walk.

The side walls of the towers, which are one storey higher, are carried by cross arches from the columns resting on corbels in the walls.

The two upper chambers are inaccessible, that on the east was reached by steps from the curtain wall. It has a fireplace without hood in the south wall and an opening to give access to the machicolation over the entrance. This could also be reached from the roof of the portcullis chamber, on to which the stairs from the curtain walk opened through an archway, now destroyed.

The upper storey of the western tower has no fireplace, but a couple of loopholes widely splayed inside in the angle wall. These towers, now open, were originally roofed with large slate slabs, portions of which remain. A passage in the western curtain wall, lit by a couple of loops, leads to a turret, in which is a garderobe rudely semicircular, lit by three loops. A vice in this turret leads to the top of the curtain wall, which is 6 feet thick and 26 feet high above the inner ward level. The curtain wall is level with the roof of the guard room, the entrance towers rising about 12 feet above it.

The tower at the south-eastern angle of the castle, called by Prince “Saint Margaret’s Tower,” has a semi-circular projection in front extended with straight walls behind, is 22 feet 6 inches long by 17 feet broad within. The gorge wall fills up the angle of meeting of the curtains and contains the entrance door.

The basement floor below the level of the inner ward, but above the ground outside, is approached by a flight of steps from the room above, mainly cut in the solid rock ; the roof is arched in rough rubble masonry. There is a loophole and two small windows, an angle aumbry, and a rude bracket in the north wall.

The ground floor is lit by two single-light windows heavily barred, and has a garderobe recessed in the wall; there is also a loophole in the vice to the basement. Another vice close to the entrance door leads to the room on the first floor; a good deal of the original plaster remains on the walls. The first-floor room had a wooden floor, a fireplace in the east wall, a three-light window in the west, and two single-light ones in the east and south walls, all heavily barred. The vice opened on to the curtain wall by steps from the north-west corner, the vice of the door remaining. Buck’s view shows a second storey then existing above the first floor, the tower being crowned with battlements.

The curtain wall between this tower and the gatehouse is 12 feet high on the outside, 8 feet above the rampart walk inside, 4 feet 6 inches thick, and loopholed. The inner parapet battlement is two feet thick, and the rampart walk between 15 feet wide. All this work from the garderobe turret to Saint Margaret’s Tower is Pomeroy’s, built, as already stated, between 1275 to 1300, but rebuilt and altered in places by the Seymours in the sixteenth century.

Passing now to the Seymours’ buildings, the north side of the inner ward was occupied by the hall, which was a noble building 90 feet in length and 26 feet in width; along the whole front of this and the adjacent serving room to the west ran the colonnade described by Prince. Numerous fragments of carved stone have been turned up here, and amongst them a corbel in the shape of a ram’s head.

The entrance doorway was in the centre of the south wall opening under the colonnade, the jambs being still in position; at the east end of the hall was the dais, which extended all across the upper end, and was probably one step above the general floor level; the fireplace, of which the hearth of slate on edge only remains, is in its usual position a little below the dais.

The dais was lit by an oriel window in the north wall, which was also used for retiring into for private conversation; this was semicircular and 12 feet in diameter, its sill being at a short height above the dais level. In the north wall of the hall were also three four-light transomed windows, the sills of which are 9 feet above the floor line, and there is also a small two-light window beneath the westernmost. Under the western end of the building is a cellar. The walls of the hall are so ruined and ivy-clad that it is difficult to say definitely what the internal arrangements were; but from the position of a square pillar in the cellar, which corresponds with the socket for a beam in the north wall, it is probable that a timber partition crossed the hall a little to the west of the great doorway, shutting off the “screens” or passage behind for the use of the servants; it would be, however, more usual if the hall doorway opened into the screens, the partition dividing it from the hall being a little to the east of it, access being obtained by a couple of doors.

The kitchen block adjoins the hall on the west, forming the north-west angle of the castle; between it and the hall is a room 26 feet long and 14 feet wide, used probably as a serving-room or larder, lit by a large window in the north wall, now broken down. Beyond this was the kitchen 36 feet long and 27 feet wide, with two fireplaces in the south wall 11 feet 6 inches and 9 feet in width respectively, the smaller of which has an inset oven. The north wall is mainly gone; there is a blocked doorway and the foundations of an oriel window now also blocked in the west wall.

South of the kitchen are two rooms, the westernmost the bakehouse, with two ovens 2 feet 6 inches in diameter, the other room being probably used as a store. This building is three stories in height. The upper stories are inaccessible, without floors, stairs, or roof ; the south wall is toothed at the extremities, clearly showing it was intended to continue the work further towards the gatehouse, an intention which was never carried into effect.

The main block of the Seymour buildings on the eastern side of the inner ward was built around a small central courtyard. The walls of this building are three stories in height and are fairly perfect, with the exception of the northern wall, which has perished. The floors, stairs, and roof are gone, the upper stories being inaccessible.

The principal rooms were on the north, a continuation of the hall overlooking the deep valley below. On the ground and the first floors were two noble rooms 40 feet long and 26 feet wide ; the north wall is almost entirely destroyed, but in the east wall of the ground-floor room is the aperture of a large window, probably of four transomed lights. There is in each of these rooms a fine fireplace 7 feet 6 inches wide in the south wall.

The ashlar work of all the Seymour buildings is of granite with the exception of that of the colonnade which is of Bath stone.

At the north-eastern angle is a curious collection of walls enclosing a triangular space which was approached from above by a ladder and lit by a loophole; this gives access through a four-centred arch of sixteenth-century date to some steps not fully uncovered, which appear to have led to the castle well.

A revetment wall runs outside the south curtain wall from the gatehouse to Saint Margaret’s Tower, enclosing a narrow strip about 10 feet wide. It is continued beyond for a short distance, and then turns northward along the eastern front of the mansion about 30 feet from it, enclosing the steps to the well; there are also traces of an outer wall now modernised along the north front of the castle.

Two reasons are given why the castle fell into ruins, the first being that it was besieged and was dismantled in the Civil War, which Lysons thinks very probable, although he had found not a trace of any siege, and the second that it was struck by lightning and set on fire and never after rebuilt. I am inclined to believe that the latter is correct, as practically the whole of the northern range is in ruins and overthrown, whilst the walls of the western and eastern portions remain intact.