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Van Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Castell Y Fan; Van Manor; Vanne

In the community of Van.
In the historic county of Glamorgan.
Modern authority of Caerphilly.
Preserved county of Mid Glamorgan.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST16658684
Latitude 51.57431° Longitude -3.20405°

Van Castle has been described as a Masonry Castle but is rejected as such.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law*.


A house on the site of the Van is first mentioned in 1529 when it was purchased by Edward Lewis, a sheriff of Glamorgan, and was mentioned by John Leland a decade later. This probably consisted of a ground-floor hall with storeyed porch, which survive partially as the present porch and the N and E walls of the main range. A 2-storey kitchen wing was added behind in the mid C16. In 1583 Edward Lewis' son Thomas obtained the lease of Caerphilly Castle and used dressed stone from there to rebuild Van House with a new stair block on the E (rear) side and a gatehouse and walled court to the W overlooking the valley and Caerphilly Castle. The house had a first-floor and an unheated ground-floor hall. In 1616 Sir Edward Lewis transferred his seat to St Fagans Castle and after 1628, when the main line of the family was no longer settled in Glamorgan, Van House became relatively insignificant. In the early C17 the kitchen wing was extended by a further unit and became a separate farmhouse. The remainder of the house may have been largely dismantled after 1736 when the Lewis estates were inherited by the Earl of Plymouth. The stair block also became part of the farmhouse and its stair was removed probably C19. In the late C18 or early C19 the farmhouse was extended again by the addition of a cart shed. Van House remained part of the Plymouth Estate to 1991, by which time the lower storey windows had been robbed from the main range and nothing more than the bases had survived of its attic windows. The house has since been thoroughly restored.
Reason Listed notwithstanding extensive restoration as one of the most important Tudor mansions in Glamorgan, retaining early detail.
Interior Not inspected (September 1998), but said by RCAHM Wales to retain several 4-centred doorways and a fireplace in the first floor of the main range with shallow Tudor arch.
Exterior A large Tudor mansion consisting of a 2-storey main house with attic facing courtyard to W and a storeyed porch at the L end. Behind is a former stair block to centre and a lower 2-storey E wing facing the road on the S side. Of rubble stone cement rendered and painted white, with restored synthetic slate roofs. The main house has a 4-bay front with 4-light mullioned and transomed windows (restored to lower storey, repaired to upper storey) and string courses at plinth and floor levels. Reconstructed gablets have simpler 3-light attic windows. The 3-storey porch has gablets to the main elevations, and a string course in the lower storey broken by the main doorway on W side, which has a moulded surround and 4-centred arch, with modern double boarded doors. Above, in each storey are early C16 3-light mullioned windows with Tudor-headed lights, sunk spandrels and hood mould with label stops. In the S return wall are plainer 2-light windows in the upper storeys. Projecting forward on the N side of the porch is a ruined wing now single storey of dressed stone with 2 blocked Tudor-headed arches in the S wall and springers of a similar arch in the W wall, topped by a string course. The courtyard wall is attached to this projection. The N wall of the porch has an external stack corbelled to first floor and ruins of a turning stone stair formerly housed in a projection. The S gable end of the main range is one bay with reconstructed window to the lower storey, repaired window to the upper storey and reconstructed attic window in a gablet, all similar to the front elevation. The E wing, occupied as a farmhouse from the C17, has a 3-window front with cart shed to its R. At the L end is a square C16 ridge stack, with a later ridge stack to the R end of the house. The windows to the L are C16 4-light mullioned windows with Tudor-headed lights, sunk spandrels and hood moulds. The 2-light window above the doorway is plainer but has a similar hood mould. The shallow gabled porch is C19 and the doorway inside replaced an original window. To its R, in the unit added early C17, are 3-light windows with hood moulds. The cart shed has openings with re-used stone dressings. A wide segmental-headed doorway has C19 boarded double doors, and to the R beneath the eaves is a 2-light mullioned loft window. In the E (uphill) gable end is a segmental-headed loft doorway with stopped chamfer and renewed threshold. At the rear the main range has a gabled projection (which housed the original stair) with outshut on its N side, and with 2 stepped 2-light mullioned former stair lights. The E wing has a shallow projection of a former stack for a lateral fireplace, into which a doorway is inserted with late C20 door. A further doorway is inserted into the rear of the cart shed. Beneath the eaves are narrow windows. (Listed Building Report)

