Berry Pomeroy Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are major building remains

NameBerry Pomeroy Castle
Alternative Names
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityDevon
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishBerry Pomeroy

Berry Pomeroy castle is located 1km north-east of the village of Berry Pomeroy and 3km east of Totnes. It is situated on a north-facing slope overlooking a deep, narrow, limestone gorge. The earliest remains now visible on the site date to the late 15th century, when a defended residence with a dry moat was built within a deer park belonging to the Pomeroy family. Prior to this, Berry Pomeroy was the site of a Manor House. The earliest documentary reference to a castle on the site is 1496. It is thought to be one of the last private castles built in England and was particularly strongly defended, intended to repel an attack using artillery. It was built around a central courtyard and comprises a gatehouse and three towers connected by curtain walls. The corner towers and gatehouse all have gun-ports at basement level. The gun-ports were originally intervisible, and provided a continuous line of fire along the defensive dry moat. In 1547, the castle was sold by Sir Thomas Pomeroy to Edward Seymour, first Duke of Somerset. Edward was the Lord Protector to the young King Edward VI, and the brother of Jayne Seymour who was the third wife of Henry VIII. His son (also Edward), known as Lord Seymour, replaced the 15th century domestic buildings with a Tudor mansion, the remains of which survive to a height of four storeys. It was built on a courtyard plan with two wings extending back from a hall range to the curtain wall. Edward's son, Sir Edward Seymour 1st baronet, started a grand scheme of enlargement including an impressive state range on the north-west side, beyond the limits of the old defences. The castle was abandoned between 1688 and 1701 and became well-known as a 'haunted' romantic ruin. In 1977, English Heritage took over the administration of the site. 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 around 1500. (PastScape)

Berry Pomeroy Castle was a defended residence into which was built a Tudor Castle. The first house was built in the late 15th century as a residence for the Pomeroys. Such houses were often the homes of local landowners, and generally comprised a hall, private chambers, service rooms, kitchens and accommodation for retainers arranged around a single or double courtyard. Usually such houses were built of stone and served as both homes and venues in which to entertain. The defended residence at Berry Pomeroy is unusual not only as a rare survival of this class of monument, but as a defended example and because it exhibits a number of architectural features which are good examples of the military technology of the time. Within the earlier defended residence, a Tudor mansion was later constructed and this forms much of what remains visible today. The mansion was constructed in two stages. The earlier stage, which involved the demolition of much of the interior of the 15th century residence, was itself remodelled and enlarged as part of the later prodigy house which was never completed. The earlier stage is of interest because it appears to have been a pioneering example of the high compact unadorned houses that became a feature of later Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture. Berry Pomeroy, in its present form, is a particularly impressive ruin in its Tudor manifestation, and is associated with a notable county family descended from the Great Protector Somerset. Recent excavations have added to our understanding of the site.

