Roch Castle History

I've several times had the pleasure of staying in Roch Castle, Pembrokeshire. Visitors may be interested in the history of the castle. Therefore I have reproduced here the text of a small leaflet that was kindly lent to me by the previous owner, David Berry. (I do not know who wrote the leaflet.) Many thanks for all our happy holidays, and may your battlements never crumble!

Mr Berry sold Roch Castle in 2009, and it is now available once more for guests to stay in by contacting The Retreats Group. The new owner, Keith Griffiths, has completely restored Roch after 2 years of very extensive work. He took the castle back to the mediaeval shell before rebuilding everything; even the roof was taken off and replaced. Now there are 6 ensuite bedrooms, the large court room, a grand hall and a new sun room on top of the lower part of the tower which replaces and extends the old kitchen extension. The official opening day is 2 March 2012. I am delighted that this wonderful building has been brought back to life and will enter a new phase of its life as a luxury retreat.

Update! In October 2012, I received an email from Keith Griffiths letting me know that more information about the castle's history came to light during the restoration process. The archaeologist's report is available on the Retreats Group Website - History of Roch Castle.

In particular the construction of the main tower is now estimated as being earlier than 1250 as originally thought and is now redated as between 1195 and 1210. The tower was damaged by lightning in 1350 and repaired with a new square tower appended.

Also, contrary to the guide book, the 1900 restoration did not remotely follow the original plan. The tower originally had three main floors whilst the 1900 restoration created 6 half floors on half levels....a notable and modern departure from the original.

And here follows the text of that guide book!

leaflet cover

Roch Castle, Pembrokeshire

Historical notes and brief description of one of the smallest mediaeval fortified residences extant.


Circa 1250 ad

Roch Castle was built early in the thirteenth century, probably during the reign of Henry III. It is located at the division of English and Welsh speaking Wales, an imaginary line crossing west to east through southern Wales that was, and still is known, as the "landsker".

At the time of its construction, Roch Castle served as one of a group of border strongholds that fortified Anglicised Wales from the independent Welsh to the North, guarding the Flemish settlers who inhabited the surrounding "hundred of Rhoos", and it also served as a lookout for the bay of St Brides to ward off invasions from the sea.

The first known inhabitant of the castle was a Norman knight by the name of Adam de Rupe. His name probably derived from the rock on which the castle was built, "de Rupe" being "charter" latin for "of the rock". This name however was soon changed to the Norman (or French) "de la Roche".

Adam de Rupe's ancestors were of the first rank of Norman families and had the province of the "hundred of Rhoos" committed to their care (probably) by Henry II. Their authority extended from Newgale to Milford Haven. Benton Castle marked the other extremity of their domain. However, the Castle of Roche was the family seat, and a member of the family was visited with the hereditary title of "Comes Littoris", or "Count of the Shore".

A legend recounts that Adam de Rupe erected his abode on a rock as a result of a prophesy that he would die from the bite of a viper. His precaution was in vain, as he met his fate when a viper, carried into the castle in a bundle of firewood, bit and killed him.

Adam de Rupe is also known for having founded the Priory of Pill, South of Haverfordwest. He endowed the priory with four parishes: Saint Kewit (Cewydd) of Steynton, St Mary of Rupe (Roche), St David of Newcastle, and St Nicholas of New Mote.


The de la Roche family resided at Roche Castle for many decades defending the area from the frequent forays of the Welsh. Several generations of the family were buried in Pill Priory, and the Langwm branch of the family in the (Roche) chapel there. The effigies of one de la Roche and his wife are shown to visitors to this day. [1]

The properties and estates making up the "barony" of Roche at this time were very extensive, and included Roche, Nolton, Camrose and Trefgarn. Old maps show that the area immediately adjacent to the castle was called the moat and there is one document showing that rights of pasturage in the moat were valued at two marks.

Part of the de la Roche family accompanied English forces to Ireland on one of their expeditions in the fourteenth century, eventually taking up residence there, and became known as Viscounts Fermay. Their descendents continue to be important in Ireland. [2]


In this year the manor of Roche was leased to Henry Bart, esquire. Henry was "to guard the castle and prisoners and undertake necessary carpentry and masonry repairs to the castle as needed".


When Thomas de la Roche of Roche died in 1420, he left no sons. Thus, the direct male line of the de la Roches ended in this year. He did however, leave two daughters who inherited the castle. Daughter Ellen married Edmund de Ferrars, fifth lord of Chartley, and daughter Elizabeth married Sir George Longueville.


By the reign of Henry VIII, a contemporary Lord Ferrars and a Sir John Longueville were the owners of the property.


