The comprehensive gazetteer and bibliography of the medieval castles, fortifications and palaces of England, Wales, the Islands.
The listings
Other Info
Print Page 
Next Record 
Previous Record 
Back to list 

Penrhyn Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Penryne; Gafael Goronwy ab Ednyfed

In the community of Llandygai.
In the historic county of Caernarfonshire.
Modern authority of Gwynedd.
Preserved county of Gwynedd.

OS Map Grid Reference: SH60247185
Latitude 53.22505° Longitude -4.09459°

Penrhyn Castle has been described as a probable Tower House.

There are masonry footings remains.

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Penrhyn Castle, one of the most enormous houses in Britain, is an extensive fantasy castle by Thomas Hopper, largely built from the early 1820s to 1837 for George Hay Dawkins-Pennant. The castle climaxes in a vast Norman hall and an overbearing great tower, modelled on Heddingham Castle. A mansion is recorded here in the fourteenth century and licence to crenellate was obtained in the period 1410-1431. This house was swept away in about 1782 when a castellated Gothick style house was built. The hall of the 1782 house survives as the present drawing room. (Coflein ref. Haslam, Orbach and Voelcker)

Syr Gul. Grifith hath a faire house at Penryne a ii. myle a this side Bangor. (Leland)

Some remains of the medieval house remain in Thomas Hopper's extravaganza at Penrhyn Castle, particularly a cellar. A fourteenth-century dating has been suggested for this and it has also been suggested that the main Tudor line had a house here.(RCAHMW; Hague, 1959) On the other hand, we have the word of Gwilym's own son that his father built 'the manor of the Penrhyn'. Gwilym certainly lived there for part of the time; in a poem addressed to him by Rhys Goch Eryri, the poet compares the house with Caemarfon Castle. The castle was built by a conqueror to keep men down and to break their hearts; Gwilym's whitewashed tower, built of oak, is far superior to the Eagle Tower. Penrhyn is a place of generosity and hospitality and is more like the court of God than one of man; he wishes a long life to Gwilym and Joan. Obviously there is an element of poetic hyperbole here, but Gwilym's Penrhyn certainly appears to have been a substantial house, apparently built of timber and whitewashed like most contemporary buildings. The move to Penrhyn and the building of the house cannot be dated with any accuracy, but Gwilym began to buy up lands in Cororion in 1415, which suggests a terminus post quem. (Carr p. 16-17)

Although the first mention of the house is in a rental of 1413, when it was in the possession of the Gruffydd family, the building is of older origin. It is known that Gwilym ap Gruffydd (ob. 1431) benefited from the Glyndwr rebellion, but before this it seems likely that the estate was in the hands of the chief line of the Tudor family, which like Gwilym ap Gruffydd stemmed from Goronwy ap Ednyfed (ob. 1268). The land named as 'Gavael Gron ap Eden' in 1352 is almost certainly the desmesne of Penrhyn, and furthermore the close association of the Tudor family with the Friary at Bangor makes it probable that they had a house nearby.
The descendants of Gwilym ap Gruffydd prospered there until the 17th century, when the property passed to yet another kinsman, John Williams, Keeper of the Great Seal and later Archbishop of York. He certainly intended to improve Penrhyn but there is no record that his intentions were in fact carried out. By marriage the estate eventually passed to the Pennant family in whose hands it remained until acquisition by the National Trust in 1951.
The drawing (Plate 62) made before Wyatt's alteration is a convincing representation of the main elevation of the early house. It shows two windows of 14th-century type lighting the hall, now the drawing-room. This was entered by a doorway with a pointed head in which an 18th-century fanlight had been set. Above it a small window possibly lit the gallery over a screens passage; other medieval windows showed signs of modification. To the N . of the entrance a projecting circular stair turret (the top apparently rebuilt) gave access to the upper chamber of the N. wing. There was a corresponding wing S. of the hall.
The cellar (Plate 61) under the N. wing has recently been cleared of modern brickwork revealing a barrel vault similar to that beneath the chapel in Beaumaris Castle. At the W. end of the cellar a pointed doorway leads to a horizontal passage containing an inserted stair which led upwards in a curve to the base of the main stair-turret (A licence to crenellate was granted in 1438 (U.C.N.W. Bangor, Penryhn MSS. 20-22), but there is no evidence that this work was ever done. This stair-turret seems purely domestic). The E. entrance is through a wider door with chamfered jambs and flat head which is of later but uncertain date; the continuation of the cellar vault to the E. is 19th- century work and the brick under-pinning of the medieval foundations can be seen. The early chamber was lit by a single light in the N. wall.
The stair turret still survives and has been continued up to a great height by Hopper. There are no visible remains of Wyatt's house; his drawings show rather dull facades but on the entrance front he balanced the medieval turret by a dummy one which was in turn treated by Hopper as a buttress-like feature. (RCAHMW 1964)

Set in landscaped grounds of Penrhyn Park in elevated position surrounded by open lawns and some trees at end of long winding drive from Grand Lodge; dominates the surrounding countryside.
The present house, built in the form of a vast Norman castle, was constructed to the design of Thomas Hopper for George Hay Dawkins-Pennant between 1820 and 1837. It has been very little altered since. The original house on the site was a medieval manor house of C14 origin, for which a licence to crenellate was given at an unknown date between 1410 and 1431. This house survived until c1782 when it was remodelled in castellated Gothick style, replete with yellow mathematical tiles, by Samuel Wyatt for Richard Pennant. (Listed Building Report)
A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1438 May 10 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
Coflein   County HER       Listing    
Maps >
Streetmap   NLS maps   Where's the path   Old-Maps      
Data/Maps > 
Magic   Historic Wales   V. O. B.   Geology   LIDAR  
Air Photos > 
Bing Maps   Google Maps   Getmapping   ZoomEarth      
Photos >
CastleFacts   Geograph   Flickr   Panoramio      

Sources of information, references and further reading
Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.
It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Monument without consent. It is a destruction of everyone's heritage to remove archaeological evidence from ANY site without proper recording and reporting.
Don't use metal detectors on historic sites without authorisation.
The information on this web page may be derived from information compiled by and/or copyright of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales, the four welsh archaeological trusts and other individuals and organisations. It may also contain Designated Historic Asset Descriptive Information from The Welsh Historic Environment Service (Cadw), licensed under the Open Government Licence. All the sources given should be consulted to identify the original copyright holder and permission obtained from them before use of the information on this site for commercial purposes.
The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown.
Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
Lidar coverage in the UK is not complete. The button above will give an idea of the area of coverage. Higher resolution lidar images in both DSM and DTM form may be available from Lle A geo-Portal for Wales (click the preview tag to bring up a map and then select format byclicking on the small blue diamond in the top right corner of the map.)
Please help to make this as useful a resource as possible by contacting Gatehouse if you see errors, can add information or have suggestions for improvements in functality and design.
Help is acknowledged.
*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of the described site.

This record last updated 02/04/2017 19:24:48