Inner Ward, Conwy Castle - History
Not complete but much survives
Only open at certain times
Although much of the internal sections of the castle are in ruins, all of the towers are complete and can be explored.
Not complete but much survives
Only open at certain times
Although much of the internal sections of the castle are in ruins, all of the towers are complete and can be explored.onway Castle was built by Edward I as part of his mission to subdue the Welsh in the north of Wales. The castle was designed by Edward's master castle builder, James of St. George and it consists of eight drum towers with thick walls in between and is oblong in shape. The village that was built beside it was fortified by a strong wall with 21 towers and 3 gates. Building work started in 1283 and the castle was mostly complete within five years. James of St. George built concentric castles where he could but Conway Castle is built on an outcrop of rock which did not allow this type of design and the walls follow its contours.
The castle consists of eight large round towers with connecting walls, a large hall, an outer and an inner ward. The entrance to the castle is on the western side, but not through a gatehouse as one was not needed because the town itself was defended. The orginal outer gateway has been destroyed but would have had a drawbridge. The inner ward is rectangular and has four towers at its corners. These would have been used by important visitors. To the east of the inner ward is a barbican with a small exit.
Inner Ward, Conwy Castle - History
The Welsh rebellion against King Edward I had failed. Llywellyn ap Gruffud had died in December 1282, Edward had taken the main seat of the Princes of Gwynedd, Dolwyddelan Castle, in January 1283 and Aberconwy in March. Llywellyn's brother Davydd was still at large in the mountains, but that seems to have been a minor problem for King Edward who considered northern Wales conquered.
Edward liked the site of Aberconwy Abbey, overlooking the river Conwy and the sea and there was a nice rock promontory as well, the perfect place for a castle.
Conwy Castle seen from the seaside
There had been a castle at the other side of the river: Degannwy, founded by the Normans in the 11th century and destroyed by Llywellyn ap Gruffudd in 1263, after he had starved the English garrison into surrender during his wars with King Henry III. But Edward wasn't interested in rebuilding Degannwy (of which almost nothing remains today).
King Edward had been to Aberconwy before when he concluded the treaty with Llywellyn ap Gruffudd after their first clash in 1277. He now moved the Cistercian abbey, the burial place of the princes of Gwynedd (1), a few miles up the valley, and called for his chief architect, Master James of St.George, who took a look at the rock plateau and got some ideas.
Conwy Castle seen from the town side
Digging of the rock cut ditch around the future castle began a few days after Edward's decision. Try to get any craftsmen or labourers that fast today, lol. And without filling in any forms to boot.
Conwy Castle was planned in connection with an - equally fortified - town, and a stockade surrounding the site is mentioned as early as May 1283. Significant parts of the town fortifications which were soon constructed in stone, remain today (2).
The west barbican with its flanking towers
The work at first concentrated on the castle's outer defenses. Responsibility fell to Master George of St.James and Sir John de Bonvillars. Other men involved in the construction were the master carpenter Henry of Oxford and the engineer Richard of Chester. There are the names of further master masons and engineers in the accounts, some of them hailing form Savoy like George. But the main workforce were labourers from England and Wales, often conscripted. At the height of the construction work, some 1,500 men were busy there.
By November 1284 the towers and curtain walls were finished and a garrison of 30 men was put into the castle (probably living in tents or huts). £ 5,800 had been spent on the fun so far.
During the next two years the interior buildings, inlcuding the great hall, the chambers for the king and queen, and two chapels, were constructed. The castle was completed in 1287. Unfortunately, the work of these years is less well documented than the phase of 1283-84.
The town walls were also finished about that time. The totals cost of castle and town walls amounted to £ 15,000 (3).
Remains of the great hall in the outer ward
But albeit finished, Conwy Castle shared the fate with Beaumaris and already showed signs of decline in 1321. The roofs leaked and timbers had rotted, not to mention the garrison was poorly equipped, lacking bowstrings and working crossbows, and the stored grain was rotten. In fact, by the 1330ies, all of the king's northern Welsh castles were in such a bad state that King Edward III could not have been housed properly should he have decided to visit the country.
The combination of timber supports and lead roofs turned out to be a big problem. The chamberlain of the Black Prince who had been given the royal possession in Wales, Sir John of Weston, added eight stone arches in the great hall to support the roof in 1346. One of these still remains.
Remains of the chapel adjacent the great hall
But the castle was neglected again in the later 14th century. Yet there must have been some habitable rooms when King Richard II fled to Conwy in August 1399 and the castle was taken by some cousins of Owin Glyn Dŵr in 1401, though they surrendered it to the English a few months later (4).
Like Beaumaris, Conwy Castle played a small role in the Civil War. Conwy-born John Williams, archbishop of York, held the castle for King Charles. He paid for repairs as well as provisioning the garrison. But he had a falling-out with the governor Sir John Owen and went over to the parlamentarians. Nevertheless, Conwy was one of the last three castles in England and Wales to be taken by the parlamentarians. It was then partly dismantled the - now repaired - damage of the Bakehouse Tower dates to the 1650ies. A few years later, all the lead was taken down to be reused.
