Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Cogan Pill House

Hemmed in by a busy junction and overshadowed by an abundance of modern houses and apartments, Cogan Pill house, a Tudor period mansion also known as 'The Baron's Court', seems somewhat out of place in our hectic modern world.  Crooked and aged, Cogan Pill house is a mass of mullioned windows and protruding chimney stacks; a veritable historical Gem, and although heavily remodelled during the middle of the nineteenth century, Cogan Pill house has a long history dating back to the late medieval period giving it the distinction of being by far the oldest standing building in the Penarth area.

(Cogan Pill House when it was sill a private residence taken during the early 1960's)

The earliest written reference to this grey and ancient gentry house comes from the will of Mathew Craddock of Swansea who died in 1533.  John Leland in the late 1530's mentions Cogan Pill house in his Itinerary in Wales recording that "Cogan march Pille wher is a fair maner place on the ripe side longging to Mr. Herbert of Swansey". Glamorgan antiquarian Rice Merrick (Rhys Meurug) lists Cogan Pill house in his 1578 publication, 'a Booke of Glamorganshire Antiquities', as a "castle bordering near the sea coast".

The ancient medieval manor of Cogan, once rated at two knight's fees, was purchased by George Herbert (1494/1570) of Swansea from king Henry VIII in 1544. The Herbert family of Cogan were related to a vast family network who held land and manors across South Wales and beyond. The Herbert family were also directly related to the earl of Pembroke and as a result benefited from his patronage often holding high offices within Glamorganshire and at court.

George Herbert was actively engaged in political affairs of both local and national importance.  For example, George helped to set up the Act of Union in 1536 and also fought for Henry VIII in France at Boulogne in the 1540's. George Herbert became Glamorgan's first sheriff in 1540/1, Glamorgan's first knight in parliament and mayor of Cardiff in 1553 to name but a few of the offices held by this powerful and influential man.

It seemed however that George Herbert also had enemies.  One such man was local rival and fellow Glamorgan gentry member Sir Rhys Mansell of Oxwich, and later Margam, whose position of Chamberlin of South Wales was jealously sought by Herbert.  Acting on a tip-off, the exchequer in 1555 ordered George Herbert to limit his personal retinue to no more than forty men. It is possible that it was Rhys who informed the exchequer being alarmed at the considerable number of men at George's disposal and their potential to inflict violence. These concerns were not unwarranted as it was a fact that George Herbert had a capacity for violence as in 1538 George was accused of assaulting two of Sir Edward Carne's sons at Cowbridge and was brought before the Star Chamber in London as a result.

                      (Oxwich castle, the home of George Herbert's rival Rhys Mansell)

The Herbert and Mansell clans eventually came to blows at Oxwich in 1557 over the fate of the survivors and contents of a floundered French vessel.  In the melee which followed Mansell's sister  one Anne Mansell was accidentally killed which lead to the arrest of George Herbert, a relative of George named William Herbert and eighteen other people, many of whom were from Swansea, and their subsequent trial for manslaughter; all pleaded pardon and allowance. The outcome of the trial however in not known. Upon George's death in 1570 he was badly in debt to the crown owing over £1000, a terrific sum of money in the sixteenth century.  George's inability to pay off his debt saw the crown seize George's property for a total of two years until the debt was fully paid.

George Herbert's son and heir William Herbert (1532-1576) is believed to have been responsible for the construction of much of Cogan Pill house as we see it today. William Herbert like his father was also active in politics and held the office of sheriff of Glamorgan in 1552 and again in 1567.

(William Herbert Earl of Pembroke 1501-1570)

In 1557/8 William Herbert was accused by Sir Thomas Stradling of St Donats of extorting money from five of his servants and the local population at large by issuing a tax "for his own private lucre and gain of his own authority and to extort power by colour of furniture of harness".  This tax was ostensibly to help fund Herbert, who was commissioned by his uncle the earl of Pembroke, also called William Herbert, on a military campaign in France in 1557 where he was to command one hundred men, but in reality it was to line his own pockets. Apparently the tax was scrupulously enforced with neither "widow nor orphan being spared" making William Herbert very unpopular and earning him the nickname 'Black Will'. This was a serious matter which was brought to the Star Chamber in London, and although Herbert did his best to avoid being present at his indictment, he was eventually apprehended by the sheriff of Glamorgan, William Bassett of Old Beaupre.  The case against Herbert however eventually lapsed upon the death of Queen Mary in 1558.

