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St Donats Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
St Donatt's; St Denwit's

In the community of St Donats.
In the historic county of Glamorgan.
Modern authority of Vale of Glamorgan.
Preserved county of South Glamorgan.

OS Map Grid Reference: SS93436809
Latitude 51.40170° Longitude -3.53344°

St Donats Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

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


St Donat's Castle is thought to have originated in the twelfth century and has been continuously occupied until the present day. The surviving remains were built around 1300 and consisit of concentric outer and inner curtain walls, a contemporary outer gatehouse and an inner gatehouse with Mansell Tower. The gun room walls are also of this date. Around 1450-1500 the Great Hall with Stradling Entrance, the Below Priest's Room and Gibbett Tower were added. The northwest and north-east ranges of inner courtyard buildings are thought to be of 1500 to 1525. Alterations were made in the early twentieth century and further work was carried out in the late 1920s through to the mid 1930s. The interior of the west range was partly gutted and remodelled in late 1920s to circa 1935 and arranged with fittings from other historic buildings, including a fifteenth century stone screen from a Devon church and a probably French hooded fireplace. Further rooms in this range include the Armoury and the Breakfast room. (Coflein)

The castle stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Bristol Channel with the terraced gardens descending to the sea on the south side. The village was originally at the gate and round the church but it was moved away in the C19.
The building of much of today's castle is thought to date from c1300, and was undertaken by Peter de Stratelinges (or Stradling), who married Joan, daughter of Thomas de Halweia of St Donats in 1298. It has been continuously occupied, though not always by the owner, since that time. The Stradlings owned it from 1298-1738, and only the very first build was not their work before the late C19. The first stone build is now known to have been by the de Halweia (or de Haweys) and to date from the late C12 and this probably replaced a timber castle dating from soon after the Norman Conquest of Glamorgan. This castle consisted of a rectangular keep cum gatehouse, of which the base and part of the inner faces survive in what is now the Mansell Tower, and a faceted enceinte or curtain wall, probably replacing a timber palisade; and some of this curtain is incorporated into the existing inner ring of buildings around the castle courtyard. The early C14 saw the building of the Outer Curtain, with the Outer Gatehouse and the North Tower, and, no doubt, the improvement of the Inner Curtain, but any changes here have largely disappeared under later work except for the outer faces of the South-west and South-east Towers. The increase in wealth and importance of the Stradlings and the improvement of the times meant much spending on new accommodation within the castle in the late C15. These are principally within the ranges of the Inner Court, the North-east and South-east blocks, the Gibbet Tower and the Stradling Hall, and this phase of building continued into the early C16 (1500-25) with the West Range and the North Range of apartments. The late C16 or early C17 saw minor improvements and additions like the Brewhouse and the Medical Block by the main gate. This was the time of Sir Edward Stradling V (died1609) who was also responsible for much building in the gardens and estate, such as the south terraces, the Watchtower and the Cavalry Barracks (qqv). His major contribution to the main castle was the insertion of a first floor Long Gallery running south across the west end of the Stradling Hall. The Stradlings supported the Royalist cause in the Civil War and the large fines exacted by Cromwell in retribution set them back in the later C17. Their line died out in 1738 and the castle was tenanted and by 1803 was only partly habitable. The castle's condition deteriorated until it was bought in 1862 by Dr. John Nicholl-Carne for £5000. He began a campaign of restoration and this was continued much more vigorously by Morgan Stuart Williams, a coal owner of Aberpergwm, who owned it 1901-9. He commissioned plans by George Lambert in 1901 and designs from the architects Bodley and Garner. His work was largely repair and modernisation, with home comforts such as central heating and bathrooms and it was these which attracted the two American owners, first Richard Pennoyer, who did little to it, in 1922 and then William Randolph Hearst, who did a great deal, in 1925. Hearst both added to and destroyed the previous work, both medieval and that of Morgan Williams. Randolph Hearst expended enormous sums on the building (at least £250,000), with elaborate additions and internal changes designed by Sir Charles Allom; many of which comprised the incorporation from elsewhere of parts of medieval and Renaissance buildings, both British and French (for details see Exterior and Interior), and most of these were supplied by Sir Charles Allom's company, White Allom Ltd. The main changes externally involved three major breaches in the Outer Curtain, the part-demolition and rebuilding of the Lady Anne Tower, the building from new of the Dining Hall and the Bradenstoke Hall, as well as internal improvements to the North Range, the Breakfast Room, the Stradling Hall etc. Although the film 'Citizen Kane' is not about St. Donat's Castle, knowledge of its background will ensure that a visit is never forgotten. Hearst himself stayed in the castle only for a total of about four months, while his wife apparently did not even know he had bought it. These works continued until the collapse of Hearst's finances in 1937, and the castle then remained for sale, though still the property of Hearst's National Magazine Company, until it was bought in 1960 for £65,000 to become, in 1962, the United World College of the Atlantic, which it remains today.
