Berry Pomeroy Castle
Berry Pomeroy Castle, Berry Pomeroy, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6LJ Grid Reference SX839623
Berry Pomeroy sits nestled in beautiful, deep woodland surrounded by a valley of trees and steeped in atmosphere. As you drive down the winding road the castle is first glimpsed through the gaps in the trees before the dramatic presence of the proud gatehouse comes into clear view. It is hard not to gasp in wonder at this majestic presence before your eyes start to adapt to the crumbling ruins and open window spaces. Despite its decaying appearance Berry Pomeroy stands tall and impressive in its valley and it is clear to see the impact it would have had, and continues to have to this day.
The castle sits within the village of Berry Pomeroy on the outskirts of Totnes. It is notable for its decaying appearance, abundance of woodland walks, awe inspiring atmosphere, presence and history. Owned by English Heritage who recount its many ‘blood curdling ghost stories’, Berry Pomeroy has a reputation as being one of England’s most haunted Castles.
Built on lands owned since the 11th century, Berry Pomeroy Castle gained its name from Ralph de Pomeroy, who was a keen follower of William the Conqueror and appears in the Doomsday book of 1086. The castle was built in the late 15th Century and was one of 54 Manors held by the Pomeroy family throughout their time.
The Pomeroy’s were an extremely powerful family in their time and somehow managed to keep the Castle within the families’ possession for around 500 years. Despite this, the family were in danger of losing the property at one point due to the treachery of Henry de Pomeroy. This particular Pomeroy was a supporter of King John during his rebellion against Richard the 1st (or Richard the Lion heart). When King Richard returned from the crusades and crushed the rebellion Henry de Pomeroy was forced to flee the castle. He held out at the rock of Mount St. Michael until eventually he committed suicide by allowing himself to be bled to death in the roman style. As Henry de Pomeroy was never tried or condemned, King Richard allowed the lands to stay with Henry’s two sons.
The Castle eventually ended up in the hands of the Seymour's, the most famous being Lady Jane Seymour who wed the notorious King Henry the 8th. This family decided to renovate the old Castle to bring it up to the current Tudor trends. A large luxurious mansion was built within the Castle walls, at the cost of 20,000 pounds. Five generations of the family continued to live in the mansion, but the Civil War, violent storms and general wear and tear over three hundred years has left the castle in its current grand, but dilapidated state.
As with many Castles of such a romantic setting in an eerie, dilapidated state Berry Pomeroy naturally brings with it some traditional ghost stories. What is striking about Berry Pomeroy however are the variety of reported hauntings and the abundance of eye witness accounts which accompany or add to these. Below is a summary of the better known hauntings followed by some of these eye witness accounts.
The White Lady:
The ‘White Lady’ is said to haunt the dungeons around St Margaret’s Tower and surrounding ramparts. This is said to be the spirit of Margaret Pomeroy. The traditional tale which accompanies this figure is that she was trapped in the dungeon by her jealous sister, Eleanor, due to a love for the same man. Traditional tales report her release but recent additions cite her as having starved to death through this imprisonment. However there is no historical evidence to support this or these characters.
The Blue Lady:
Some reports place her as a Pomeroy daughter whilst others believe her to be the daughter of a Norman Lord. Reports concur that this is an unhappy haunting and it is believed she had a child from an incestuous relationship. She is reported to have killed her own child due to its conception and a child’s cry has been heard from the archways of the castle. One of the earliest sightings of the blue lady is that of a Surgeon attending the ill wife of a steward at the Castle. He encountered a distressed soul dressed in a blue robe and dress. Some believe that seeing her ghost is an unfortunate ‘Omen of death’.
(Origins of photo unknown but ivy indicates likely to be pre-1977 when ivy was removed)
Knights Jumping from the Battlements ‘Pomeroy’s Leap’:
There are reports of two men, assumed to be Knights, jumping from the Castle ramparts. It is unclear if this is escape or suicide but some theories believe this to be the two Pomeroy brothers jumping in preference of capture when the castle was besieged. Reports are that people hear screams and sounds of thudding when stood in this particular area.
The driveway itself is said to be haunted with people feeling watched and experiencing feelings of panic so extreme that they flee in fear. Some people have reported a cloaked figure standing in the trees – watching.
