Berry Pomeroy is a village, civil parish, and former manor in the former Haytor Hundred and located within South Hams local authority area approximately two miles east of Totnes. It has within its parish 4525 Acres, 1 Rod, and 10 Perches of fertile land, several neat houses, and scattered farms and also Bridgetown, which forms a handsome suburb of Totnes, with which it is connected by a good bridge over The Dart. The Duke of Somerset is lord of the manor and owner of most of the land.
Berry Pomeroy has been in the possession of only two families since the Norman Conquest-the Pomeroy’s, from 1066-1548, and the Seymour’s, from 1548 to date. King William the Conqueror gave the manor of Bury (previously known as Byri meaning “Hillfort“) or Berry to Ralph de Pomerai or Pomeroy, one of his favourite officers, who made it the seat of a feudal barony or honour and who also built the castle, which remained the Pomeroy stately home for 500 years.
He held in total, within Devon, 54 manors, three smaller parcels of land and six houses in Exeter capital of Devon. It was one of only eight feudal baronies in Devon. It comprised almost 32 knight’s fees in the Cartae Baronum of 1166. The family of Ralph de Pomerai came from La Pommeraye, Calvados, near Falaise in Normandy. Sir John de Pomeroy, the ninth in descent from Ralph, dying without issue, gave Berry Pomeroy to Sir Thomas Pomeroy, of a younger branch, who had married one of his sisters and co-heiresses.
His descendant of the same name, having been deeply concerned in the rebellion of 1549, is said to have saved his life by making over the manor and castle of Berry Pomeroy to Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, whose descendants still own it. The manor of Bridgetown belongs to the Duke of Somerset. Loventor, in this parish, was held, at the time of taking the Domesday survey, by Ralph de Pomerai under Joel de Totnais. The ruins of the castle, which are considerable, form a very picturesque setting. It is now owned by English Heritage. Its site lies a mile from the parish church; The Church of St. Mary Berry Pomeroy. It falls within Totnes Deanery for ecclesiastical purposes. The Deaneries are used to arrange the typescript Church Notes of B.F.Cresswell, which are held in the Westcountry Studies Library. In 1801 the population was 1124, 1193 in 1901 and according to the 2001 census the population was 973.
The history of the church is considerable. The original wooden structure dates back to Anglo Saxon times with the subsequent Norman rebuilding being largely carried out by Sir Richard Pomeroy. The architecture and skill of the builders has to be congratulated. The colours and carvings of the screen and figures on the panels and graceful pillars are of outstanding quality. The people of the parish are proud that since the day of dedication four and a half centuries’ ago they have had the benefit of such a remarkable church and castle ruin. Although the castle no longer has the massive original gates, its walls are broken and roofless but the church still stands.
The Pomeroy tomb, on the south side of the chancel, contains the remains of Sir Richard Pomeroy, whose body was carried, to the sound of “The Passing Bell”, along the path of the Lych Gate in the year 1496.
There is evidence of humour in the grotesque gargoyles which adorn around the church and in the strange epitaphs carved on some of the tombs. Lych is an old English name for ‘dead body’. The Lych Gate means corpse gate. In earlier times, the roofed space, as can be seen in Ashprington Church, had a bench on which the body was placed, while prayers were said by the priest.
The Church yard contains some magnificent Yew Trees of great age. The Yew Tree is a religious symbol of great antiquity. The capitals on the south arcade bear the names of other donors to the rebuilding of the church and the scroll on the west respond having the inscription Et pro omnibus benefactoribus huius operis orate. There is a fine Seymour monument to Edward, son of Lord Protector (d 1593), his son Edward (d 1613), and the latter’s wife, Elizabeth Champernowne.
John Price was vicar here from 1681-1723, and seems to have done a good deal of the work on his church. The tower and south porch look like a 17th century building, and the old altar rails and altar table (now in north isle) are of his date. So, of course, are the royal arms of William and Mary. The vicarage looks like Prince’s handiwork also. Prince was succeeded by Joseph Fox, who was vicar 1723-81, so that Berry had only two parsons in 100 years.
At Longcombe, a farmhouse, at which William III is said to have held a meeting of his supporters, is now called Parliament House, before moving onto Berry Castle.