Dating back to the 12th century, this mansion has a reputation for being one of the most haunted places in Wales.
Its original function was as a grange to support the monks of Neath Abbey but the dissolution of the monasteries saw it pass into private hands. Over its 800 year history, the house has seen much violence and bloodshed so it is hardly surprising that at least some of that should have found its way into the very fabric of the building itself.
During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, persecution against Catholics was on the increase and the house’s then owners – the Turbervilles – remained staunchly loyal to the ‘old religion’, even going so far as to provide refuge for Jesuit priests. Clandestine Masses were held there, the house’s isolated position providing the perfect venue.
In 1678, a famous Catholic plot to kill Charles II had once again inflamed the old hatreds and persecution. A Jesuit priest – Father Philip Evans – was arrested at Sker House. He endured a mockery of a trial at Cardiff before being hung, drawn and quartered. Fearful of more persecution, the then owner of the house – Charles Turberville – sold it and moved abroad.
If the name of the house is familiar it may be that you have read The Maid of Sker by R.D. Blackmore (more famous for his novel, Lorna Doone). The author was fascinated by local legend which told of an inhabitant of the house – Elizabeth Williams – whose plans to marry her lover were thwarted by her father. The object of Elizabeth’s affections was a young carpenter and harpist called Thomas Evans, someone deemed unworthy by her father, who had other plans for her.
The couple planned to elope and Evans hired a coach and horses in order for them to make their escape. Unfortunately, the arrival of the coach set Williams’s dogs barked so furiously, it woke the whole house. Evans turned tail and ran, leaving Elizabeth to face her father’s wrath alone.
He locked her up in a room with blocked up windows. Following her incarceration, he forced her to marry a man called Thomas Kirkhouse. The marriage was claimed to have been a loveless union and every time Evans was in the vicinity, Elizabeth would sneak out of the house she shared with her husband at Briton Ferry in order to hear him play. She died after nine years of marriage, it is said of a broken heart.
In 2002 a BBC camera crew tried to film there, during the major restoration work. A high-pitched noise emanated from the Great Hall and, despite all efforts to trace the source, none could be found. A medium who accompanied them said that the work had disturbed something evil. Unable to continue, the crew packed up and left – as fast as they could.
Another spirit said to walk there is that of a ship’s captain. His ship foundered at nearby Sker Point and was plundered. Elizabeth Williams’s father was one of those accused. He claimed he had merely taken some items back to Sker House for safekeeping. Odd that a number of these should have gone missing that night, even though he claimed to have put them under guard! Maybe the captain returns to find his lost cargo.
Screams, wailing noises, dark moving shadows and figures have all been reported. In the past people have felt a strong sense of unease when entering the house – even to the point of nausea.
From the eighteenth century, the old house had gradually decayed as a result of ownership by a succession of absentee landlords. It was finally abandoned in 1977 and fell into ruin. Thankfully it was then rescued just over 20 years later by a historic buildings trust and was painstakingly restored. It is now the fine house it was always meant to be. Let us hope the present owner is untroubled by its restless spirits.