Many parts of the interior were not seen at resurvey, but there is a full description in RCAHMW. It contains many spaces and features which are very fine, some medieval, some C16, some introduced and some replica. This is an extremely rich interior which has a varied and fascinating history both in architectural terms and in changing social and aesthetic attitudes. The most outstanding interiors and features are described, but there are many more of interest. Outer Gatehouse, contemporary hooded fireplace of Sutton stone in the Guard Room (not seen). Mansell Tower is said to have Norman stone features, doorways, staircase etc.; also early C14 features such as the first floor entry as well as a fine Hearst period fireplace; but none of these were seen. The Great Hall, 4-bay arch braced collar roof with triple tiers of curved windbraces each side, light collar purlin; gallery at east end. This roof is very restored. Service arrangements survive at the east end. The fireplace is said to be the original Hall fireplace, but it was re-instated from elsewhere by Atlantic College in the 1960s. Triple moulded arches through to a further room, the Gun Room, at the west end. This has a large made-up French fireplace with immense lintel and cut-down hood . This area once held Morgan Williams' Armoury, designed by Bodley and Garner, but this was destroyed by Hearst. Through to the: Bradenstoke Hall, built by Hearst and Allom between the Outer and Inner Curtains. Early C14 arch braced collar beam roof in seven bays brought from the Refectory at Bradenstoke Priory in Wiltshire. This has curved windbraces on the lower tier and upper collars which are also arch-braced, crown post against west gable. Two very large and fine French fireplaces, of which the east one functions and the west one is false and has a false hood done out as ashlar. This hood is flanked by two blind 2-light arched windows with cusped heads and quatrefoils. Fine C14 north-west door into Hall. The Lady Anne Tower has some rich fireplaces, ceilings etc. but these were not seen. The interior of the West Range was mostly gutted and remodelled in the late 1920s to c1935 for Randolph Hearst and was arranged with fittings from other historic buildings, both English and French, which were supplied by Sir Charles Allom's firm, White Allom Ltd. C15 stone screen with much carving from an unknown Devon church at the entrance to the: Dining Hall, which has a magnificent ceiling from St. Botolph's Parish Church of Boston in Lincolnshire, found in-situ above a later plaster vault and sold to pay for the restoration of the church. It is a very flat rib vault with painted and gilded ribs and bosses. Fine French hooded fireplace with fleur-de-lys shield, which came from a chateau near Beauvais but had to have its hood cut down to fit in place. Breakfast Room, formerly part of the Morgan Williams Dining Room, has a fireplace from the Prior's Lodging at Bradenstoke Priory of c1514. Ceiling also inserted by Hearst, ribbed Gothic tierceron vault also a part of the vault from Boston parish church with medieval colouring. The Library is on the upper floor above the Dining Hall, but this was designed by Allom as Hearst's Armoury. The Library has a magnificent C15 style 8-bay arch braced collar roof with two tiers of curved windbraces with chamfered purlins, ridge-piece, collar purlin above the collars and curved queen struts, C15 fireplace. Gallery at the north end. Four arch screen through to the Inner Library, which has another introduced C15 fireplace. Interior of part of the North Range was remodelled as a new bedroom suite in the late 1920s to 1935. These are now known as the William Randolph Hearst Room and the Marion Davies Room and were the magnate's bedroom which inter-connected with his mistress's. Both are lined with late C17 panelling, which is supposed to have been re-positioned from within the castle's West Range. Hearst's room has an appropriately designed plaster ceiling with central circle; Davies' room has only a moulded cornice.
