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Penhow Castle

In the community of Penhow.
In the historic county of Monmouthshire.
Modern authority of Newport.
Preserved county of Gwent.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST42369086
Latitude 51.61358° Longitude -2.83376°

Penhow Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a probable Masonry Castle, and also as a probable Pele Tower.

There are major building remains.

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


A collection of walls and buildings define an irregular polygon, c.28m N-S by 23m, at Penhow Castle. The enclosure is set at the northern end of a north to south ridge and is ditched around the south. The earliest structure is a much altered C12-C13 tower, whilst a three storey house and hall block is thought to be an early C17 structure remodelled c.1700. An outer enclosure, c.70m east to west and 55m north to south, has been partly traced on the south, apparently enclosing the church (NPRN 307369). Garden features south-west of the castle are thought to be C17-C18 and later. (Coflein)

Excavation (in 1977) revealed a rock-cut ditch which had devided the inner courtyard from the outer bailey. The ditch had been filled with builders' rubble and refuse during the late C15 -16, and a large assemblage of early fine-wares was recovered. The original fortification may have been a ringwork containing of a (surviving) stone tower. (Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust HER)

Set high on a hilltop above the Newport to Chepstow road. In its own grounds beyond the Parish Church and reached by drive with relocated stone gatepiers and distinctive ball finials.
Later C12/early C13 keep with added curtain wall. Built as a moated and fortified stone manor house with central courtyard. Some improvements in C14 were followed by construction of the present hall in C15 and major enlargement in later C17 to N side. This range was partly remodelled in late C18 including giving the domestic quarters a Georgian frontage. Full-scale restoration from 1973 onwards including introduction of architectural elements from elsewhere and recreation of medieval character. Penhow originally formed part of the lands held by Caradwg ap Gruffydd, Prince of Gwent and by 1129 a stronghold had been established by Sir Roger de St Maur. The St Maur family (became Seymour) in later centuries married into other local families (eg Bowles) - see heraldry on one of the Great Hall windows. In C16 the property passed by marriage into the Somerset family. Unlike most other castles in Monmouthshire Penhow survived the Civil War and in 1674 was bought by Thomas Lewis of St Pierre. This change of ownership may provide a date for the remodelling. The castle was purchased in 1861 by the Perry-Herrick family of Leicestershire and in 1914 by Lord Rhondda. It is now owned by Stephen Weeks, whose restoration since 1973 has included the introduction of architectural elements from elsewhere.
Entrance is onto the Lower Hall created at the time of the C15 work; prior to that this may have been a store with the hall above, but at a lower level than the present Great Hall - see former doorway, visible in screens passage. Access to the Great Hall is via a spiral staircase with broach stops to the doorway at the foot; renewed roof trusses and screen although original beams reused in passage, formerly with bosses; large C15 chimneypiece. The Great Hall is linked to the 1st floor room of the Keep which became the private dining room although originally it would have functioned more defensively as the Keep Room or Garrison Room. Narrow stairs lead up from here to the Seymour Chamber, reconstructed as a medieval bedchamber. To the east of the Hall is the Moat Room which has a dressed stone chimneypiece, a C16 ceiling inserted from a house in Devon and the window from Aberpergwm House described above. The especially fine later C17 interiors to the north (compare with Tredegar House) are entered via the Old Parlour with its marbled decoration, bolection-moulded panelling, pedimented doorcases and deeply lugged chimneypiece beneath a pilastered overmantel; deep cornice and circular-pattern ribbed ceiling. The connecting Dining-Room is similarly panelled but instead with a burr walnut painted finish; it has broken-pedimented doorcases, panelled double doors, pilastered overmantel and decorative plaster border to ceiling. Black and white marble floors to both Parlour and Dining-Room. This range also has a good, full-height, open-well staircase with barley-twist balusters, bolection string and square newels with pendants but no finials. Upstairs a number of items have been introduced including panelling and a chimneypiece; partly reused 6-bay roof. Brick vaulted cellar below Dining-Room.
The castle is constructed of local sandstone rubble with stone tiled roofs and is a moated site enclosed by a curtain wall. It is approached from the south, facing the gabled gatehouse to left, with its offset four-centred doorway and C18 oval window to gable. To right is the storied hall block with a lateral chimney and projecting stair-tower to far end. Openings have Tudor hoodmoulds, including to cusped 3-light 1st floor hall window. Stepped back to right is the Moat Room, with its 2-light quatrefoil traceried window reused from Aberpergwm House, Neath, and rising above the gatehouse are the crenellations of the buttressed 3-storey Keep Tower, the earliest surviving part of the castle. The remains of the curtain wall lies to the east. The courtyard is entered across a modern drawbridge passing the 4-centred entrance to the hall, with diagonal stops; beyond is the pointed arch keep doorway (said to have been inserted) which has rounded jambs. The north or courtyard side of the hall has a variety of windows of C14 and C15 date, that to the ground floor is similar to the 3-light hall window on the front. The L-shaped domestic ranges to N with the major C17 remodelling have some cross-frame windows; said to have originally had stone mullion and transom windows. 3-storey, 3-window symmetrical north front with late C18 introduction of 16-pane sash windows. Original bracket eaves; panelled door with bolection architrave and fine scalloped hood on foliated brackets. Terrace beyond with broad views to north; terraced garden enclosed by revetment walls. Outer gateway to drive (beside churchyard) has a pair of C18 ashlar gatepiers with broad cornices capped by unusually massive ball finials; iron gates. The gate-piers are relocated from Spring Court, Gloucestershire, and form one of two pairs. (Listed Building Report)

Morgan examined the architecture of the building and saw no reason to call it a castle in the ordinary sense of the word as there are ‘no outworks, no fosse, moat or barbican, no drawbridge, gate house or portcullis nor any attempt at military defences in its construction’ (Quoted in Phillips)

The small C12 (King writes mid to late C13) keep tower, sometimes said to be in a ringwork (although Phillips did not see any such feature), dominates an ensemble which includes C15 hall block and the late C17 domestic section which is visible from the old Chepstow Road. There were outworks although they were not substantial and the exterior defences would probably have been of timber.
If the site is C12 date then it fits into a group of small tower 'keeps' which are really domestic houses but clearly take their form from Norman Great Towers. (c.f. St Leonards Tower, Kent) which, despite their small size and domestic function get called 'castle'. If C13 then this is an early example of the solar tower chamber block attached to an unfortified hall of a type very common in the north of England and usually known as 'pele towers'. It should be noted that in most detail the actual only difference between these two categories is the date.
This small and intimate building was carefully restored in the 1970's and opened to the public for some years but has now been sold on and is no longer open.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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This record last updated 13/07/2017 07:25:29