Berry Pomeroy Castle which is a Listed Building Grade I, is located about 1km north-east of the village of Berry Pomeroy and 3km east of Totnes. It is situated on a north-facing slope overlooking a deep, narrow, limestone gorge through which the Gatcombe Brook flows from east to west. The earliest remains visible today date from the late 15th century, when a defended residence with dry moat was built within a deerpark belonging to the Pomeroy family. The 15th century domestic buildings were later replaced by a tall, compact Tudor mansion. A scheme to enlarge the mansion and add terraces was started in the late 16th century, but never completed. The monument includes the defences, the mansion, and in a separate constraint area, a well-preserved section of the terraced roadway which led to the mansion from a turning off the road between Totnes and Torquay. The original 15th century defences survive along the south-east side of the site and include a gatehouse, corner tower ('St Margaret's Tower'), and connecting curtain wall. The curtain wall continues for short distances along both the south-west and north-east sides. In addition, there are remnants of another corner tower at the north-east angle, where a stone buttress containing a guardroom extends down the steep valley slope on this side. The guardroom protects a doorway and flight of steps leading from the mansion to the rock face, where it is thought that there was a spring providing fresh water. The corner towers and gatehouse all have gun-ports at basement level. The gun-ports were originally intervisible, and provided a continuous line of fire along a defensive dry moat. Part of the line of the moat is still visible alongside St Margaret's Tower, and another section has been located by excavation outside the gatehouse. The remains of the Tudor mansion stand four storeys high to roof level. The house was built inside the 15th century defences on a courtyard plan and comprised two wings extending back from a hall range to the curtain wall. Soon after, the fourth side of the courtyard was infilled with an additional range. Around the year 1600, a scheme to greatly enlarge the mansion was begun but never finished. A magnificent state range was built along the north-west side of the site, extending beyond the limits of the old defences. This new range contained a hall fronted by a loggia built in the Renaissance style, a kitchen, and a long gallery on the top floor, as well as family and guest apartments. Terraces were begun at both ends of this range and another was planned on its north-west side, overlooking ponds in the valley below, but these were abandoned before completion. Another range of service buildings was planned to extend over the infilled moat along the west of the site, but this was never undertaken. A level area terraced into the lower hillslope to the south-east of the mansion may represent part of a garden, or possibly the site of one of the ancillary buildings which must have existed, but which are not represented amongst the ruins within the castle walls. The earliest documentary reference to a castle at Berry Pomeroy occurs in 1496. There is no firm evidence to indicate occupation on the present site much before this date. In 1547, the castle was sold by Sir Thomas Pomeroy to Edward Seymour, first Duke of Somerset (Protector Somerset). We cannot be sure that the Protector ever visited the site. By contrast, his son Edward, known as Lord Seymour, made Berry Pomeroy his home. It seems likely that it was this Edward who built the courtyard mansion, and his son, Sir Edward Seymour 1st baronet, who started the grand scheme of enlargement. The site was abandoned sometime between 1688 and 1701. The building was then stripped of valuable building materials. The remains enjoyed the reputation of a (haunted) romantic ruin, and have been much visited over the past three centuries. The stonework has been consolidated at various times within this period by the Duke of Somerset's estate workers. English Heritage are currently undertaking repairs. (Scheduling Report)

Ruins of medieval castle with ruins of large Elizabethan house within the walls. Situated on a wooded hill with a steep bluff to the north and a dried moat to the south. Circa 1300 gatehouse, remains of the curtain walls and St Margaret's Tower on the east corner. The Seymour house and offices within the walls to the east were built c.1575 to 1593. Coursed stone with freestone dressings. The gatehouse to the south has a round-arched gateway flanked by large semi-hexagonal towers connected by a flattened arch machicolation on corbels. Above the gateway in the guardroom is a C16 arcade with octagonal piers and chamfered arches. Curtain walls connected to the St Margaret's Tower to east which projects with a semicircular outer wall. Nothing survives of the Crenellation. The group of tall, now freestanding, piers on the north side are probably the remains of the north wing (perhaps the hall) of the Seymour house which is situated on the north east side of the enceinte. The Seymour house, built around a small court, has a symmetrical three-storey, five-bay front with a central doorway and stone mullion four-light windows with hoodmoulds. The principal windows on the first floor are taller with transoms. The outer, north- east, facing wall has mullioned windows and the east corner is crenellated. To the west of the enclosure are the remains of the kitchen, which is all that survives of the north range of the Seymour house.

