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Pembridge Castle

HER no. 358, OS grid ref: SO 3908 5800

Pembridge is a good-sized village in the north-west of the county; it is part of the Black and White Village Trail. The name Pembridge is derived from the Old English Penebrug(g)e, which probably meant "Pena's bridge" (Bruce Coplestone-Crow, Herefordshire Place-Names, British Archaeological Reports British Series 214, 1989, p. 156).

The castle earthworks can be found adjacent to the south side of the village churchyard.

The mound is large and oval shaped with a deep, dry ditch. The average height of the castle mound above the bottom of the ditch is 5m. The main hall of the castle probably stood on the north-east corner, and geophysical survey has confirmed a stone-founded building in this area, but there is no visible stonework.

An area to the east, possibly an outer bailey (HER 32798), showed strong resistance, indicating a stone building or cobbled floor. A holloway led from the moat to the church, but this has since been filled in. The original entrance to the castle would have been on the west, but this is now occupied by farm buildings.

The Rev. C.J. Robinson (in Castles of Herefordshire and their Lords, undated, p. 129) has a footnote referring to a visit to Pembridge by Silas Taylor, a 17th century antiquarian, where he records saw to the south of the church "... the mansion house where there are yet remaines of a fortified keep or small castle".

History of the site

The Domesday Book's entry for Pembridge records that it was held by Earl Harold and there were twenty villagers, seven smallholders, one riding man and three slaves. The Canons of St. Guthlac's Priory in Hereford claimed the manor of Pembridge; stating that Earl Godwin and his son Harold had wrongly taken it from them. (Frank and Caroline Thorn (eds.), Domesday Book 17: Herefordshire, 19,8, Phillimore, 1983)

Pembridge later came under the control of William de Braose, Lord of Radnor.

The Pembridge family who came to occupy the castle would appear to have been tenant knights of the de Braoses and Mortimers until 1265. The most famous member of the Pembridge family was Richard Pembridge, who was a Knight of the Garter and fought at Poitiers and Sluys. He later became Warden of the Cinque Ports and his tomb survives in Hereford Cathedral. The helm (helmet) from his funeral achievements, one of only three surviving from the Hundred Years War, can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and you can read more about it on the Pembridge Helm page. The Pembridge family also had an impressive castle at Welsh Newton in south Herefordshire.

The first mention of a member of the Pembridge family that we have in this area is of Ralf de Pembridge, who witnessed several grants and charters around the turn of the 12th century for his overlord, Philip de Braose.

After the death of the third Ralf de Pembridge (c. 1216), a custody battle ensued between William de Cantilupe (steward of the King), Reginald de Braose and Henry de Pembridge (Ralf's half-brother) over Ralf's heir (another Ralf) and his land. The child and land appeared to change hands frequently over the next few years, but in 1222 Thomas Hereford, Sheriff of Hereford, was ordered to hand the Castrum de Peneburg (Pembridge Castle) to William Cantilupe (CPR 1216-25, 358). This is the earliest mention we have of a castle at Pembridge.

During the 1260s, Ralf de Pembridge's son Henry was a supporter of Simon de Montfort in the Barons' Wars. After Simon's defeat at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, Ralf had all his lands confiscated and handed over to Roger de Mortimer of Wigmore Castle. The lands were later restored to Henry, with the exception of Pembridge, which Roger de Mortimer forced Henry to sign over to him permanently.

During the 14th century, Pembridge became part of the landholdings of several "dowager" Mortimers. When Edward of York (the grandson of Anne Mortimer, daughter of Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March) came to the throne as King Edward IV after success at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross during the Wars of the Roses in 1461, Pembridge Castle was brought into Crown ownership.

Robinson states that in the 16th century Henry VIII leased the manor to a John Hawkins. He also references Blount, who tells us that the manor was granted by Elizabeth I "... with the Rents of Assize, two mills called Kingsmill and Moseley Mill, Pembridge Park and a wood called Northwood with all house lands and appurtenances to Thomas Chapman and his heirs ..." and that Chapman sold it later to a Thomas Gardiner.

Andrew Stirling-Brown has alerted us to the existence of a paper in Herefordshire Record Office that refers to the Castle, Manor and Borough that came from two separate grants of the Arkwright family of Hampton Court, near Leominster. The earliest grant was dated 1588 and was a grant of Pembridge Castle to the Earl of Leicester and John Morely. The grant must refer to this Pembridge Castle, rather than the one at Welsh Newton, as neither the Earl of Leicester nor the Arkwright family owned property near Welsh Newton.

There is another grant, dating to 1610, where James I gives over the manor and Borough entitlement to the Earl of Essex and his tenant. The Lordship of the Borough was held by the Conningsbys of Hampton Court for a long period.