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Caerphilly Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Caerfilly; Caerffili; Castell Caerfilli-Crynodeb; Kerfily; Kaerfilly; Sengenneth

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

OS Map Grid Reference: ST15538706
Latitude 51.57612° Longitude -3.22032°

Caerphilly Castle has been described as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a probable Palace.

There are major building remains.

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


Caerphilly Castle is an imposing medieval fortress mirrored in the waters of its placid lakes. It was built amid alarms and excursions by the lords of Glamorgan following their annexation of upland Senghenydd in 1267 and was completed by 1290. It was associated with a borough and a vast deer park enclosing the Aber valley 3.0km to the north-west. The castle was in decline by the fifteenth century and it was ruinous by the earlier sixteenth. Nevertheless it was probably put into a state of defence in the mid seventeenth century when a great bastion or redoubt was raised to guard its north-western side. A major campaign of restoration and reconstruction was carried out in 1928-39. Since then the castle has been taken into state care and its lakes have been reflooded. The castle consists of a great walled central court with tall round towers at each corner and huge twin-towered gatehouses on the east and west sides. Within is a magnificent earlier fourteenth century great hall and other grand apartments. The court is set within a concentric walled platform that rises from the waters of the lakes. These are held back by a massive fortified embankment on the east side that presents an unparalelled 280m long array of walls, towers and bastions towards the town. A corn mill is set within this area. There is a further walled platform on the west side of the castle. (Coflein–ref. RCAHMW, 2000 and Renn, 1997)

