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Upton Castle Gardens and Medieval Chapel

Upton Castle Gardens and Medieval Chapel Pembrokeshire

Upton Castle Gardens are one of Pembrokeshire’s hidden gems and a must for gardening enthusiasts or anyone wanting to experience real peace and tranquillity.

History

Upton Castle is a picturesque Norman Castle that remains a private family home. Thirty five acres of listed historic gardens surround the castle in a woodland setting.

In 1927 when businessman Stanley Neale bought Upton Castle, what are now the gardens consisted mainly of woodlands and grassy meadows. A keen plantsman, he determined to make a special garden. The unique situation of Upton Castle with its acid soil and hidden valley providing shelter for plants, together with its proximaty to the Gulf Stream made it the ideal environment in which to create his garden.

Over the next few years, Stanley Neale carried out a great deal of landscaping work, creating the terraces which now form the formal part of the gardens and the paths through the woodland area which is the core of the gardens. Many unusual and rare shrubs and trees were purchased and planted and still form the basis of the magnificent display of mature plants we see today. We are fortunate to still have the original invoices for the plants and though some inevitably have been lost over the years, many still remain.

Stanley Neale’s daughter, Joyce Skelton, inherited the property during the 1970s and continued the good work of renewing and replanting. It was at this time that the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park became involved with the maintenance of the gardens which were then opened to the public for the first time.

By the time Steve and Prue Barlow bought Upton Castle in 2007, The National Park had withdrawn their assistance and the gardens had become very neglected and in need of a major overhaul.

A dedicated team of volunteers generously donate their time to make it possible to open the gardens to the public. With their valued help and support all can enjoy the beautiful gardens in the summer months.

Timeline

There are scarce details of the early history of Upton Castle or (Ockendon or Openton) as it was sometimes referred but it is probable that there was an earlier place of Christian worship on the site of the existing chapel.

1150 Origins of the chapel as it exists today. By the mid 12th century. the Norman barons were consolidating their power. Upton Castle was part of a line of defences and was built on a strategic site on the Cleddau estuary.

Three of the original towers and the shell of the great hall still stand today although the inhabited part of the castle mainly daters from the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries.

1200 First written record by Gireldus Cambrensis.

1362 The Norman family of Malefant or Maliphant were the earliest recorded inhabitants. The ettigies of William and Margaret may be seen in the chapel.

1400 Owain Glyndwr led a Welsh rebellion against Norman/English occupiers and it was recorded that William Maliphant of Upton paid 212.2.8d into a fightlng fund.

1564 The castle passed by marriage to Owen ap Gryffed a descendant who took the name of Bowen.

1753 As shown on a monument in the chapel Morris Bowen of Upton died and by the latter part of the 18th century the castle passed in to the hands of John Tasker a bachelor who spent much of his life with the East India Company and from him to his descendants the Evans.

1927 Upton Castle was sold by Vice Admiral Tasker Evans to Stanley Neale a ship owner irom Cardiff who undertook the landscaping and planting of the gardens. His daughter inherited Upton in the 19705 and she and her husband The Reverend Canon Skelton lived in the castle until 2007.

2007 For only the third time in 750 years, Upton Castle was sold. Stephen and Prue Barlow the new owners. are now resident in the castle.

Detailed History

Upton Castle was built by one of the barons dependant on the Earldom of Pembroke, possibly by a member of the Malefant family who held Upton (also known as Occten or Ockten) during the 13th century. Some of the original building including three turrets still stands today although the inhabited part dates from the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries. Between two of the turrets is the Great Hall which contains the original 13th century fireplace and window openings as well as the stone spiral staircases giving access to the battlements. Sadly, for safety reasons the castle is not open to the public.

The castle passed from the Malefants to Owen ape Gryffindor a descendant of whom took the name of Bowen in 1564. It remained in the Bowen family until the latter half of the 18th century when it was purchased by John Taker passing eventually to the Reverend William Evans. In 1927 an Admiral Evans sold Upton to Mr Stanley Neal who undertook the main landscaping and planting of the gardens. The work included clearing scrub and undergrowth, planting with a large variety of exotic trees and shrubs and building stone terraces. In 2006 Upton was sold (for only the third time in 750 years) by Mr Neale’s daughter and her husband, The Reverend Canon Skelton, to Stephen and Prue Barlow who are undertaking the present restoration work. Below are extracts from some historic books and documents:

The chapel at Upton was recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis in c.1200, and was normally subordinate to Nash parish. The Manor of Upton was a castle-guard fee of the Lordship of Pembroke, and had merged with the Manor of Nash by the 14th century under its tenant lords, the Malefants, who built the stone castle at Upton. The ‘Manor of Upton and Nash’ had descended to the influential Bowens by the 16th century.

