Now restored and inhabited, Pengersick or Pengerswick Castle was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a ruin consisting of a single tower standing in a lonely hollow running down to Pengersick Cove. Strange traditions concerning it existed, including one of a lady of Pengersick, who was often seen either as partly or wholly serpent, and in that form long haunted the ruins after her decease.
This is an echo of a rambling tale reported by both William Bottrell and Robert Hunt in the second half of the nineteenth century. Hunt says that the first Pengersick, who built the castle, married as his second wife a ‘wicked stepmother’, who persuaded him to have his son kidnapped and sold as a slave. Subsequently, she poisoned her husband, then shut herself up in her room, having become covered in scales from her poisons, and finally cast herself into the sea.
Meantime, Young Pengersick had escaped abroad, and when he returned brought with him a lady of great beauty whom people said was a ‘Saracen’. Only a few servants were allowed within the castle walls, which, or so it was rumoured, were bound by spells. Pengersick would shut himself up in his room for days, and at night and during storms could be heard calling up spirits in some unknown language.
The Saracen lady sat alone in her tower all day looking out of a window over the sea. She seldom spoke, but sang the love songs of her land so sweetly that the fishes raised their heads at dawn to hear her, and mermaids and strange spirits of the waters were drawn to Pengersick Cove.
This mysterious pair long inhabited the castle. Pengersick often rode abroad on a great horse thought to be demonic, and he was feared by all. Years passed until one day a sunburnt stranger was seen in Market Jew (Marazion). People noticed him wandering out at night and sitting on a rock at the entrance to Pengersick valley. At the same time, the lord seemed to stay at home more than usual, and no one heard his spells or his lady’s singing.
Then, one stormy night, a burst of flames told the people of Market Jew that Pengersick Castle was ablaze. Its interior was destroyed, and neither enchanter nor lady nor stranger were ever seen again. People later claimed that, as the flames reached their height, they saw two men and a lady amidst them who passed upwards like lightning and vanished.
The legends of Pengersick and its enchanter are probably rooted in the personality of Henry de Pengersick in the fourteenth century. Violently anti-clerical, he was excommunicated by the Church for having laid hands on clergy come to gather tithes. He was perhaps remembered as ‘godless’ and woven into a story accounting for the castle’s ruined state. The castle came after his time, however, its surviving tower being built around 1500. By 1738, when it was visited by the antiquary William Borlase, except for this tower it was ruinous. Not surprisingly, there are rumours of secret passages and of a treasure bricked up within its walls.