Crediton & District

Totnes area

Our October expedition was to the Totnes area, to visit Totnes Castle, Berry Pomeroy Castle and Haccombe Church, on Tuesday 10th October, 2017.

On a rather indifferent, though mostly dry day, 15 members of the Churches & Historic Buildings Visiting group explored two castles and a fascinating church. After visiting the castles we had an excellent lunch at the Church House Inn at Harberton.

English Heritage allow U3A groups to enter all their premises gratis; taking advantage of this, we had excellent tours of two very different castles.

The first visited was Totnes, built as a wooden motte & bailey castle just after the Conquest, but rebuilt in stone in the C13th. Unfortunately views from the battlement walk were rather spoilt by mist, but those of us that made the climb to the top were not disappointed.

Berry Pomeroy is a very different place. Originally constructed for the Pomeroy family in the late C15th, it was one of the last traditional personal castles to be built in the country. It was sold to Edward Seymour, the first Duke of Somerset in 1547, when Seymour was Lord Protector to the boy king Edward VI and was effectively ruler of England.

Seymour had many enemies and in 1552, in a coup d’état, he was removed from office and executed for felony. The Seymour family retained control of the castle and between 1560 and 1580 removed the earlier Pomeroy buildings inside the castle walls and erected a new four-storey house in the fashionable style of the period at the north end of the courtyard, the shell of which survives mostly to its original height.

Our tour of the castle was greatly helped by the excellent audio tours that each of us was lent.
My own outstanding memory of Berry Pomeroy is of seeing a late C5th wall-painting of the Adoration of the Magi on the east wall of the gatehouse chamber and hearing of the many ghosts that are supposed to frequent the place.

Our lunch at the Church House Inn at Harberton, recommended to us by English Heritage, was quite delightful. Excellent food in really lovely surroundings.

After lunch we made our way to the little church at Haccombe. This is very rarely open and we were very lucky that Andrew Cooper, one of the churchwardens, both allowed us entry and gave us a marvellous tour.

A very small pre-Reformation Collegiate church, it is not much bigger than the average Lady Chapel but is absolutely crammed with fascinating furnishings. Outstanding among these are five brasses, C15th Flemish glass, excellent C14th & C15th floor tiles and some brilliant memorials to the Courtenay & Carew families, including a very small alabaster effigy (2’ 2”) of a late C14th member of the Courtenay family. By tradition the small tomb contains the heart of Edward Courtenay who died at 16 in 1425 (although the style of the camail armour is much earlier).

Because there were many royal associations with the early Tudor Carews (particularly with Henry VIII), the church was given a piece of timber from the Mary Rose which has been fashioned into a cross.

The sheer variety of experiences and sights seen by the group during these visits made it among our best days out.

Keith Barker

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