6 December marks 80 years since Ruperra Castle was gutted by fire during the second world war. To commemorate the event we are telling stories from our book, Ruperra Castle War and Flames 1939-46.
People know that soldiers were at the castle when it burnt down but over the years all sorts of myths have grown up. It is often said with great confidence that the Americans were responsible. However, the fire was raging on the night of the 6 December when Japanese planes started their journey to Pearl Harbour. It was only then that America entered the war. Italian prisoners of war have also been blamed but it is doubtful if there were ever any Italian prisoners of war at Ruperra. They were at Castleton later. The Dutch were also blamed, but as we have seen they left the Castle in in October 1940.
When Tony Friend wrote his book, 'Lord Tredegar's Ruperra Castle' in 1985 he received a letter from Lance Robinson, one of the 307 Searchlight Regiment which explains everything:
“The fire started in the ceilings. They were falling in and everybody was trying to get down the stairs. That’s why Cecil Hogg and me and my brother jumped out through the windows. There was a scatter, just a big scatter. A fellow came in to where the men were sleeping or playing cards and said in Geordie ‘Away - the hiss took a hardin!’ which means ‘Get out, the house is on fire’. There was a cockney lad who used to do all the cleaning, who went round throwing pieces of coal in through the windows of the separate rooms of officers and sergeants. The rest of us had been together in the large rooms.
“The whole aim was to get everybody outside and then see what you could do. You couldn’t do anything inside. There was a roll call to check that everyone was out. It was probably about 9 or 10 o’clock when the fire started and by 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning it was well away, burning itself out. It was dark you know and people could see the flames all around the area. There were some hoses got out of the outhouses and we were told to hold on to them tight because they kick. But there was no water coming out of them.
"The fire brigades came from Cardiff, Newport, all over the place, but they couldn’t all get through. And when they did, it was too late. The following day Lord Tredegar came in his brass hat - he wasn’t in a proper army dress, it was an honorary one. He said he was very glad that we’d all got out.
“The only casualty was Lieutenant Barker, a very nice fellow, who went in to rescue the mascot dog, a bulldog, called Tyne. It was frightened by the fire and went back into the Castle. There were friction hoists above the windows which he used to lower the dog down so then he couldn’t use it for himself and had to jump from the second floor. He broke both his legs and of course that finished him in the Army. He was a good Rugby player too.
“Ruperra had been really something for someone like me to see. The rooms there were fancy and there was a sprung floor in the hall on the first floor. We’d seen castles before, we’ve got a lot of castles up here on Tyneside you know, but this was really beautiful. And I’ve never forgotten the chandelier. When it was all over I was really upset. The surroundings were so nice, the gardens and the trees. I enjoyed it there and I’m sorry for those who never had the chance to see it as it was."
South Wales Argus 9 December 1941:
80 years on and Ruperra Castle is still a ruin at risk of collapse - help Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust save the Castle and surrounding buildings and gardens by campaigning to secure them to use for community benefit, and to ensure a better future for our precious local heritage. Help us secure a future for this important monument - become a member before the end of 2021 and we will send you a free copy of our book – Ruperra Castle War and Flames 1939-46. You can also buy the book separately for £6.