May 18, 2024

Berry Pomeroy Castle & Brancepeth Castle

Berry Pomeroy Castle

Berry Pomeroy Castle occupies a spur of land falling steeply to the Gatcombe Valley, three miles northeast of Tornes. The ruins of a late medieval castle are juxtaposed with those of a great Tudor mansion. The Pomeroys settled here soon after the Norman Conquest but their castle dates only from the fifteenth century. It is probably the work of Henry Pomeroy who held the manor from 1446 to 1487. The new defenses were doubtless a response to the menace of French raids, the castle being just a few miles inland from Torbay.

Only one side remains of the castle defenses, comprising the gatehouse, the D-shaped Margaret’s Tower and the length of curtain between them. Enough survives to show that this was no regular quadrangle. The gatehouse has tall flanking towers with pointed fronts and a long machicolation between them. An arcade, the narrower part having served as the chapel, divides the chamber over the gate passage. A fine fresco here depicting the Adoration of the Magi shows Flemish influence, and its discovery led to the re-roofing of the gatehouse during the restoration of the 1980s. An earth rampart as reinforcement against artillery backs the curtain, and the walls are liberally supplied with gun ports.

The big residential block on the east side of the courtyard incorporates the Pomeroys’ hall and solar, but it was transformed in the large-scale rebuilding of the following century. In 1547, Sir Thomas Pomeroy sold the castle to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector. As well as converting the eastern block, which survives as a well-preserved shell, he began an ambitious Renaissance mansion centered upon an immense new hall range on the far side of the courtyard, overlooking the valley. Unfortunately, it is too fragmentary to be readily appreciated. Somerset was executed in 1552 and his son completed the work on a reduced scale.

Brancepeth Castle

Brancepeth Caste, four miles southwest of Durham, was the original seat of the powerful Neville family. It is first mentioned during the Magna Carta war of 1216. In outline, the castle may date back to this period but nothing now standing is that old. The castle is similar architecturally to some of its late fourteenth century neighbors in the county and the rebuilding is attributed to Ralph Neville, first Earl of Westmoreland, after Raby was complete. Unfortunately his stronghold has been subjected to radical alterations.

From 1818 there was a heavy-handed restoration in neo-Norman style under the architect John Paterson, whose uninspired work has been justly criticized. The end result is a castle, which is a mishmash of original and sham features, best seen from a distance. Nevertheless, a considerable amount of medieval masonry has survived and the contrast between the old and the new is clearly apparent.

The castle is situated on a rise overlooking the Stockley Beck. It is a large, irregular enclosure surrounded by a strong curtain. The curtain looks complete, but some portions have been rebuilt. Paterson erected the present round-towered gatehouse on the site of the original. Most of the mural towers are authentic and have suffered comparatively little interference. These massive, oblong structures are unusual for the diagonal buttresses clasping their outer corners.

Proceeding clockwise from the gatehouse, we pass the Westmoreland and Constable towers, which have turrets rather than buttresses. Next comes the Russell Tower, a Paterson insertion, followed by three closely spaced towers containing vaulted chambers (including the so-called Barons’ Hall in Bulmer’s Tower). These three towers were attached to the main residential apartments, but the buildings, which now lean against the curtain on this side, are entirely of the nineteenth century. The curtain returns to the gatehouse via two small turrets.