ROCH CASTLE A Spell, Royal Connections and a Ghost!
By Wendy Hughes
Roch Castle occupies a prominent solitary position on the north eastern side of St Brides Bay, near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire. It was built, on the summit of a volcanic rocky outcrop, during the 12th century for Feudal Lord Adam de Rupe, a Norman knight. His name probably derived from the rock on which it was built, ‘de Rupe’ being Latin for the rock, but his name was soon changed to the Norman ‘de la ’Roche.’ Sadly only the stone keep was completed because its builder was struck down by a curse.
According to legend Adam erected his castle on a rock because on one cold wintry day, as Adam was going about his daily tasks, he met a gwyddon (witch), who prophesied that before the year ended Adam would die from the bite of a Gwiber (a viper). But, if he managed to stay alive for a full year, then the spell would be broken and he would be free of the curse for the rest of his life.
Immediately Adam ordered a stronghold to be built on its present site, well out of the reach of the snake. Lord Roche moved to the top floor of the castle and there he lived the life of a recluse, in constant fear of snakes. All his food and clothing had to be brought up to him and inspected. As the seasons passed Adam began to feel more confident and started to relax and enjoy life. With only one day of his curse left, Adam felt he would survive the old witches spell.
His last evening in captivity was a particularly cold one, so Adam sent for an old servant-woman and requested that she brought him up a basket full of firewood. At least he could enjoy the comforts of a blazing fire he thought. The old woman brought the logs up and asked Adam if he wanted her to put the logs on the fire. Adam refused saying that he could manage. As soon as she left he piled the logs onto the fire, and settled down besides the glowing embers to sleep. Unfortunately for him an adder had chosen to hibernate in the wood pile and, as the room became warm, so the snake was aroused from its hibernation. Uncurling itself it crawled out and bit Adam. The following morning Adam’s servants found him dead in front of the hearth, poisoned by the snake just as the old witch had predicted.
The castle was never completed, but the de la Roche family resided at Roch castle for many decades defending the area from the Welsh. Several generations of the family were buried at Pill Priory. Part of the de la Roche family accompanied English troops to Ireland in the 15th century and eventually took up residence there, becoming known as Viscounts Fermay, and they continue to be important in Ireland to this day.
When one of the descendents, Thomas de la Roche, died in 1420 he left no sons, so the direct line ended. However, he did leave two daughters, to inherit the castle. One daughter, Ellen married Edmund de Ferrar, 5th Lord of Chartley, and his other daughter, Elizabeth, married Sir George Longueville, and by the reign of Henry VIII, a Lord Ferrar and a Sir John Longueville were the owners. Later in the reign of Elizabeth I it was recorded that the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Longueville owned it until 1601. It was later occupied by an important Pembrokeshire family, the Walters, and in 1630 William and Elizabeth Walter had a daughter called Lucy, and she spent most of her childhood at the castle. During the English Civil War Roch castle was seized, but four months it was retaken by the King’s men. Her father claimed his property, sheep and cattle had suffered greatly and went to London with his then seventeen-year-old daughter to submit a claim for £3,000 compensation. Whilst in London, it is claimed, Lucy met the Prince of Wales, later to become Charles II for the first time. The following year Lucy was taken to Holland by her aunt, Mary Gosfright who had married a Dutchman, and whilst at The Hague became the mistress of Charles II. Their affair is well documented, and on 9 April 1649, at Rotterdam, Lucy gave birth to a son James, later to become the Duke of Monmouth. In July and August of that year Charles and Lucy stayed in Paris and St Germain returning to England in 1656 where she was arrested and charged with being a spy. Lucy led a sad and tortured life dying of typhoid in Paris at the age of twenty-eight. However Charles recognised their son as the eldest of his illegitimate children and bestowed on him many honours including the Order of the Garter. A rumour spread that Charles and Lucy were legally married, but the king denied it on three separate occasions. However an intriguing mystery occurred in the following century which may have some reference to the royal affair. The Home Office issued a warrant demanding that the marriage register for the district of St Thomas, Haverfordwest be sent to London. No reason was given, but more significantly, the records were never returned. This could well have been an oversight on the part of the Home Office, or perhaps there was a more sinister reason. Who knows, but if the register did contain the solemnised marriage of Lucy Walter to Charles Stuart it would have affected the reign of the House of Hanover who claimed the throne because Charles died without an heir. Sadly we will never know the truth. As for Lucy, we can only assume her time spent at the castle were her happiest days
For a couple of hundred years the castle was unoccupied and slowly became a ruin, but around 1800 it was sold again and by 1900 the then owner the 1st Viscount of St David’s was looking for a country seat and began to rebuilt the castle, and it was restored in 1902. The then Prime Minister David Lloyd George became a frequent guest from 1916 to 1922. The castle was passed in trust to Viscount St David’s son, Jestyn Reginald Austen Plantagenet Philipps in 1929, and the interior was restored in 1954 when it was sold. In 1965 it was sold again, this time to Hollis MacLure Baker, an American furniture manufacturer, and by 1972 William David Berry moved into the castle and turned it in a home, but his work took him to Belgium for 3 years, so in 1977 he decided to use it as self-catering accommodation for tourists. Many claim to have seen the ghost of a slim Lucy, dressed in a white gown, appearing at the windows or floating through locked doors. Others claim to have heard running footsteps, or awoken by a feeling of a cold presence. Maybe Lucy is trying to find happiness at the castle?
In September 2008 the Griffiths Roch Foundation bought the castle from the Berry’s and a contract for its restoration and refurbishment was awarded to the Welsh Heritage Construction in 2009. The castle was reopened as a six-bedroom luxury fine dining hotel and wedding venue in 2013. If you are looking for that special break or a wedding with a difference see: https://www.rochcastle.com