On a low-lying marshy site surrounded by hills to the N, S and W. Two streams, the Nant Gledyr and Nant yr Aber, cross the area and drain into the R Rhymney which flows towards the E. These streams were dammed to make the moat and great lakes.
Caerphilly is the largest medieval castle in Wales and one of the most impressive in Europe. It was originally constructed between 1268 and 1271 by Gilbert de Clare (1245-95), Earl of Gloucester and Hertford and Marcher Lord of Glamorgan. The castle was built in response to the advances of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, who was a few miles S of Caerphilly. In 1276-7 Llywelyn refused to pay homage to the new King, Edward I, and war broke out. The S and W sides of the castle were further fortified. Before Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was defeated and killed in mid Wales in 1282, major works were undertaken to the E extremities of the castle in a different style. After 1282, the powerful de Clare family had firm control of their lands in Glamorgan; Caerphilly Castle was no longer in the front line, but it remained their administrative centre. A brief skirmish occurred in 1295; half of Caerphilly town was burnt but the castle was unharmed. There was a rebellion in 1316 when the estates were temporarily in the King's hands. Llywelyn Bren attacked the castle leading to minor damage (mostly to the S gatehouse) but the town and mills were destroyed. Finally, the castle passed into the ownership of Hugh Despenser the Younger (d. 1326), son-in-law of Earl Gilbert. He remodelled the Great Hall in 1320 to host lavish entertainments, the work undertaken by William de Hurley and Thomas de la Botaille, leading craftsmen of the King. Following an uprising led by Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and the estranged queen Isabella, Edward II and Hugh Despenser fled and took refuge in Caerphilly Castle. Later, they were captured in Llantrisant (and subsequently killed), whilst the castle was still under siege by Isabella's forces led by Lord William Zouche. The Lordship of Glamorgan was finally restored to Eleanor de Clare and her heirs. By the mid C14, the castle was effectively disused, although it was maintained until the late C15. In 1428-9, extensive repairs were carried out including to the main outer gatehouse. From the reign of Henry VII (1485) the castle fell into ruin and was described by John Leland in 1539 as 'ruinus waulles of a wonderful thiknes with just a single toure kept up for prisoners'. The castle was leased to Thomas Lewis of Van in the late C16, who used the stone dressings in the enlargement of his house. The defences may have been slighted during the Civil Wars. Caerphilly Castle was acquired by the Bute family in 1776, who took an active interest in the ruins. Restoration was begun by the 3rd Marquess (1847-1900) principally the reroofing of the Great Hall and the production of detailed measured drawings. It was the 4th Marquess (1881-1947) who carried out the full restoration under his architect J P D Grant, carefully copying the construction techniques of the medieval stone-masons, whilst using materials which could be distinguished from the original. The outer face of the inner E gatehouse was completely rebuilt along with one tower of the S gateway and the W towers of the inner ward. At the same time, buildings adjacent to the castle were demolished as individual leases expired, to improve the castle's setting. The landscaping and reflooding of the lakes was completed in the late 1960s, the castle having passed into state ownership in 1950.
The castle is built upon the principle of concentric fortifications, with an inner ward and middle ward surrounded by a moat, dams, two great lakes and outer defences. The inner and middle wards are rectangular in plan with round angle towers and large twin-towered gatehouses to the E and W. An outer gatehouse to the E forms the main entrance and is flanked by fortifications along the N and S dams. The massive battlemented walls are mainly constructed of local pennant sandstone, with some red sandstone and blue lias limestone. The doorways have shallow pointed arches, and the original structures have trefoil-headed lancet windows and arrow slits with small circles at the base. Dressings are of Sutton stone and the style of mouldings can be related to the chronological development of the castle. The only exception is Despenser's great hall where the dressings are of Jurassic limestone from Bristol. The inner ward is an open courtyard with a well in the centre. The great hall and chambers are to the S, gatehouses to the E and W, and a wall-walk to the N. The great hall is the most highly embellished of all the structures in the castle. The exterior wall, facing into the courtyard, has been refaced in ashlar. It contains 2 pairs of tall 2-light windows with pointed ogee heads and a doorway to the L. Inside the hall, the arched brace roof is late C19. The trusses are supported on the early C14 corbels which consist of 3 long filleted shafts, with bell capitals and stops depicting 3 heads (the King and his courtiers). The corbels and recesses of an earlier roof structure also survive: the corbels are short with roll mouldings. The window reveals are decorated with C14 ball flower ornament. Between the 2 pairs of windows is a large fireplace but the dressings are missing. The E, S, and N walls contain blocked openings showing that the hall was altered in the C13 - 14. To the S of the hall at a high level is a covered vaulted passage (known as the Braose passage) which was originally open. A large infilled archway in the E wall now contains a doorway into a late C20 kitchen. A doorway to its L is original and leads to a room with 2 large fireplaces. To the W, a doorway with broach stops to the jambs leads into 2 large ruined chambers, also much altered: the chambers are irregular in shape, over 2 storeys high, roofless and contain the remains of domestic fireplaces. Tall windows face into the courtyard, mainly ruined, one with the remains of a traceried head in a grey stone dressing. The E gatehouse forms the main entrance to the inner ward and is the most strongly defended structure in the castle. It is a 3-storey block flanked by projecting round towers (the outer face rebuilt in early C20). Central pointed-arched entrance with chamfered dressed jambs. The towers have arrow slits at 5 levels. Small projections to N and S housing doorways leading to wall-walks. Above and flanking the inner doorway, and also to the exterior, are small trefoil-headed lancets. Two large windows to interior 2nd floor, each with 2 trefoiled lights and a quatrefoil. The upper floors of the gatehouse are thought to have been the private apartments of Gilbert de Clare's constable. The 2nd floor is continuous across the gatehouse and has a large fireplace with raked hood on corbels against the W wall. The floor does not survive. Side chamber with quadripartite vault and heavy chamfered ribs. The inner W gatehouse is smaller than the inner E gatehouse but in similar style. It is 2-storey with projecting round towers to the exterior and a flat wall to the interior (E) side. The entrance