Castell Coch is the substantial ruin of a medieval manor house, originally known as Newhouse.
The house probably dates from the 14th century, possibly on the site of an earlier fortification. The name seems to be used interchangeably throughout the early to late medieval period to describe both the lands belonging to the manor and sometimes the moated manor house itself.
As the manorial center of Newton North parish, the house is inextricably entwined with the Mortimer dynasty. It is thought the house was built during the reign of Edward I (1272 to 1307) by Roger Mortimer, who became lord of Narberth in the mid 13th century.
After his son, also named Roger, rebelled in 1322, Edward II returned the lands to the custody of the Bishop of St Davids. However, after Edward III was crowned, Roger regained his lands and was made 1st Earl of March. He held lands, including Newhouse, until his execution by Edward III in 1330, after which the lordship of Narberth was passed to Rhys ap Gruffydd.
Later, a further Roger Mortimer, grandson of Roger, Earl of March, found favour with Edward III and by 1346, after good service at Crecy, regained most of his grandfather’s lands in Wales. In 1354, he successfully petitioned for the lordship of Narberth, against Rhys’ claims, and in the same year, recovered Newhouse from the Bishop of St Davids.
Subsequently, it is probable that a reeve (an Anglo Saxon official of high rank, exerting local jurisdiction) occupied Newhouse, and it became an administrative centre from the beginning of the 15th century
Under the reign of King Henry VI, (1422-66, 1470-71), Newhouse became briefly involved in the Wars of the Roses.
When Henry had made his half-brother Jasper the Earl of Pembroke, Jasper provoked a feud with Griffith ap Nicholas, Lord of Dinefor, a local chieftain and bandit by taking custody of the important castle of Cilgerran.
At the same time, Griffith ap Nicholas was also in dispute with Richard Duke of York, having detained “one half and 2 ploughs of land with appurtenances (accessories) in Lyesprans and Newhouse lying and being in the Marches of Wales and in the county of Hereford (Haverford?)”. The Duke brought a praecipe quod reddat (writ) against him, to which he refused to respond.
In 1460, Griffith ap Nicholas was briefly imprisoned by the King at Hereford Castle but escaped after paying a fine. Insulted, Griffith forgave the Duke of York for the ‘Llysprans and Newhouse’ incident and he became a pronounced Yorkist. As a result, Griffith joined the Yorkists with 700 to 800 men and is said to have played a critical part in the battle at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. Although Griffith died in the battle, Jasper’s Lancastrian force was beaten by the Yorkists, and Edward Mortimer was crowned King Edward IV.
In 1536, the county of Pembrokeshire was formed under the Act of Union and Marcher lordships were abolished, and the lordship of Narberth, including Newhouse, was leased out.
During the 1530s, Katherine, Countess of Bridgewater, appears to have been in dispute with the crown over the possessions of Rece a Griffith, which included the lands of ‘Newhowse and Newton.’
On the dissolution of the monastic houses (1536-40), many lands came into the hands of the Crown. As a result, in 1546, Roger Barlow purchased the commandery of the Knights Hospitaller at Slebech.
Barlow retained many historic documents concerning the estate and attempted to use them to prove that Newhouse was historically part of the estate he had purchased. In 1565, his son John Barlow leased Newhouse from the Crown.
As royalists, the Barlows lost Newhouse after the civil war but then regained it during the Restoration
By the 17th century, Newhouse was known as Red Castle, possibly because of the red colour of some of the local marl stones used to build it. This was translated as ‘Castell Coch’ during the 19th century.
Newhouse was redundant as a major residence by the 1720s and may have been abandoned as early as 1670, as no hearth tax is shown for the Newton North parish in that year.
Though ruinous, Castell Coch remains an impressive sight. The moat itself survives well but has been filled in at the south-east corner. The roofless ruin of a massive first-floor hall is about 23m in length by 11m wide. The stone exterior walls are almost complete, apart from the loss of carved stone from doors and windows.
A scheduled monument and a grade II listed building, Castell Coch is a relatively stable structure. Work here will comprise the clearance of undergrowth to allow for safe public access.
Both Castell Coch and Newton North Church will be central to the creation of an educational route providing historical interpretation linked by cycle paths and footpaths within the site boundary. A visual link between the church and Castell Coch has been maintained in the form of an open corridor, which is clear of development.