Berry Pomeroy Castle, Devon

★★

Walls of the great hall
Exterior walls

Ruins of a four storey Tudor mansion and adjacent north range, within the walls of an older castle, in a secluded, wooded setting on top of a limestone hill
Management
Entry
£6.20 for adults, £3.70 for children
Location
One mile from the village of Berry Pomeroy; 3 miles northeast of Totnes
Photo Tour (19 images) | QTVR | Full Screen QTVR (23 mb)
Berry Pomeroy Castle has a secluded, romantic sitting on a wooded hill in a rather remote and rural part of Devon, above the steep-sided valley of a small stream, Gatcombe Brook, a tributary of the River Hems. The castle was the fortified residence of the ancient de la Pomeroy family, who owned a large area of land hereabouts, and although they had been residing here since shortly after the Norman conquest, their original residence is thought to be a traditional manor, on the site of the modern village of Berry Pomeroy, one mile southwest; work on the new dwelling did not begin until the end of the 15th century. It was amongst the last castles in the country built by private landowners rather than the royal family.

The first fortification consisted of a gatehouse and curtain walls enclosing an approximately rectangular courtyard, with towers at the other three corners and lesser buildings arranged around the inner edge; remnants are the gatehouse and the south-facing wall plus the basement of the east tower. The castle was sold after only a few decades, to Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and it was the Seymour family who built most of the structures seen today. The inner rooms were removed, replaced with a grand, four-storey, Tudor-style mansion which was followed around 1600 by the addition of an even larger north range. The castle flourished for a relatively short time, as it was partly demolished at the end of the 17th century, since its owner, Edward Seymour, the 4th Baronet (fifth in descent from the 1st Duke), desired instead to live at another, inherited residence closer to London; much of the materials were taken away and used to improve that dwelling. The site is still owned by the Dukes of Somerset, however.

The mansion survives nearly to full height though has long since lost the roof and all the upper floors, while the north range is less complete, but still retains much of architectural interest. The castle is a big enough attraction to have a staffed visitor centre and a seasonal cafe, though the out-of-the-way location ensures it is never very busy. About one hour is enough to fully inspect all areas.



Approach


Berry Pomeroy Castle is not so well signposted. The only approach is from the south, along a narrow track to a parking area in a clearing in the forest, site of an old quarry, from where the entrance is a short walk away. The access road forks off Totnes Road, still a lightly travelled route, linking Torbay and Totnes. Several paths explore the surrounding woodland, one descending to a millpond along the brook, though the steeply sloping ground and thick trees to the west, north and east prevent any clear views of the castle exterior from these directions, at least when the trees are in leaf.

The Castle


The cafe and the visitor centre are on one side of a lawn below the south frontage of the castle, which is dominated by the four-storey gatehouse, its entrance passageway flanked by two polygonal towers, and once guarded by a portcullis. Further protected was afforded by the gunslits in each tower. An embankment topped by the curtain wall extends northeast, towards the remains of St Margaret's Tower; the basement and ground floor. The first floor of the gatehouse is accessed by a stone staircase, and inside are some wooden structures, a model of the castle at its peak, and also a faint wall painting depicting the Adoration of the Magi, discovered only recently (1978). The basements of the gatehouse towers may also be entered. Two short lengths of wall that extend north from the gatehouse and St Margaret's Tower are the only other sections from the original castle, built by the Pomeroy family in the late 1400s.



The Mansions


The interior of the castle is dominated by the four floor mansion on the northeast side, mostly built between 1560 and 1580; on the ground floor were the pantry/buttery, kitchen complete with two large ovens, and a great hall, plus an inner courtyard. Doors in the south side lead to the basement of St Margaret's Tower and to the rampart terrace, running behind the south curtain wall and connecting with the gatehouse. The most distinctive part of the interior, however, is the remains of the north range (added around 1600) which was centred on a larger great hall, now mostly just a group of tall, slender columns, remains of the walls that once framed the large windows on the north side. The hall lead to a great staircase and then to a parlour to the east, and to more service rooms to the west, including a kitchen, bakery, pantry and beer cellar. Today, the only significant structure above first floor level is part of the kitchen block, including the bakery. The tall wall on the south side of this includes, on its outer face, two rows of projecting tooth stones, intended to link with a west range, work on which was never started. On the south side of the great hall was the loggia, a corridor with one side open via arches to the courtyard. The lowest part of the columns supporting the arches are amongst the few surviving components constructed of dressed sandstone, as nearly all the other masonry is rough grey limestone.

Kitchen, pantry and great hall
The kitchen, pantry and part of the great hall