Occupied by the same family for over 700 years, Picton Castle near Haverfordwest is among the most important historic houses in Wales, and only in the last decade has been administered by the Picton Castle Trust to ensure it remains open to the public by means of various revenue-producing activities.
The Philipps family, who actually lived in the castle until the death of The Honorable Richard Hanning Philipps less than a decade ago, are direct descendants of its builder, Sir John Wogan, ‘Lord of Pykton’ in 1302.
Experts say the original small medieval castle was in the style of certain Irish castles, which should come as no surprise since Sir John was Justiciar of Ireland between 1295 and 1313. The last of the Wogan line died in 1420 and after 1469 Picton castle became the property of Sir Thomas Philipps of Cilsant through his marriage to the Wogan heiress Jane Dwnn. It appears that very little was done to change the original three-storey building during the first two centuries of Philipps occupation. But in 1697 an illustrious member of the family, the Good Sir John, 4th Baronet, who was the local MP and was a leading founder member of the SPCK, the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, made some significant alterations. He raised the entrance to its present level by building a balustraded causeway from the high ground to the east and added a storey over the Great Hall, which remains to this day the focal point of the building. Sir John, who has an elaborate tombstone in the chancel of St Mary’s Church, Haverfordwest, with which the Philipps family has maintained a centuries long association, was a prominent figure in the promotion of Anglican reform, not only through the SPCK., but also as one of the Commissioners responsible for building 50 new churches in London.
Between 1749 and 1752 his son the 6th Baronet, Sir John Philipps, also an MP and Privy Councillor, executed some lavish and extensive internal remodelling which included refitting the Great Hall and the chapel and improving the main rooms with fine quality plasterwork and panelling.
His son, who became Lord Milford and was also MP for the County, started a major extension in 1791, adding a four storey block to the west end after demolishing the medieval solar tower. The geometrical block of the new building was in stark contrast to the medieval castle with its round towers and imposing battlements, and one observer described it in terms which were just as relevant in the 1960s when architects were given free rein to desecrate town centres with abominations of glass and plastic. This observer said in 1803: “It is always disgusting to the eye of taste to observe ancient and modern architecture blended together in the same edifice.” Today Picton Castle is a popular visitor centre its gardens, bright with rhododendron and azalea blossom, catering for outdoor plays and the castle hosting guided tours, special events and weddings.