Another unscrupulous member of the Herbert clan of Cogan Pill, one Nicholas Herbert (1543-1601) who also held the office of sheriff of Glamorgan on numerous occasions, was similarly covetous and in 1577 was fined £200 for colluding with pirates.

During the early seventeenth century yet another William Herbert of Cogan Pill found himself embroiled in controversy and was indicted in the Court of Chivalry in 1637 for giving one John Matthew of Llandaff "scandalous words provocative of a duel". Quarreling, feuds and violence as we have seen were common amongst the Glamorgan gentry during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, often resulting in mass brawls, serious injury and even death.  For example, a relation of William, one John Herbert (1540-1617) of Neath died a violent death in Cardiff coming off the losing end of a duel fought against Sir Lewis Tresham in 1617; his tomb can be seen inside St John's church Cardiff. The outcome of this particular quarrel however is not known although it's likely that violence on this occasion was averted.

During the middle of the seventeenth century Lt Colonel William Herbert of Cogan Pill, who was a prominent royalist during the English Civil War, met his end at the battle of Edge-hill in 1642 fighting with a Glamorgan contingent alongside Sir Edward Stradling of St Donats, who himself commanded a regiment of foot and was taken prisoner after the battle.

Upon the death of Colonel Herbert in 1642, a relation and fellow royalist who resided at Grey Friars in Cardiff-also called William Herbert, received wardship of Cogan Pill. This particular William Herbert in 1642 handed over Cardiff castle to royalist forces and willingly gave the Earl of Pembroke's revenues from his estates in South Wales, which he was entrusted to manage on the Earl's behalf, to king Charles I, thus earning himself the appellation of "ungrateful kinsman" from the Earl who was himself a prominent parliamentarian. This particular William Herbert died in 1645 and the wardship of Cogan Pill was then taken over by his wife Anne Herbert, who in turn died in around 1650 leaving Cogan Pill to her nephew William Morgan of Pencrug in Monmouthshire. 

(Herbert House/Grey Friars Cardiff, a possession of the Herbert family and the home to William Herbert who from 1642-5 held the wardship of  Cogan Pill, pictured not long before its sad demolition in the 1960's)

The Herbert family continued to occupy Cogan Pill house throughout the rest of the seventeenth century as well as the majority of the eighteenth century as their wills attest to - many of whom are buried in the church of St Peter's at Cogan. By this time many of the great Tudor houses of Glamorgan were seen by and large to be outdated, uncomfortable and unfashionable.  Many were vacated by their fashion conscious owners who sought the refined elegance of new mansions in the neoclassical style which was very much in vogue during this period.  Cogan Pill house by the late eighteenth century had markedly declined in its former grandeur and importance and was relegated in status to a farmhouse. 

                       (Painting of Cogan Pill house dating from 1850)

In 1793 the house and manor of Cogan was purchased by the Earl of Bute who continued to rent Cogan Pill as a farmhouse. By the early nineteenth century the great hall had apparently been reduced to the use of a barn. Cogan Pill continued to be a farmhouse until the middle of the nineteenth century when it was renovated and converted into a comfortable residence for a relative of the Marquis of Bute a Mr H S Corbett.  The interior of the main hall was given a total makeover in a quasi-medieval style complete with multi-coloured brick walls and gothic arch adjacent to the grand fireplace. The castellated parapets were also added at this time.

(Some of Mr H S Corbett's mid nineteenth century alterations)

Cogan Pill house continued to be a private residence until the middle of the twentieth century when it became a pub/disco followed by a carvery restaurant. By this time it was sadly gutted of most of its ancient interior.  Oak panelled walls, fireplaces, ancient oak beams and spiral staircases have been swept away to accommodate open planning with the rooms, corridors and halls where the Herbert family were born, lived, schemed and died being no more.  The Herbert coat of Arms however can still be seen surmounted above the main entrance porch. 

(View of Cogan Pill house porch with the Herbert Coat of arms surmounted above the entrance)

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