During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it is recorded that the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Longueville were the possessors of Roche. It then passed to their descendents who maintained possession until 1601.


About this time, the castle and "manor" of Roche passed to the Walter family of Rosmarket (apparently by sale).


The Walter family was an important family of Pembrokeshire. About 1630, William and Elizabeth Walter gave birth to a daughter, Lucy, who has been recorded in history due to her later connections with King Charles II.


Parliament became extremely restive under King Charles I, and soon openly rebelled under Cromwell's leadership. In 1644, King Charles garrisoned many of the castles in South Wales and supplied a garrison for Roche Castle under the command of Captain Francis Edwards of Summerhill (he being from a neighbouring estate).

On February 25th, 1644, the castle was attacked by Cromwell's troops under the command of Colonel Roland Laugharne. After a fierce siege, the castle was surrendered on February 17th, having been badly damaged by cannon and also by fire.

The story goes that, during the attack by Cromwell's troops, Cromwell was hit by a javelin thrown from an eyelet window by Captain Edwards, striking Cromwell's helmet and knocking it off which resulted in his having to flee from the battle temporarily. This could not have happened to Cromwell, as he was not present in Wales until 1648. It may have happened to the commander of the troops, Colonel Laugharne. An eye witness account of this episode told to Fenton in 1745 by a woman who claimed to be 110 years old described Roche Castle in flames and a high ranking officer in uniform, minus his helmet, riding away from the castle at high speed and in great disarray. During these war years, the Walter family took refuge in London. Young Lucy eventually proceeded to the Hague, where she stayed during the remainder of the Civil War.

Later in 1644, on July 7th, the castle was recaptured from Cromwell's troops by a fresh Royalist force commanded by Sir Charles Gerard. Included in the capture that day were three hundred head of cattle and fifteen hundred sheep, which had been gathered in the castle grounds to provision Cromwell's troops in the area. [3]


In 1645, the castle once again was in the hands of Parliamentarian forces and remained so until the Restoration. In the meantime, Lucy Walter, still in Hague, met King Charles II there, possibly renewing an acquaintance that had been made earlier, and became his mistress in 1648. Their intimacy continued for a number of years thereafter.


In 1650, Lucy's father died, and the property of Roche descended to her brother, Richard Walter, who in 1656, held the post of High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire. A later Richard Walter was knighted and served as High Sheriff in 1727.


In 1658, Lucy died in Paris at the age of 28 leaving a child who had been acknowledged by King Charles II as his son, and whom the King created Duke of Monmouth.


For the next two hundred years, the castle was evidently unoccupied and slowly fell into ruin, the roofs and interior crumbling away but the walls remaining intact. Some time near the end of the eighteenth century, the property came into the hands of John Harries of Trevacoon, probably by purchase. [4]


In 1900, the then owner of Roche Castle [5], the first Viscount St Davids, needing a country seat in the northern part of Pembrokeshire, embarked on the rebuilding of the castle in earnest, and, in 1902, he had completed a remarkable restoration from a very real ruin. In addition, he added a wing on the north in the same style, and he and his family occupied the castle for many years. One of his frequent house guests was David Lloyd George, Great Britain's Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922.


In 1929, the castle was transferred in trust to the Viscount St David's son (the Honourable Jestyn Reginald Austen Plantagenet Philipps).


In 1954, the castle and properties were purchased by the Honourable John Michael Howard Whitfield, he being the son of Lord Kenswood (the first Baron Kenswood of Saint Marylebone, London). Subsequently, Lord and Lady Kenswood, parents of the owner, took up residence and further restored the interior.


Upon the death of the first Lord Kenswood in 1963, the Dowager Lady Kenswood, his second wife, continued to reside in the castle until the spring of 1965, when Lord Kenswood (the second Baron Kenswood) sold the castle to Hollis MacLure Baker, an American furniture manufacturer. Mr Baker frequently resided at Roch Castle on holiday and carried on further restorations in the mediaeval style.


Early in 1972, William David Berry concluded negotiations started in 1971 and moved into the castle as a home. Subsequently Mr Berry's work took him to Belgium for three years and in 1977 he decided to make the castle self-supporting by letting it as a holiday home. For many years thereafter this gave great pleasure to his many visitors while providing essential maintenance funds. Restoration has continued, with major plans for the future.


Mr Berry sold the castle in 2009, and for 2 years it was out of commission while being completely restored. In his own words,

"I fell in love with Roch Castle the first time I saw it and even now I get a thrill every time I see it. My job had brought me from San Francisco to oversee an expansion of the Kraft cheese factory at Merlin's Bridge in Haverfordwest and I was on the way to see a cottage near Newgale Beach when the castle loomed up on the horizon. That was that. It was a dream home for six years till mounting maintenance costs forced us share it with holiday makers to keep its Keep intact. We settled in Roch and regularly moved back into the castle for family holidays, birthday parties, weddings and christenings with a nostalgic three generation extended-family farewell from early December 2008 through Christmas and New Year parties to an unforgettable 'goodbye' beacon-bonfire and fireworks.

