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Berry Pomeroy Castle
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Berry Pomeroy
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Berry Pomeroy Castle directions
About two and a half miles from Totnes bridge, by a very uphill road,{ the A385 Paignton bound} is one of the best known and probably the most picturesque of Devon's Castles. Berry Pomeroy owes its name to one of the original followers of the Norman conqueror, Ralph de Pomeroy, who appears in the Doomsday Book, {1086} as lord of 106 manors within the county.

Rather than being built on an old site, which was common at the time, as illustrated by his neighbour Judhael of Totnes, he elected to build Berry Pomeroy on a remote site within the woods, on a fairly inaccessible knoll above a deep-sunk tributary brook of the river Dart.This can be explained after looking at the castle, and determining the defensibility of the building. The tributary ravine protects a good half of the Northern side of the building, the Southern side, the most exposed face of the building, is protected by high walls and a gatehouse of exceptional solidity, From which rise two high hexagonal towers.

Above the portcullis chamber is a fine carved shield with the lion rampant of Pomeroy, this can also be seen well displayed on the tombs in the parish church, a mile outside the woods. Complete reconstruction took place in the twelfth century, although most of the existing buildings date from much later.

The Pomeroys were among the most powerful of the early Devonian feudal houses, and had the unusual luck to continue there lineal succession for 500 years. This was indeed more from luck than anything else. Henry de Pomeroy was a resolute supporter of King John Lackland, in his rebellion against Richard 1. Having been forced to flee from Berry, he seized the impregnable Cornish rock of St Michael, and held it until all hope was lost. He escaped forfeiture of his lands and riches by committing suicide, having first assigning his lands to his sons. Local legend has it that his method of suicide was quite gruesome, having blindfolded his horse, he rode the animal out through the postern, and down the precipitous north side of the castle, ending up in the ravine below suffering from a broken neck. This story, although colourful, is however quite untrue, as history tells us that Henry had his surgeon bleed him to death, apparently an ancient Roman tradition.

The Pomeroys endured until the early years of the reign of King Edward VI, an era marked by religious wars. Sir Thomas Pomeroy, at that time the head of the house, was one of the main supporters of the Catholic party in the West Country. It is believed that during the early part of the Protectorate of Lord Somerset, an infamous land grabber of the time, undue pressure, maybe even some degree of blackmail was used to 'Persuade' Sir Thomas to part with his lands. Legend has it that Sir Thomas saved his head after the unsuccessful Prayer Book rebellion of 1549 , by signing over Berry to Somerset. However, it would appear that this cannot be true, since , by 1549, Somerset had been deposed, and was residing in the Tower . Somerset was released from the Tower, and enjoyed two more years at liberty until he was attained and executed by his rival John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. During this time, he made over Berry to his eldest son, Edward Seymour, the child of his first wife, Catherine.

Edward and his descendants for two hundred years became lords of Berry Pomeroy, and certain other Devonshire lands, and Baronets after the time of James 1.

During the early part of the Seymour reign, considerable changes where made to the buildings. In the centre of the old castle walls was erected the magnificent Tudor building, nowadays the most eye-catching of the site. It was a mansion built for light and convenience, with enormous mullioned windows,
which occupy more than half of its frontage. There are long galleries and spacious reception rooms, so common in the buildings of the time.


Apparently, the interior decorations were elaborate, almost to the point of being ostentatious, even for the time. Mantelpieces of polished Marble instead of freestone, fluted Corinthian pillars, cornices of wreathed fruit and flowers, in high gilt, ceilings of curiously figured plaster, paneling of precious woods.
The building is said to have cost £20,000, a great deal of money for the time. According to the author of ' Worthies of Devon', himself an eighteenth century vicar of Berry, 'The whole was never brought to fruition, as the west side was never begun'.

Five generations of Seymour's lived at Berry, Knights and afterwards baronets, prominent within the noble families of Devon. The English civil war brought harm to Berry, as it did to many castles at the time. The walls were 'slighted', and the residence suffered considerable damage. It must have been still inhabitable in 1688, as Sir Edward Seymour brought William of Orange there on his march from Torbay to Newton Abbot. It would appear that Edward was the last resident of Berry, and he spent his later years at his residence at Maiden Bradley in Somersetshire. Indeed, that would appear to be the place of his death.

History tells us that the roofs of Berry succumbed to a lightening strike, and were fired, and that the owner, considering it rather remote, would not go to the expense of repair. Three hundred years of wind and rain have done their worst, and the once magnificent building is now a picturesque skeleton of its former self, showing the sky through mullioned ribs.

When wandering around the site of the old castle and manor house, take in the atmosphere, and try to imagine the intrigue and skulduggery that went on during its heyday, and then maybe, just maybe, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the many ghosts that patrol the walls. For anybody with an interest in history, this is a must.

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Berry Pomeroy Castle

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