The History of Berry Pomeroy Castle

The 'De Pomeroy' name goes back farther from when the castle we see today was first built. In the Domesday book the name Ralph de Pomeroy, one of the original Norman followers of the Conquerer is listed as Manor of the Land. It is said that Raplh decided against establishing himself on an existing site and instead ventured off into the accompanying woodland to locate the most inaccessible area he could find. Early documents show that this area was listed as a 'messuage' (meaning a family dwelling) or 'capitol messuage', the home where the estate owner lived.

Although no evidence can be found, it is thought that the original castle that first stood there was most likely built in a 'scarped and palisaded' shell-keep style and made from wood. It is in 1496 that the first reference to the castle as it stands today is first mentioned. It appears when Elizabeth, widow of Richard Pomeroy, was assigned a third of both the castle and Capital Messuage. The document that states this makes it clear that these buildings were on different sites.

The original building was comprised of the gatehouse, gunports, Lady Margaret's Tower and the outer wall and evidence suggests that this was built in the late 15th century, making it one of the last tradition, personal castles ever to have been built in the UK. No trace of any earlier settlement or building has yet to be discovered.

It was during the time of the Pomeroy's inhabitance that one of the castles most tragic stories occured. Two sisters lived within the castle; Margaret and Eleanor de Pomeroy. Legend says that both ladies fell in love with the same man but the object of their desire only had eyes for Margaret. Eleanor, insanely jealous, lured Margaret to what is now known as St. Margaret's Tower and imprisoned her, leaving her to starve to death.

In 1547 the castle was bought from Thomas Pomeroy by Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and brother to Jane Seymour, wife of King Henry VIII (when King Henry VIII died the follower to the crown was his 9 year old son, Edward VI. Edward Seymour was declared Lord Protector to the young king). He bought many properties but didn't visit many, Berry Pomeroy probably included. In 1552 Edward Seymour fell out of favour with the Royal Coury and was beheaded on a charge of treason. For 6 years the property was laid forfeit to the crown until Edward's son, also called Edward managed to regain ownership of the building after complex property dealings.

It was at this time that the castle underwent massive regeneration. Edward had the earlier Pomeroy buildings demolished so that the only remains of the earlier castle were the gatehouse, ramparts, Margarets Tower and the old Kitchen and had the huge, four-storey mansion house built at the North end of the courtyard. Building went on from around 1560 to 1580. It's said that this building work cost £20,000 - a small fortune in those days. After Edward died in 1593 his son, also called Edward, added the North Range to the castle at around 1600. Edward died in 1613 and there is a monument to him in the nearby village church.

His son, Edward, was Governer of Dartmouth, an MP and was knighted in 1603. During the civil war he sided with the Royalists and was duly captured. During his imprisonment in London Berry Pomeroy Castle was raided by Parliamentarians. The estate was sequestered by Oliver Cromwell but Sir Edward was allowed to stay at the castle until his death in 1659. His son Edward was also a Royalist and, like his father, was imprisoned in Exeter until 1655. After Edwards death in 1688 an inventory was drawn up of the castle. This indicates that the castle contained around 50 rooms although after years of neglect the building was not in good shape. There was no money to fund repairs or to complete unfinished work due to the vast expense Edward had incurred in the Royalist cause.

His son, Edward was aged 55 when his father died and was MP for Exeter. Because of the location of the castle and how badly damaged it was he preferred to live at Bradley House in Wiltshire. It is said that Edward stripped the castle of useful material to fund the rebuilding of Bradley House which was completed in 1710.

Legend tells us that the castle was further ravaged by fire around this time, ultimately leaving it in a state of disrepair. Certainly by 1701 the castle was in ruin as an author named John Prince, a visitor to the castle in its heyday, wrote 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…".

For nearly three centuries the castle was left to slowly crumble away. Residents of the nearby village took stone and material from the building to build their own houses. This can be seen. As you approach the castle you pass a small collection of buildings just before you drive onto the track that takes you up to the castle. The window decorations on these buildings are identical to the ones remaining at the castle.

It wasn't until 1977 that the castle was saved. It was taken over by English Heritage who restored and strengthed the castle to how it looks today. It was during this restoration in 178 that there was an original, surviving wallpainting that dated back to the 15th century. This wallpainting, hidden by years of vegetation growth, shows 'The Adoration of the Magi'.

The castle is a Grade 1 listed building and in 2008 the original Kitchen area that had been closed off from the public for many years was finally reopened.