Some parts of the exterior were not seen at resurvey, especially the North and South-west Outer Courtyards, but there is a full description in RCAHMW. The castle is built of local limestone rubble with Sutton stone and sandstone dressings, which is, on the whole, matched very carefully in its different builds and periods; see, for instance, the south wall of Bradenstoke Hall which incorporates medieval and 1920s walling as well as introduced medieval features. The roofs are largely hidden from the ground behind parapets when viewed from outside the castle; the notable exception is the Bradenstoke Hall, which is roofed with stone slates. The ranges round the Inner Courtyard have Welsh slate roofs, but there will also be much lead on the flat tower roofs etc. Concentric Outer and Inner Curtain walls, part of the course of the Inner Curtain masked and in part lost amongst later buildings (see History). Medieval Outer Gatehouse and Inner Gatehouse with Mansell Tower. The main apartment ranges, Hall etc. are round the Inner Courtyard. The Outer Courtyard and the Outer Curtain were altered in the early C20 by three major additions, the Lady Anne Tower, the Dining Hall and the Bradenstoke Hall. The castle is surrounded by a partly filled-in ditch on the north and east and by a precipitous slope on the west. Castellated outer curtain walls with corbel table and loops; built in mainly straight sections with corners of wide angle. The circuit begins with the Entrance Bridge over the dry ditch. The Bridge is stone and carries a paved roadway flanked by castellated parapet walls. It reaches the Outer Gatehouse, with a portcullis in its double-chamfered central arch, an inset coat of arms below the murder chute with two flanking and widely spaced lancet windows. Castellated parapet with arrow loop in the large central castellation. Taller corbelled lookout on the right return and also on the left return with a smaller and taller turret, the latter without corbels. The circuit is continuous and is described clockwise from the Bridge. The first break in the faceted wall is the east corner of the Bradenstoke Hall which broke through and then incorporated the medieval wall. The wall of the Hall has four 2-light windows which were brought from the Abbot's Lodging of Bradenstoke Priory, Wiltshire in 1929. They are Decorated windows of the C14 and have cusped lights with a quatrefoil above. There is one at each end and a pair in the centre. Only the heads are medieval as is shown by the SPAB poster put up as a protest on the London Underground at the time of the demolition. The poster shows only three windows so the fourth may be replica, or come from the other side of the building. These windows replaced ones previously inserted into the medieval wall by Sir Thomas Garner, which lit Morgan Williams' Armoury. Above the windows is a continuous corbel table supporting a castellated parapet with arrow-loops and behind is the steeply pitched roof with a crow-stepped gable on the right. At the west end of the Bradenstoke Hall is a doorway with 4-centred head and, above it, a corbelled oriel with a 1 + 4 + 1 light transom window and stone tile roof. This lights Sir Edward Stradling V's Long Gallery. Above this is a 2-light Decorated style window with cusped head and quatrefoil. To the left are four small windows, one to each floor, which light the stair tower. Now comes the Lady Anne Tower which was largely rebuilt to three storeys by Sir Thomas Garner for Morgan Williams in 1901-9 and then enlarged and raised by a storey by Randolph Hearst in the late 1920s (it is difficult to recognise exactly what happened but both the stonework and the windows of the top floor do seem to suggest an addition, though the work is very carefully matched). It has Tudor type windows with 4-centre head lights within a square head and dripmould on the ground and first floors, three and 4-light ones. The second floor ones have cusped heads of a more Perpendicular type while the top (Allom) floor has cusped headed lights without dripmoulds, 2 + 2 + 2 facing south and 2 + 2 facing east, both with king mullions. Corbelled and castellated parapet with gargoyles and arrow-loops, taller turret behind. The west face of the tower is broader and has ranges of single and 2-light windows on each floor and a massive corbelled stack. The curtain continues to the projecting Dining Hall which has a small stair turret beside it. The Dining Hall has two tall storeys over a basement and is canted with 1 + 2 + 1 windows. These are large 2-light mullion-and-transom with quatrefoil heads to the Dining Hall and with sunk spandrel heads to the Library above. The basement storey is battered and