A decade ago I wrote a series of short history articles about Cornwall, with a specific focus on the south-east of the county. They were published in an advertiser magazine called ‘Cramleigh’ and a couple of them have re-surfaced on this blog. Here’s another one – ‘Trematon Castle’ – published in 2009.
For over a millennia the various incarnations of the Trematon castle walls, on its prominent position overlooking the Lynher river, have been viewed for miles around. It is first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, although the remains of a fort are believed to have been in existence since the time of the Romans; the new Norman owners replacing the wood foundations with solid and durable stone.
The 1066 Norman invasion of England dispossessed the Saxon ruling elite, just as the Saxons had disposed the older local Cornish ruling class. Robert, Count of Mortain – half brother of William the Conqueror – was given two-thirds of the land of Cornwall for his services given at the Battle of Hastings. Such land and prestige, believed historian F.E. Halliday, led to Robert becoming the first Earl of Cornwall ‘in all but name’. Robert is noted for the establishment of Launceston castle, another example of the new Norman fortifications built across the kingdom to impress and daunt the people.
Trematon castle, however, was taken by Reginald de Valletort (otherwise spelt De Valle Torta) who became a large landowner of estates in the East Cornwall area. The de Valletort name was one of prominence; notably holding the ferry rights to Saltash Passage and the castle for almost two hundred years.
It was bought from Roger de Valletort by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1270. Richard visited the county often, buying up much land in what was a time of frenzied building activity: Restormel and Tintagel, including Trematon, were acquired and improved upon. His son, Edmund, continued in this tradition; though after his death in 1299 no further earls and dukes would rarely place as much focus on the region.
Edward, the enigmatic Black Prince and first Duke of Cornwall, visited Cornwall often and held great banquets and gatherings at Restormel castle during the fourteenth century. But after his passing these strongholds became neglected and fell into disuse; the famous names of Restormel and Tintagel falling into decay. An observer of Trematon castle in the reign of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century called the walls ‘ruins’.
Yet due to its strategic location near the prospering city of Plymouth, Trematon castle continued in its use as a fort, prison and ammunitions depot – never many years passed without an outbreak of war with either France or Spain, and such a fort would prove useful. The centuries would ultimately prove their toll and now the Norman castle is a shell of its former self; however, it is a testament to the quality of the Norman builders that the original structure can still be viewed from afar.