“UPTON, a parish in the hundred of NARBERTH (but Rawlins says Castlemartin hundred), county of PEMBROKE, SOUTH WALES, 3 1/2 miles (N.E.) from Pembroke, containing 6 inhabitants. This parish, which is exceedingly small, and inhabited only by one gentleman’s family, who is proprietor of the whole, occupies an elevated site above a creek of Milford Haven. It was formerly distinguished for its ancient castle which, if not originally built, was anciently occupied, by the family of Maliphant, from whom it passed by marriage to that of Bowen. The castle and its dependencies were subsequently purchased by Mr. Tasker, who devised his estates among his three nieces, one of whom, by marriage, conveyed the castle and a portion of this property to the Rev. William Evans, who is now the owner of the parish. The remains of the ancient castle have been incorporated in the buildings of the present mansion: they consist principally of the entrance gateway, and the two circular bastions by which it was defended; one of these now forms a projecting window in one of the apartments.

The present seat occupies a charming situation, and commands beautiful and picturesque views of the surrounding country, and of the ruins of Carew castle, washed at their base by the converging estuaries which unite to form this branch of the haven. The living is annexed to the rectory of Nash, in the archdeaconry and diocese of St. David’s. The church is a small and very ancient edifice, supposed to have been built at the same time as the castle, to which it was formerly attached: it contains some ancient monuments, among which is one having a recumbent effigy of a warrior in complete armour, under a richly sculptured canopy of stone: a clenched hand, issuing from the wall, forms a candelabrum for a taper, for the maintenance of which some fund has been probably left by the deceased or his relatives. There are also several mural monuments to the more recent proprietors of the estate. The average annual expenditure for the relief of the poor, during the few years preceding 1829, amounted to £18. 10.”

Captain John Tasker of the East India Company purchased Upton Castle, in the second half of the 18th century. On his death in 1800, the estate devolved on his three nieces as co-heiresses. The estate finally settled on Maria, a grand-niece who married firstly the Rev. Thomas Woods, and, secondly, the Rev. William Evans, of Hook Norton, Pembrokeshire. Their heir was the Rev. William Paynter Evans, the eldest of triplets, of Cosheston, Pembrokeshire, and Upton. The last of the male line to live at Upton Castle was Admiral Richard Evans, who died in 1927. Dr John Tasker Evans of Hertford, Hertfordshire, and Upton Castle was a relative. The estate later passed to Major Richard Charles John Tasker-Evans (d. May 1992), of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
[From A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (S. Lewis, 1833).]

This parish (Upton) which is exceedingly small, and inhabited only by one gentleman’s family, who is proprietor of the whole, occupies an elevated site above a creek of Milford Haven. It was formerly distinguished for its ancient castle, which, if not originally built, was anciently occupied by the family of Maliphant, from whom it passed by marriage to that of Bowen. The castle and its dependencies was subsequently purchased by Mr Tasker, who devided his estates among his three nieces, one of whom, by marriage, conveyed the castle and portion of this property to the Rev. William Evans, who is now the owner of the parish.

The remains of the ancient castle have been incorporated in the building of the present mansion: they consist principally of the entrance gateway, and the two circular bastions by which it was defended; one of these new forms a projecting window in one of the apartments. The present seat occupies a charming situation and commands beautiful and picturesque views of the converging estuaries which unite to form this branch of the haven

Lewis, S., 1833. A Topographical Dictionary of Wales

Upton lies within the Daugleddau sector of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park which is centred upon the inner tidal reaches of Milford Haven, formed as a result of the sea drowning the lower reaches of the Western and Eastern Cleddau and the Cresswell and Carew rivers. At low tide duck and waders haunt the long, lonely stretches of estuarine mudflats flanked for the most part by thickly wooded slopes.

Upton Castle gardens occupy a short, secluded and wooded valley tributary to the Carew River.