has small single light windows. On the north return there is a massive chimney stack for the Dining Hall and behind rises the largely hidden but taller Gibbet Tower. The curtain continues high on a steep bank to the North Tower, which is square with a strongly projecting top and parapet with murder holes, and then through the service yard with a 1920s doorway through to the North Court, and the final section of the medieval wall being the north gable wall of the Medical Block which has two 2-light windows on the ground floor, two arrow-loops above and a crow-stepped gable with central arrow-loop; all these features are likely to be early C20, although the Medical Block itself was built in the late C16. This building abutts directly onto the Outer Gatehouse. The Outer Court, once continuous between the Inner and Outer Curtains, is now in three parts due to the interruptions of the C16 Medical Block and Long Gallery and the 1920s Bradenstoke Hall and Dining Hall. The court is presumably on the line of the C12 ditch. East Court, entered through the Outer Gatehouse stretches from the Medical Block to the Bradenstoke Hall. A clock-wise circuit begins with the inner face of the Outer Gatehouse. The entrance arch has a double-chamfered 3-centred head with a quatrefoil above; visible change in the stonework between the two features. Slit windows to right lighting stair to Guardroom. This section rises higher to a guard turret. Next and directly abutting the gate tower is the late C16 Brewhouse which has three plain rectangular windows on the ground floor arranged 1 + 2 with a 4-centre arch doorway between. The upper floor has two gables each with a 2-light stone mullioned window. Coped main gables. Stair to the wall-walk. The inner face of the Outer Curtain is plain, wall-walk and castellations with arrow-loops above. Secondary segmental arch with parapet and inset iron overthrow between the outer wall and the Mansell Tower. The outer wall continues to a break at the corner of the Bradenstoke Hall where steps go down into the gardens. The Hall east gable has a 5-stepped-light window. The South-east Tower next to it has an early C14 rendered face with lancets and arrow-loops, the castellated parapet is later. Then comes the Inner Gatehouse with adjacent Mansell Tower; the east face of the Inner Gatehouse with a plain 3-centred arch with a sandstone roundel with an indecipherable inscription probably added by Dr. Nicholl-Carne; this is set above the corbel table and between flanking loops with single light window with dripmould over. Finally comes the early C16 Medical Block. This has two 3-light Tudor windows on the ground floor, with, to the right, a single light one and a 4-centred doorway. Above are three 3-light windows as before. North Court not seen at resurvey. South-west Court not seen at resurvey. Inner Courtyard with buildings of mostly two storeys with attics and of different dates of construction (see History); buildings with stone walls of different heights, but all with castellated parapets above corbel tables with the attic dormers hidden behind the parapets. The circuit of the Inner Courtyard goes clockwise from the entrance gate. West side of Inner Gatehouse with roundel with Berkerolles arms and an otherwise plain wall rising to a castellated parapet. West side of Mansell Tower with a possibly C16 terracotta roundel of the Emperor Caligula (Newman says it's a copy of the one at Hampton Court). see also below. This tower is three storeys with a battered base and the base of the walls are now known to incorporate the remains of the C12 Keep, rising through the first floor on the west face. The ground floor has a plain 2-light window, above is a more elaborate Tudor one, then Caligula and above him is a plain flat-headed 2-light window and finally the castellated parapet, the top features are C19. Surviving C12 features include dressed Sutton stone doorways, windows, arch responds etc. The South-east Block is of early C16 date and abutting onto the Great Hall; windows mostly renewed; 2-light mullioned windows to the ground floor; transomed and mullioned first floor windows, two 2-light and one 4-light and the return with a smaller 3-light one. Above, behind the parapet, there are five idiosyncratic 3-light dormers which must also be by Garner, range of four stone stacks above. The C15 Great Hall (or Stradling Hall) with the Stradling entrance at its east end. The Stradling entrance or porch has a probably original 4-centred doorway with restored 3-light oriel window over (this was re-instated by Atlantic College in the 1960s); lateral stone benches behind entrance; moulded rear doorway to Great Hall. Early C20 4-light