• Story by David Williamson, taken from The Western Mail, 2 September 2003.
A house dating back to the 12th Century and famed for the fear it canstrike into visitors is on the market for £950,000.
Sker House, sitting on a limestone promontory at Porthcawl that juts west into Swansea Bay, is an isolated mansion which throughout its history has captured the imaginations of those who have caught sight of its lonely turrets.
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It fell into ruin in the 1980s but members of the Buildings at Risk Trust were so convinced that its eerie beauty was worth preserving thatfor six years they worked to restore it into one of the great houses of Wales.
The £1.2m project, partfunded by National Lottery money and by other grants, has rescued it from complete collapse and saved a building which documents 800 years of turbulent Welsh history.
A plaster frieze dating from about 1620 was found in the great hall, which is now warmed by a central-heating system. Restored dragons, birds and bunches of grapes run around the tops of the walls. On the south wall unique examples of 18th-century graffiti feature a huge caricature of a man wearing a large feathered hat.
While individual details will fascinate historians, every feature in the sprawling house combines to create a melancholic atmosphere which is as enchanting as it is disturbing.
Victorian novelist R D Blackmore immortalised the story of The Maid of Sker. The author of Lorna Doone was inspired by the tale of the Elizabeth Williams, whose plans to marry her harpist lover were dashed by her class-conscious father. After a failed attempt at eloping she was locked in her room and forbidden to leave the house. Those who approach the house today are said to sometimes catch a glimpse of her ghost standing by windows and hear the clank of chains.
Controversy and strife have surrounded Sker's history. In the 1500s ownership of the house and nearby lands was contested in bitter and frequently bloody feuds.
The house was born in conflict in the 1170s when it was founded on what had been the site of a monastic farm. The monks' buildings were incorporated into the house, which was eventually remodelled into the grand Tudor home which still stands.
In 1593 the residents were again the victims of anti-Catholic persecution. Two priests who held secret Masses there were found by the authorities and taken to London, where they are said to have been hanged and quartered.
Further infamy was imprinted on the history of the area after the ship Le Vainqueur was wrecked at Sker Point. When the captain's body was found his 17 gold pieces, his watch and the buckles of his shoes weresnatched from him. Tales are told of a ghost ship appearing in the seaand of a ghostly light floating above Sker Rocks.
The house began to deteriorate during the 19th Century but parts wereinhabited until the 1970s, when it was declared unsafe for human habitation. Now it is a five-bedroom country house with mains electricity and water and the ghost hunters will have to withdraw but, as a condition of the lottery funding, for 28 days a year for the next 10 years the owner must allow members of the public to make an appointment to visit it and explore its chambers.