The mansion, which overlooks the head of the valley, includes parts of a castle built by one of the honorial barons dependant on the Earldom of Pembroke; probably one of the Malefant family who held Upton early in the 13th century. Pembroke was by far the most important Norman lordship in south west Wales and its chief stronghold, the fortress of Pembroke, was strategically sited on one of the arms of Milford Haven.

Others were raised later within its boundaries – Carew, Manorbier, and Tenby together with the smaller outpost of Upton.

Upton Castle passed through a Malefant heiress to Owen ap Gryffydd, whose descendant in 1564 took the name of Bowen. It remained in the family until the latter half of the 18th century, when it was purchased by John Tasker and thereby through marriage was passed into the hands of the Rev William Evans.

In 1927 Upton Castle, then the residence of Admiral R. Evans, was sold to the late Mr. Stanley Neale, in whose family the estate remains.

During his occupancy the main planting and landscaping of Upton Castle gardens, comprising some 14 hectares, took place. Existing woodland was cleared of scrub and undergrowth and planted with a variety of mostly exotic trees and shrubs, and formal terraces overlooking the valley were built with stone brought by horse and cart from a quarry near Pembroke. Prior to 1976 Upton Castle and the surrounding grounds, including the informal woodland garden and formal terraces, were strictly private.

In that year, a management agreement was entered into between the present owners, Canon and Mrs. H.N.J. Skelton, and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Committee, thereby allowing public access to the woodland garden and terraces on specified days and at specified times. Upton Castle and the lawns immediately adjacent to the house, however, are not open to the public. The Park Authority has agreed to maintain the gardens and carry out other essential work in order to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area and promote its enjoyment by the visiting public.

Very near the castle is the unique Upton Chapel, dedicated to St. Giles, which is open to the public. The chapel contains several important features including effigies of the Anglo-Norman Malefant family dating from the 13th – 15th century. The figure lying beneath the ornate canopy opposite the entrance is thought to be William Malefant who died in 1362. Clad in a complete suit of chain mail, the figure has a strong resemblance to that of the Black Prince and was buried at Canterbury in 1376. On the south side of the chancel is the effigy of a giant of a man – the figure, minus lower limbs, still measures six foot in length. Of unknown origin, it is considered to be the most ancient of its kind in the country. Tradition has it that this was a Lord of Upton who, returning from long voyages, ‘was wrecked and cast lifeless ashore almost within sight of home’. Also in the chancel is the figure of a woman who is thought to be the wife of William Malefant. The clothing styles date the figure as between 1380 and 1420. Another perhaps unique feature in the nave is the candelabra in the form of a clenched fist, and made from yellow sandstone.

It is pierced with a hole for a candle or taper and was formerly used at funerals or other ceremonies. On the north side of the chancel is a stone showing the tonsured head of an ecclesiastic with a floreated cross and damaged inscription. The mural tablets on the chapel walls are to members of the Bowen, Tasker and Evans families – names long associated with Upton following on the Malefants.

Lady Margaret Malefant:

The mansion [at Tythegston] had a tower in the 15th century when the place was mentioned in proceedings before Parliament (Rolls of Parliament, vol 15). This arose on the complaint of Margaret, Lady Malefaunt, who alleged that she had been abducted. On Whit Monday in the year 1437, LEWSE LEYSHON, a trusted man of her husband’s, appeared before Lady Malefaunt at Upton Castle in Pembrokeshire with a letter (which was counterfeit) stating that certain enemies lay in wait for her and advising her to fly for safety to her “moder” who lived in London.

Frightened, she decided to go to her mother and LEYHSON agreed to escort her. They travelled for two days and were ambushed in the lordship of Gower, when LEYSON came out in his true colours. She was affrighted by the men “in manner of waire arrayed, with swerdes drawen” who “smoten her upon her arms and yet beaten her servauntes” and had her forth “into the montayns, yet kept her without mete or drink till she was well nigh dede”. The next day LEYSON brought her to Tythegston, “Gilbert Turberville is place withyne that lordshippe of Glamorgan and kept her prisoner and manassed her at divers tyme unlesse she would be wedded to the said LEWSE”. She had not known that her husband was dead. Gilbert Turberville, who with his wife and the parson of Tythegston, were included in the charge as being parties to the outrage, kept her confined in “a chamber withyne a strong tower” for two more days, when “by wise governance” she left for London.

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