The Van
The Norman sequestration by Gilbert de Clare of the Lordship of Senghenydd was completed by 1267 (Smith, 1971, 311). It is likley that the probable motte known as Gwern-y-domen was erected as part of this strategy on the lands occupied by the family which became known as Lewis, who claimed descent from Ivor Bach and the Lords of Senghenydd. They continued in tenancy of this land in the service of the Lordship by occupation of Fan Fawr (Castell-y-Van).
The Y Van estate may have developed from a demesne manor of the Welsh Lords of Sengennydd. The oldest farm in the area was known "Maerdy" and "Maerdy" probably derives from "Maerdref" signifying a demesne manor (Smith, 1971, 314) occupied by a senior officer or steward of a Welsh Lord.
In the early fifteenth century the holder of this land is identified as Llewellyn ap Rhys, constable of Caerphilly Castle, an officer in the service of the Lord of Glamorgan (Smith, 1971, 312) . His grandson Lewis ap Richard, also a former constable of Caerphilly Castle, was buried at Greyfriars in Cardiff (Smith 1971, 330). Lewis ap Richard's son Edward adopted the name Lewis as a surname and extended the basis of the Lewis estate. This had originally been centred on extensive land holdings near Merthyr, but by 1529, when the deeds record a "substantial house", the main residence of Lewis was at the Van. By the mid-1530s, this house had been so improved and extended that it was described by Leland as "a fair place callid Vanne, wher Mr Edward Lewis dwellith". In 1583 his son Thomas Lewis leased Caerphilly Castle from the Earl of Pembroke and used stone from the castle as building materials on the estate (Smith, 1971, 331) .
By the late sixteenth century the Van had become the principal mansion in East Glamorgan. The existence of a deer park was recorded by Rice Merrick in 1578 in his description of the county.
At Thomas Lewis's death, his son Edward inherited the largest estate in Glamorgan. Edward Lewis was knighted in 1603. His son, also called Edward served in the Royal Household and was also knighted and granted estates in Wiltshire. By 1625 Edward Lewis's grandson had the majority holding in Sengennydd as well as other holdings in the Vale of Glamorgan, at his death he left 300 miscellaneous holdings (Williams, 1974, 16), making the Lewises the most substantial famly in terms of holdings and wealth in the county. Following Edward Lewis's death the estate was passed to minors; and the Y Van holding eventually went via a cadet line to the Earl of Plymouth in 1737. The family resided in Wiltshire and leased the Van mansion to estate tenants: as a result it declined, although for some time it remained the largest house in the area.
A large columbarium (dovecot) was erected just to the north of the house in a field known as Cae Colomendy, almost certainly after 1578 as it was not recorded by Merrick. It was the largest columbarium in the county; the roof remained intact until 1947 and although it is now ruinous, restoration proposals are in hand. (Caple and Marvell 1991)

A sign outside Van Castle reads "Records referring to Van Castle date from 1415, but the dressed stone quoins and faced stones in the lodge, keep and main mansion building carry 12th century mason marks and are from the original Norman castle." This appears to total invention without any real truth. The estate was mentioned in the 14th century but not as a castle. The dressed stone came from Caerphilly Castle in the 16th century (and any mason marks on it will be 13th century not 12th). There was certainly no Norman precursor castle on the site although there was a motte at Gwern Y Domen, which may have been a precursor to the estate. No source is given on this sign.
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This record last updated 10/07/2016 04:44:33