Berry Pomeroy was acquired by Ralf de la Pomerai in 1066. There is no evidence of a castle here before c.1300, although a Crown survey of 1292 recorded a manor house. In c.1300 the de la Pomerais built the existing fortified castle and in 1548 Sir Thomas Pomeroy sold it to the Lord Protector Somerset whose son, Sir Edward Seymour, built a great mansion within the walls and lived there from 1575 to 1593. Sir Edward Seymour's son, Edward (died 1613) was also responsible for some of the building. Sir Edward Seymour (1633-1708) moved to Maiden Bradley in Wiltshire and Berry Pomeroy Castle was abandoned and in ruins by early C18. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Sometimes suggested as the site of a Norman castle (i.e. Britannia website) but seems to have been a residential hunting lodge in a deer park. This area of Devon did suffer from pirate raids, when people were kidnapped and held for ransom but the impressive defences of the C15 castle seem excessive to counter this threat and quite how these defences were manned is an important question.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSX839623
Latitude50.44921875
Longitude-3.63667011260986
Eastings283900
Northings62310
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright James Stringer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

Calculate Print

Books

  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 449, 459
  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Late Medieval Siege: 1200-1500 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 374
  • Emery, Anthony, 2006, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 3 Southern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 490-2
  • Higham, Robert A., 1999, 'Castles, Fortified Houses and Fortified Towns in the Middle Ages' in Kain, R. and Ravenhill, W., Historical Atlas of South-West England (University of Exeter Press) p. 136-43
  • Salter, Mike, 1999, The Castles of Devon and Cornwall (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 49-51
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 53-4
  • Kelly, F. and Airs, M., 1994, ‘Berry Pomeroy Castle: an interim review of its 16th century development’, in M. Airs (ed), The Tudor and Jacobean Great House  (Oxford)
  • Mildren, James, 1987, Castles of Devon (Bossiney Books) p. 58-63
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 188
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus, 1952, Buildings of England: South Devon p. 49
  • Powley, E.B., 1944, The House of de la Pomerai (Liverpool) esp p. 108-16
  • Ellis, A.C., 1936, Some Ancient Churches around Torquay, with Other Notes on the Respective Parishes (Torquay)
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 98-100
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 23-5 online copy
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 1 (London) p. 473 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 351 online copy
  • Lysons, D. and S., 1822, Magna Britannia Vol. 6 Devon p. cccxlv-cccxlviii online transcription
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 1 p. 58

Antiquarian

  • Risdon, T, 1811 (originally written before 1640), Survey of the County of Devon (London) p. 156, 379 online copy
  • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 113
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1907, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 219 online copy

Journals

  • Brown, S., 1996, 'Berry Pomeroy Castle' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 54 p. 1-335
  • Higham, R.A., 1988, 'Devon Castles: an annotated list' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 46 p. 142-9
  • Higham, R.A., 1982, 'Early Castles in Devon' Château Gaillard Vol. 9-10 p. 101-116
  • Griffiths, D.M. and King, A.C., 1982, Archaeology in Devon p. 33-34
  • Okel, B., 1982, Cornwall Archaeological Society: newsletter Vol. 40 p. 3
  • Griffiths, D.M. and King, A.C., 1981, Archaeology in Devon Vol. 4 p. 25
  • Kenyon, J.R., 1981 'Early Artillery Fortifications in England and Wales: a Preliminary Survey and Re-appraisal' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 138 p. 227
  • Kenyon, J.R., 1977, 'Early Gunports' Fort Vol. 4 p. 76
  • Powley, E.B., 1941, Country Life Vol. 90 p. 1122-5
  • Watkin, H.R., 1927, 'Berry Pomeroy Castle' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 33 p. 136-139
  • Whitley, H.M., 1915, 'Berry Pomeroy Castle' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 47 p. 285-293
  • Worthy, C., 1883, 'Berry Castle and its ancient lords' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 15 p. 426-40 online copy

Guide Books

  • Kightly, C., 2011, Berry Pomeroy Castle (London: English Heritage)
  • Brown, S., 1997, Pomeroy Castle (London: English Heritage)
  • Slade, H.G., 1990, Berry Pomeroy Castle (London: English Heritage)
  • Seymour, D., 1982, Berry Pomeroy Castle (Torquay: D Seymour)
  • Powley, E.B., 1947, Berry Pomeroy Castle (Liverpool)
  • Mortimer, n.d., Berry Pomeroy Castle (Totnes) (more or less worthless)

Primary Sources