transomed window by Thomas Garner to the hall and, in the west projection, a restored 3-light Perpendicular window. To the west of the Great Hall, a higher corner bay with an early C20 4-centred doorway on the ground floor and 4-light transomed window above. The West Range is of c1500 to 1525, but now only on this outer face as it was gutted, extended and rebuilt behind in the late 1920s to mid 1930s. Three full height rectangular bay windows, the northern one at least, together with other restoration work here, by G F Bodley (see Buckler drawings and Bodley plans), the windows all have 4-lights and two transoms; rainwater heads of 1901. More dormers as before are hidden behind the parapet. Two terracotta roundels between the bay windows, probably by Giovanni de Maiano, and said to be Marcus Aurelius and Cleopatra. They are part of a set of twelve intended for Cardinal Wolsey at Hampton Court where the others still are. They have certainly been in-situ since 1804 and possibly from the C16. Small door in the north corner with single light windows above and the Gibbet Tower rising behind The western part of the North Range of c1500 to 1525; restored early C20 with windows that date to design of T Garner; rainwater heads of 1901. Transomed and mullioned windows with dripstones; also single light windows; mostly restored or renewed, two of 3-lights to the ground floor and another above, with two 2-light ones to the left and a shorter 2-light one without transom to the right. In the centre, 3-centre headed doorway with dripmould and roundel with Stradling arms above. More dormers are hidden behind the parapet, but these are of a plain 2-light gabled design and are probably from the 1930s. Two tall stone stacks in the centre. The North-east Block joins the North Range to the Inner Gatehouse. This block incorporates the so-called Below Priest's Room which is of earlier date; three storeys; two single light windows with dripstones to each floor and a small C19 oriel window also to left hand on first floor; doorway with large buttress to its left hand; C19 bellcote on roof. Stone steps against east gable. The North-east Tower is behind, but this can only be seen from the North Courtyard. (Listed Building Report)

St Donat's Castle is situated at 31m OD on the eastern flank of a narrow, deeply-incised, flat-bottomed valley, which opens to the Bristol Channel about 300m to the south as a break in he high Lias limestone cliffs. The castle defences stand at the edge of the steep scarp to the valley on its NW and W flanks, but the ground is level to the east, and descends less abruptly to the south in a series of terraced gardens and lawns. The castle has been in continuous occupation since the 12th century. Norman fabric replaced the palisade of a primary castle-ringwork in the late 12th century. No other castle existed in the fee of St Donat's, and the primary ringwork on the site constituted its caput from the early 12th century, though the earliest reference to the fee occurs in a charter of 1173-83. The castle was elaborated during the following centuries until the Civil Wars prevented further work. Thereafter the castle had a succession of absentee owners, and was leased to tenants until 1862 when it was bought by Dr J W Nicholl-Carne who began repairing the property. More extensive restoration and partial rebuilding continued thereafter, for instance by William Randolf Hearst (1925-37) who, although presrving the exterior of the property, made many interior alterations incorporating important medieval architectural features acquired from Britain and the Continent, most notably a painted wooden ceiling from Boston church, Lincs, and the reconstituted early 14th century hall from Bradenstoke Priory, Wilts. The castle was purchased in 1960 and adapted to serve as Atlantic College, an international sixth-form college. (Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust HER)

Castle lies on a promontory with precipitous cliffs on the west. An inner ward about 40m across with a polygonal wall is closely surrounded by an outer ward with a dry moat facing the eastern approach. The outer wall mostly survives and has a small original tower entirely contained with it on the north, and a square gatehouse on the east. The inner ward is entered by an arch beside the rectangular Mansell Tower on the east side. The western part of the inner curtain is gone, making room for the early C16 north and west ranges, and the remainder has buildings of various dates against both sides of it. The late C15 hall lies on the south of the ward. (Salter, 1991)
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This record last updated before 1 February 2016