Additional reports include a cavalier, a grey lady and a black dog in the grounds.
Eye Witness accounts:
Bob Mann – ‘It was there that I had a sense of past movement, and seemed to hear ancient voices somewhere ahead of me, at the end of the passage’. An excerpt from his book ‘A Most Haunted Castle’ describes his experience as a child alongside his sister.
A 1982 book by Deryck Seymour on the Castle describes an experience recounted by a Miss E Beveridge. The narrator recounts a ‘time slip’ in the Castle surroundings where she and a friend found themselves in a habited farmstead and in the presence of a young girl of 11 and 12. Below is an excerpt from the description:
“I never saw such a little savage – dirty and unkempt, with swarthy skin and coarse black hair which looked as if it had never known a brush or comb, and smouldering black eyes which were fixed on us in an unwinking stare of such intense malignity that we felt ourselves more than ever intruders where we had no right to be. Her dress looked like nothing on earth but a filthy sack with holes but in it for head and arms, and a piece of rope loosely tied about her waist. She was sitting hunched with chin on hands and elbows on knees, bare legs drawn up so that the soles of her feet were pressed vertically against the wall. Without moving a muscle she crouched there, glaring at us in a deadly silence that could be felt.”
When the pair returned a fortnight later there were no signs of habitation and the cottage and surroundings had been modernised, refurbished and expanded.
More recent accounts include sounds of women and children screaming, flashing lights, whispering, people experiencing choking sensations, footsteps, shadows with no source and feelings of panic. Children and dogs have been known to be reluctant to enter the castle and become subdued within it.
Abbie Dent, paranormal investigator and presenter of ‘Lifting The Veil’’ Soundart 102.5 FM describes her own experiences in the Castle on separate occasions including sounds of screaming which were so extreme as to prevent a group from entering the Castle and footsteps on another visit within the Castle.
The writer of this article on a recent research visit to the Castle experienced the sound of footsteps in a deserted spot by the Castle walls and makes note of a sceptical family member who experienced the feeling of a hand on his shoulder on a childhood visit to the Castle. The hand was calming to him rather than frightening.
Local author Bob Mann recounts similarities between the tale of the Pomeroy Sisters and a poem written by Torbay author, Luke Coombes. The poem features a Lady Margaret who has been trapped in a dungeon and has interesting parallels to the hauntings proposed founding.
Interestingly it is hard to get away from themes around children and childbirth when looking at Berry Pomeroy hauntings. Local historian and author Laura Quigley describes the rituals related to child birth and confinement in her book ‘The Devil Comes to Dartmoor’ and it could be that St Margaret’s Tower was a place of confinement for pregnant ladies of the Castle. Bob Mann proposes that St Margaret’s Tower was dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch who was a patron saint of pregnancy. The process of ‘Veiling’ would have been adopted which enabled ladies in confinement to attend Church covered in a white veil and reported sightings of ‘The White Lady’ take place around the tower and the ramparts walk to the Chapel which may suggest sightings are that of residual energy – an eternal walk.
Despite investigations by Paranormal Groups in the past the Castle is currently not accepting applications and so its ghostly history and tales remain as mysteries, waiting to be explored and unravelled. In the meantime we can highly recommend a daytime visit to this mysterious and enchanting piece of Devon history.
We are South Devon website. http://wearesouthdevon.com/berry-pomeroy-timeslip-ghost/ (Accessed 19/04/2016)
Bob Mann ‘A Most Haunting Castle’
Laura Quigley ‘The Devil Comes to Dartmoor’
Berry Pomeroy Castle, English Heritage http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/berry-pomeroy-castle/ (Accessed 19/04/2016)
Mystical World Wide Web http://www.mystical-www.co.uk/ghosts/gt_02.html
http://www.britannia.com/history/devon/castles/berrypcast.html (Accessed 19/04/2016)
Ghost Haunts http://www.ghosthaunts.com/3_castles.html (Accessed 19/04/2016)
Lifting the veil https://www.mixcloud.com/widget/iframe/?feed=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mixcloud.com%2Fghostfindergeneral%2F&light=1
Pictures of layout and floor plans all from English Heritage.
Infrared pictures taken by Abbie Dent, Haunted Devon Chairperson.