The Raglan Castle Mysteries
The Discovery Channel commissioned BBC TV Wales to make a series
for them called "Castles of Horror" on one channel and "Bloody
Towers" on another -- with me as their biker-presenter. On repeated
long, hard rides of that kind, it’s good to know that the resources of
Webuyanybike are there to call on when you need them! We went
all over Britain and Europe to make the series, and one of the most
spectacular castles we visited was Raglan in Wales.
I was riding my Harley Davidson Electra Glide at the time, and she was ideal for the kind of distances we had to cover on a regular basis. For biker pals who like the technical details – as well as the sheer joy of riding a big Harley – she had a top speed of 94?4 mph from her 1400 cc V2 four-stroke engine. She would get me from zero to 60+ mph in a fraction over 9 seconds: belt-driven, air-cooled and a 5-speed gearbox. I found her fuel consumption was really good on the many long trips we had to make while filming that series: well over 100 miles per gallon, a lot more if I wasn’t in too much of a hurry! So there I was at Raglan and delving into its history.
The Earl of Hereford was one of William the Conqueror’s most able lieutenants and was responsible for controlling the area around Newport, Chepstow and Monmouth, as well as the land between the River Usk and the River Wye. It’s a beautiful area to ride through. The earliest fortification at Raglan would have been the motte-and-bailey castle that Fitz-Osbern built there.
Walter Bloet, nick-named Strongbow, was the Lord of Raglan a century
after, and he had to pay rent for it by providing a fully armoured (and
militarily proficient) knight on horseback when the king asked for one.
After many years of faithful service, Sir John, the last of the Bloets,
died during the fourteenth century. His daughter Elizabeth married Sir
James Berkeley, who then became Lord of Raglan.
The Librarian’s Ghost
Not only is the Raglan ruins breath-taking to look at: they conceal
two very strange unsolved mysteries: the ghostly librarian and the
mysterious “water-commanding engine” invented by Edward Somerset
(1601 – 1667) the Second Marquis of Worcester.
During the Civil War that was fought between the royal family and
Oliver Cromwell from 1642 to 1651, the librarian at Raglan feared
that the priceless old documents in the Raglan Castle library would
be destroyed and he hid them in a secret tunnel below the castle.
Over the years, a number of honest and reliable witnesses report
having seen the long-dead librarian’s ghost still keeping watch over the
precious books and documents he had guarded so well in life.
The Mystery of the Raglan Steam Pump
The Second Marquis’s “water-commanding engine” presents a very
different kind of mystery. Edward Somerset enjoyed quite a reputation
as an inventor, and it sounds from the tales told about him that he had
produced some kind of elementary steam pump before Tom Savery,
Tom Newcomen or James Watt produced theirs.
Sounds Like Underground Bikers
It made a very loud roaring sound – like dozens of bikers riding around
on a subterranean track somewhere below the fountains which the
primitive steam pump powered. (There will be plenty of sounds like
that on July 1st at the White Lion in Barthomley when the charity riders
from The Last Wolf Motorcycle Club do their stuff in aid of the Air
Ambulance Trust. If you would like to join in and help, contact them at
According to the accounts of some contemporary eye-witnesses,
Edward’s prototype steam pump could throw a jet of water up into the
air as high as the tower tops of Raglan Castle!
Edward and the Insurgents
On one memorable occasion, it served the Marquis extremely well when
a group of insurgents marched on the castle. Courageously, Edward
went out to meet them and told them that the roaring they could hear
(actually from his steam pump) was made by his guardian lions and that
if they did not disperse immediately he would give orders for the lions
to be released against them. It was highly improbable that any of the
insurgents had ever actually seen or heard a real lion and Somerset’s
threats were more than enough to make them disperse quickly and
quietly. It might have been even more effective if he had directed the
powerful jet of water at them like a water cannon.
What Happened to the Steam Pump?
The mystery surrounding the Marquis’s "water commanding engine"
remains: what exactly was it, and where is it now? No traces of it have
ever been found at Raglan.
28 Mar 2012