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Pengersick Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Pengersyck; Pengersech; Pengewick; Pengerswick; Pengersic

In the civil parish of Breage.
In the historic county of Cornwall.
Modern Authority of Cornwall.
1974 county of Cornwall.
Medieval County of Cornwall.

OS Map Grid Reference: SW58132843
Latitude 50.10641° Longitude -5.38336°

Pengersick Castle has been described as a certain Fortified Manor House, and also as a Pele Tower although is doubtful that it was such.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


The remains of a fortified manor house built circa 1510. The manor house incorporates earlier remains, and there is documentary evidence for a house on the site from the 13th century. The manor house was granted licences to crenellate in 1391 and 1400. It was probably built for William Worth and improved by the Milliton family. However, on the death of William Milliton in 1556 the estate was divided up and the castle began to decline. An annexe was added to house in 1927-8 and it was repaired and altered in 1968. All that remains standing of the original fortified manor house is a fine four storey tower, which is now a private residence.
The fortified manor house is built of snecked granite rubble with granite dressings and quoins. It comprised of two rectangular courtyards and the surviving tower (with crenellated parapet) is located at the external angle between the two courtyards. It was positioned here to defend the house from the south-west. On the right was the hall range and beyond was the domestic courtyard.
Nothing is known of the rest of the castle as the north range was pulled down and the stone reused to build nearby farm buildings. This is illustrated in a print of 1743. A fine Tudor doorway from the manor house was built into the front of the farmhouse circa 1870 and apart from the tower the only surviving features are sections of walls of the east and south ranges and of the north curtain wall of the west court.
The tower has been interpreted as a self-contained refuge, the equivalent to a castle keep. There is no parallel to Pengersick Castle in South-west England and it was most likely constructed as a short term defence at a time of constant threat from the French and Spanish. Pengersick Castle is famous for the large number of folk tales and legends that are associated with it. (PastScape)