Our final parting was a Shakespearean 'sweet sorrow'. We never advertised the sale as finding a suitable person to continue our 37 year stewardship was uppermost in our minds. Luckily we found a local buyer willing and able to take it on, and the new owner has already started major structural repairs to guarantee the future of his Historic landmark. Unfortunately for our many regular visitors Roch Castle is no longer available for hire."

David Berry, 2009


This strange and romantic fortress home has intrigued visitors to West Wales for centuries, as evidenced by the many descriptions of it in both ancient and contemporary travel books.

It was built on the only stone outcropping for miles around and affords an outstanding platform for viewing the countryside. From this point, one can see at least ten miles in all directions, including all of St Bride's Bay.

The immediate grounds were referred to as "the moat", even though this was dry ground. A ditch probably marked its outside boundaries encompassing about four and a half acres as the hedgerows and walls do at present.

Apparently the original plan was to eventually enclose the second rock outcropping to the north with a curtain wall to create a courtyard. Protruding rocks jut out from the northeast corner evidently for this purpose. However, the plan was never carried through. Even so, the tower was relatively invulnerable. No opening were near ground level. The walls were six feet thick, and the structure was built entirely on solid rock which could not be mined or sapped. The walls would also have been difficult to scale because of their height.

There was, however, one problem - water. The well was, and still is, in the northwest corner of the grounds, cut off from the defenders in time of siege.

The interior of the castle is small. It was entered through the guardroom or barracks, where the few men at arms must have cooked and slept. The stairway to the small hall above was built right in the thickness of the wall with arrow slits frequently spaced. The main room, or hall, called the "courtroom" in later years, occupied the second stage. Both the first and second stages have a medium sized fireplace.

Beyond the south end of the courtroom, in the square jutting tower, is a tiny chapel, or oratory, with a vaulted ceiling. On one side of this room is a small alcove, probably an aumbry. To the left of the little chapel is another small room, probably a withdrawing room or "solar". Its original construction and shape were lost due to damage from Parliamentarian cannon, and a lancet window was installed 65 years ago where the wall had been pounded in.

The upper apartments are all small (except for the lord's chamber) and very confusing, as each room is on a different half level. A second stairway is located between the third and fourth stages, although this may never have existed originally. The narrow, original stairway passes a garderobe at the fourth stage and twists around to the left after passing the doorway to the room above the chapel (which still has its original vaulted ceiling).

Here one comes out on a landing that opens onto the battlements. This is an open narrow passageway that leads along the walls and under the two bartizans (small towers) at the northeast and southeast corners. Ladders are needed to climb up into the bartizans. There is a further short flight of steps that leads to the uppermost tower room that may well have been outside originally. A small door off these steps leads outdoors and up more steps to the top of the high tower. Each room, no matter how small, has its own little fireplace, which accounts for the multitude of chimneys that protrude from the top.

Although the castle interior had to be completely rebuilt in 1900 as most floors and roofs were almost non-existent, all clues that could be used to determine the original arrangements were followed in the reconstruction. The "new wing", built in 1902, is relatively modern and provides much needed space for storage and service. Fortunately, it was carefully designed to blend in with the original structure.

  1. Adam de Rupe was followed by John de la Roche, Thomas de la Roche, William de la Roche, Robert de la Roche, a second John de la Roche, and a second Thomas de la Roche.[back]
  2. The coat of arms of the de la Roches, which is still borne by the Irish descendents of the family, consists of "gules", three roches naiant in pale (argent).[back]
  3. A document shows a claim against Parliament made by the Walter family for three thousand pounds for damage to Roche castle and village. Whether this amount was ever paid to the family has never been determined.[back]
  4. About 1800, the properties were again sold, this time to Rees Stokes of Cuffern. Upon his death, the castle and properties passed to the eldest son, John Stokes, Stokes of Cuffern, who sold the properties to his sister, Elizabeth Rees, about 1840. Upon her death on June 15th, 1845 the property became the possession of her son, John Stokes. On his death January 1st 1888, the castle was inherited by his daughter, Emma Elizabeth Rees Massey. On May 6th 1899, she sold the castle to John Wynford Phillips of Lydstep House (the first Viscount St Davids).[back]
  5. During the 19th Century, the "e" in Roche village and castle was dropped.[back]