is flanked by 2 low doorways to the interior side, most of the dressings C20, which provide access to the towers. Two large ruined windows under relieving arches to upper storey. The towers have arrow slits at 4 levels. The lower chambers are vaulted, with heavy ribs supported on bell-shaped capitals. The 1st floor of the gatehouse is open, and has concrete beams on concrete corbels in place of the ceiling. Remains of stairs in N tower. Of the angle-towers of the inner ward, the NW and SW towers stand full-height but were reconstructed in the early C20. They have lancets and arrow slits as in the gatehouses. The upper 2 floors of each tower contained accommodation, whilst the lower floor was for defence purposes and storage. The NW tower has mural stairs to the R of the entrance and a garderobe to the L. The window openings have wide internal splays, shallow pointed heads and occasional window seats. The 2nd floor has a large ornate fireplace with square head and raked hood, partly reconstructed. The 1st floor fireplace is plainer with a flat lintel. The SW tower has lost its floors but an opening leads to the Braose gallery which runs behind the great hall and on to the SE tower. The SE tower is ruined (though part stands full height), and leans outwards at an angle of about 10°. It was not restored by the Bute family so is important for retaining original detail. Very little survives of the NE tower: part of a staircase, the bottom of a window opening, and the base of a door jamb with pyramid stop. A wall-walk runs along the N side of the inner ward and is battlemented with arrow loops. Timber hoarding was reconstructed in the 1990s. Small postern gate in outside of wall at low level. The curtain wall of the middle ward is lower than that of the inner ward. It has bastions in place of angle towers, on which there is a wall-walk. There are gatehouses to the E and W, smaller but similar in style to those of the inner ward. The 2-storey E gatehouse is ruined. The front elevation with projecting round towers survives, but the rear wall (added later) is ruined. Adjoining to the N is a square projection allowing access to the wall-walk; lancets appear to have replaced arrow slits. The W gatehouse has original projecting round towers with arrow slits. The entrance, containing double doors, is within a flat-headed surround, the cornice supported on corbels. Above is a high relieving arch over 2 windows with shallow pointed heads. The internal face of the gatehouse (also later) is ruined, but the towers retain parts of windows at ground floor level, and a fireplace in one of the upper chambers. (It is said that this area was remodelled in the C16 by the Earl of Pembroke for his Manorial Court.) The wall-walk flanking the gatehouse has been incorporated within later buildings, particularly to the N. The S side of the middle ward was blocked, at the outbreak of war between Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Edward I, by a large square kitchen annexe which butts against the great hall. To its W is a large ruined round tower with S window, beyond which is a postern, a narrow rectangular block with a low doorway entered from the lake and 2 further openings above. Against the E side of the kitchen block is a circular oven, possibly the remains of a brewhouse. South of the E gatehouse in the middle ward is the remains of a very large structure, probably a storeroom. The basement survives with the raked sills of 2 windows. A moat surrounds the middle ward to the E, N and W, wooden bridges on stone abutments spanning it to the E and W. There is a small postern gate at a low level in the N wall, providing access from the moat. To the S is the S lake. To the N of the moat is an earthwork dam, beyond which is the N lake. W of the moat is a hornwork of irregular shape, an earthwork surrounded by a low masonry wall. It is an island, being linked to the ground to the W and the earthwork dam by further wooden bridges. Both lakes are retained to the E by masonry dams known as the S and N dam platforms. In front of the dams is the outer E moat. Much of the S dam platform belongs to the original phase of the structure, whilst the outer main gatehouse and N dam platform are slightly later, but pre-date the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282. The 2-storey outer main gatehouse, partially rebuilt in the early C20, has twin polygonal towers on square bases with pyramidal spurs. They flank the pointed arched entrance which is under a high blind arch. The rear wall is flat, and there is a higher block to the N which provides access to the N dam platform, resulting in an L-shaped plan. The form of the arrow loops is new: cross-shaped with the arms terminating in small circles. On the internal wall above the gateway is a window with 2 trefoil-headed lights and a large transom. The interior of the outer main gatehouse was used for accommodation: the N block contains a spiral staircase and possibly servants quarters; the 1st floor chamber has a fireplace with recess and what appears to be a squint. The 2nd floor chamber no longer has floor boards but there is a door leading to the main chamber over the gatehouse. This has a large fireplace to the W and pointed arched doorways with pyramid stops. The N dam is in the same style as the outer main gatehouse: 3 small polygonal towers on square bases and cross-shaped arrow loops to the front face, internally with wide splayed reveals. The dam has been raised and is terminated by the N gatehouse (the cavalry entrance). It is in the same style but has lost most of its arches and dressings. The S dam is wider than the N dam and in a different style, being part of the original phase. Its substantial outer wall is retained by closely-spaced thin square buttresses with splayed bases; the recesses between are concave. Much fabric reconstructed in the early C20, but these areas differentiated by red tile in the infill. Internally, a small turret leads onto the wall-walk, which is terminated at the S end by a small square tower, Felton's tower. This overlies the former culvert which drained water from the S lake to the outer moat (now realigned to the N). The outer wall curves round to the SW where there is a further small rounded tower, the internal wall of which is later, with moulded jambs and pyramid stops to the doorway, and a 2-light window to the upper storey. Further round, and facing W is the S gatehouse which led into the town. It was rebuilt or repaired in the late C13, but is mainly C20, with cross-shaped arrow loops to the exterior round towers. High blind arch above entrance. Flat internal wall with lancets plus a larger window with transom above the gateway. On the S dam platform are the remains of the former corn mill: the head and tail races are still visible but the wheel pit (for an overshot wheel) has been infilled. A room to the N was used for preparing the corn and stands to less than 1 storey high, with the raked sill of a former window. (Listed Building Report)

Renn considers probably built on site of welsh llys and was centre of a comote.
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This record last updated 13/07/2017 07:05:37