Fortified manor house. Circa 1510 with earlier remains; annex 1927-28; repaired and annex altered 1968. Probably built for William Worth of Worth in Devon (initials on label stops) and improved by Milliton family (of Meavey, Devon); in decline from second half C16. Snecked granite rubble with granite dressings and quoins, some volcanic rock re-used; battlemented parapet concealing chimneys; flat asphalt roof to tower, flat lead roof to turret, dry slate on annex. Plan : although there is documentary evidence for a house here from at least C13, the building to which the surviving remains belonged was almost entirely newly built circa 1510. The site is the bottom of a small shallow valley and the entrance was on the (uphill) east side. There were 2 approximately rectangular courtyards, a large one (now garden) of stabling and ancillary buildings to the east and a smaller domestic one (now farmyard) adjoining to the west and offset so that the north walls were continuous. The existing tower, at the external angle between the 2 courtyards, defended the house from the south-west (towards the shore). Its principal (east) front was set forward into the east court to confront the visitor, the dominant and most prestigious element of the house. Abutting it to the right was the hall range, entered through a 2 storey porch (doorway removed to Pengersick Farmhouse) with, right again, the open hall stopping just short of the northern curtain wall. The tower and hall made up the front of the house proper, the hall block being common to both courtyards. Beyond it lay the domestic courtyard with a back gate probably at the north end of the west range. Again, the northern boundary seems to have been a curtain wall and there was a small block (possibly a tower) at the north-west corner (Barn and adjoining wall at Pengersick Farm), of which much remains. Nothing is known of the rest, but the kitchen and service could have made up a far west range with accommodation returning the south. Of all this the only surviving elements are the tower itself and, in the east court, part of the west end of the south range (Outhouse, Pengersick Castle), sections of the west wall of the east range and fragments of walling from the north side; of the west court, the base of the north- west block and parts of the north curtain remain. The tower has its own external door to the north, making it virtually independent. On plan there is a single square room at each stage with the square newel stair turret extruded diagonally from the north-east corner. The 4 storey tower is battered with plinth, string course at second floor and battlemented parapet; east (principal) front is single bay and lapping it, projecting forward of the right corner, a square battered stair turret reaching above roof level. The ground floor has a pair of dumbell-shaped gun-loops immediately above the plinth with 3 matching 4-light mullioned windows lighting the floors above, the lowest set at a safe height. These are casement-moulded with king-mullions and 4- centred heads to the lights, the lowest without a hood mould (allowing for enfilading from stair). Above this the second floor window has a hood and that at the top a hood and labels each with serif 'w'; 2 granite water spouts. The single bay stair turret has 4 matching casement-moulded mullioned windows, 2 below the string and 2 at wider intervals above; the bottom window has a pistol loop just below the sill and off-centre. All leaded lights of 1928. It is a well-organised elevation, domestic but strict with adequate provision for defence. Right of this a 2 storey 3 bay annex of 1928 with slate roof and right gable stack; early worked stones used indiscriminately. Off-centre right 1968 kitchen door with 3 equally spaced single light windows over. The hall range used to join onto the north face of the tower; roof weatherings survive; in front the 2 window annex gable end and above to the right at third floor level only a 2-light mullioned window (without casement mouldings). The single bay stair turret projects forward lapping the left corner and plinth, string and parapet continue across it. The door is in the turret up 2 steps (originally 1); a tall 4-centred outer arch with a fat roll moulding stops on double- offset plinth blocks. Set back within this arch a second smaller order of roll moulding frames the 4-centred doorway itself with frond spandrels and a blank tympanum. The intrados of the outer arch is cut away for a defensive slot at the crown; to the left a pistol loup. Above 4 matching 2-light casement-moulded mullioned windows at unequal spacing with a small ventilator to right towards the top. On the west and south faces the string course and parapet continue but the plinth is a simple set-off. The west wall has 2 dumbell-shaped gun-loops to the ground floor, a small defensive single light window to the first floor with a small ventilator far right, small ventilator at either end on the second floor and a 2- light casement-moulded mullioned window towards the right at the top floor; 2 granite water spouts. The south face again has 2 dumbell gun-loops on the ground floor, a very small defensive window far left on the first floor, blind second floor and 2- light casement-moulded mullioned window left of the top floor. The plinth returns from the east and the offset returns from the west; where the 2 meet curtain wall of the east courtyard abutted. Interior : this tower is seen as a self-contained refuge, equivalent to a castle keep. The 4 rooms within progress upwards from completely defensive basement to completely domestic third floor; each floor offsets so that they become larger. The base of the stair forms a lobby (original paved floor) inside the door, which has drawn-bar holes; this space has several purposes and is carefully thought out with access to pistol loup by the door and under the stair as well as access to the basement gun room. This is approached through 4-centred hollow chamfered arch and down 3 original steps; short 4 centred vault through the thickness of the wall (and on floors above too). The basement floor is of 1968. The north wall has one and remains of another keeping hole and was otherwise unpierced until access to the annex in 1927. The other 3 walls each have 2 round arched embrasures (those to east must have been reached by a firing step). Some parts of these sills are of 1968, but much is original with evidence for the sill steps allowing elevation of small-calibre guns (e.g. falconets. They are not suited to use with hand guns). The newel stair is well made. Its windows have relieving arches, curved granite lintels and sills; below the first to the east a pistol loop. The drum walls retain original pointing, keyed for plaster which was apparently never applied. The only means of access to the rest of the house is by a small 2 doored lobby. Between them a defensive slot accessible from the first floor room (?parlour) and aligned on some vanished ascent up to the Tower from the hall; the outer doorhead mutilated 1927. The first floor room is entered through a 4-centred multi-moulded doorway with draw bar and bolt holes on the inside and embrasure for the lobby slot in right reveal. 2 original chamfered beams with complex finial stops, the rest of the ceiling 1968. At centre of the south wall a moulded 4-centred fireplace and to its right a very small defensive window in depressed 4-centred reveal. Centre of the west wall another small defensive window in a tall 4-centred reveal and in the south-west corner Tudor arch to a privy in the wall thickness with ventilator and keeping hole (its doorway re-uses moulded stones from the mid, C15 house). On the stair up the next window has a drop slot in the sill for defence of the outside door. The door to the second floor room is 4-centred with a single thick roll moulding and inventively-resolved stops. This room has large areas of blank wall and is probably the site of the painted panelling recorded by Borlase. It commemorated the marriage of William Milliton and Honour Godolphin (approximately 1535) and a portrait of them (over the fireplace?) was flanked by a schematic view of Godolphin and an accurate view of Pengersick (drawn from near the entrance gate with the east court added in false perspective). Centre of the west wall is a 3 centred fireplace with roll and cavetto mouldings undulating at centre of the lintel over a knob (motif from ogival form eg Trecarrel, Lezant). To left a very small defensive window and far right a privy off as below but with the door set formed slightly due to inadequate wall thickens. 2 original beams with large chamfers and bar stops. The third floor room has a smaller 3-centred fireplace in the north wall and a window in each wall. Because of the reduced wall thickness, the privy for this floor is a minimal one off the stair (with a ventilator). Access to the roof is from the top of the turret where an interesting stepped compartment was partially reconstructed in 1968. It has 2 keeping holes and 2 windows, so it was probably intended for accommodation of the lookout. The stair roof is an incorrect restoration (1968). Investigation revealed no evidence for a cross beam, only of stout joists. The roof is now flat, but may have been pyramidal originally. Wide stone parapet walks: and ashlar chimney shafts behind the central merlons north, south and west (slate caps C20). The battlements are clearly defensive and each sill has a pocket for a hand gun fork. Access to the turret roof was by ladder; battlements to west north.and east but the south was originally open and infilled (later C16?) with a flat-coped wall when the range of firearms rendered the position vulnerable. Within the annex loft, plaster marks and stone weatherings; on the first floor, the mutilated connecting door to the tower. There is no parallel to this building in the south-west (except perhaps a putative towers at Trerice). The need for short term defense on a site so vulnerable from the south coast at a time of constant threat from French and Spanish raids is obvious, but the form that the house took as a consequence is original. There is a well recorded history; in 1335 Henry 'Le Fort' Pengersick was excommunicated for wounding a priest. In 1526 John Milliton was implicated in the disappearance of valuables from the wreck of the King of Portugal's ship San Antonio. On the death of William Millton in 1556 the estate was divided among his 7 daughters and the castle declined into ruin thereafter. (Listed Building Report)

King calls this a square 'pele-tower' although this seems to be part of a building of higher social status than usual for pele towers and the form - a courtyard of buildings - is not that of a pele tower. However the suggestion of this as the 'equivalent to a castle keep' rather overstates the position, even if the great towers of large medieval castles were designed as a 'self-contained refuge' which there most certainly were not.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:22:23

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