View from the outer ward to the west barbican
We can thank Arnold J. Taylor, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, for the conservation of what remains of Conwy Castle and the town walls today, and that is still an impressive lot. The castle had come to the Ministry of Work's guardianship in 1953. Taylor researched the construction and Mediaeval documents, and it was he who found out about Master George of St.James' connection with Savoy which explains some unusual features of the Edwardian castles in Wales. He was also instrumental in removing some latter additions to the town walls.
Conwy Castle and town walls are part of the Unesco World Heritage since 1986 and are now cared for by Cadw. Let's have a look at the place.
View from the southhwest tower across the outer ward to the inner bailey
The castle is basically rectangular in shape, with an outward bent to the south, following the outline of the rock outcrop. It consists of an outer ward with a great hall, a middle ward with a well, and the inner bailey which houses the lodgings of the king and his family. The curtain walls and the eight towers (about 20 metres high) rise directly out of the cliff, except for the town side where an additional dry ditch protects the castle. To the west (the town side) and the east barbicans offer additional protection.
The stones are mostly local sandstone of a grey variant, and red sandstone from Chester and the Wirral in places where carved details were needed. Originally, the castle walls were whitewashed and maybe decorated with heraldic devices in form of hangings and banners when the king was present. It must have been a stunning view in the sunshine, less austere than the grey walls on a dreary day like on my photos.
The outer ward
Originally, the main gate in the western barbican was reached by a drawbridge across the dry ditch, but today there is a way leading up from the town (after you paid your dime in the Visitor's Centre). The gate would have been further protected by a portcullis. Compared to the line of defenses in Beaumaris Castle, the entrance into Conwy Castle was easier, but only from the town side which was additionally protected by the town walls. The barbican consists of two big towers and a middle part with murder holes or machiolations and merlons for archers. The two-storeyed towers (with additional basements for storage) held rooms with fireplaces and latrines they were likely used by the garrison or the castle's constable.
The gate leads into the outer ward. On the south side lies the great hall with a chapel. The foundations on the right side belonged to a kitchen with a brewhouse and bakehouse.
The great hall seen from the direction facing the barbican
The great hall and chapel are on courtyard level. The cellars below which had been dug into the bedrock are now open to the view. The hall was lit by windows in the curtain wall and three more elaborate ones facing the yard. The range was partitioned by wooden screens into the chapel, the hall and a smaller room with its own fireplace. The great hall was used for banquets but also official hearings and other state displays. Though the English kings did not stay in Conwy Castle often.
One can still see the projecting stubs of masonry where Henry of Snelston, master mason of the Black Prince, added the stone arches (made from Wirral sandstone) in 1346, to support the roof after the timber supports had rotten away.
View towards the Prison Tower (to the right the one without a turret)), Kitchen Tower (left), across the middle ward to the royal appartments and towers in the background (right to left: Bakehouse Tower, King's Tower, Chapel Tower, Stockhouse Tower)
There is a direct connection from the great hall to the dungeons in the tower known as Prison Tower. The tower has a room known as 'dettors chambre' in the 16th century, for prisoners who were allowed some measure of comfort like a wooden bed. Below is a true dungeon, an oubliette that goes 12 feet deep into the bedrock and could only be reached by a trap door.
The Kitchen Tower on the opposite side of the outer ward contained store rooms and accomodation for the staff.
Middle Ward with the well
The inner bailey was separated by a curtain wall with a gate, running from Bakehouse Tower to Stockhouse Tower, and a dry ditch in the bedrock that could be crossed by a drawbridge. The bridge still existed in 1520, when one Dafydd ap Tudur Llwyd got paid for "makyng anewe brigge to entre into the ynder warde", but the ditch was filled in in the 1530ies. Nothing remains of the guard house at the gate.
The well is located in front of the ditch. It is 28 metres deep and fed by a spring. It once had been covered by a shingled roof on timber pillars. The well with its clean water was one of the few positive features of Conwy mentioned in a survey prior to the Civil War.
A view of the maze of the royal chambers
Conwy has the best preserved royal chambers in England and Wales. But some odd pathways and stairs that connect the rooms with those in the adjacent towers make it clear that the cahmbers were added after the outer walls and towers had been built, and were not planned thoroughly from the beginning. Master George was just too busy with all those castles, it seems. The royal appartments were like a palace that could be sealed off the rest of the castle and supplied from the eastern gate, which was protected by a second barbican, or the Water Gate beneath the Chapel Tower.
The rooms for the royal family and their immediate staff were at first floor level on both sides of a courtyard. The eastern range consisted of one large room, the southern one was divided into two chambers. The ground level held a kitchen in the south range and a cellar in the east site. Originally, both parts had a separate entrance the eastern room was known as King's Great Chamber, the southern ones as King's Chamber and Queen's Chamber (5). But during the Tudor times, the rooms could only be reached by the east entrance and were known as great chamber, outer chamber and privy chamber.
Like in the great hall in the outer ward, the timber roof supports in the King's Great Chamber were replaced by stone arches in 1346. The windows facing the yard were unusually large for the time the castle was built likely a Savoyard feature.
Window with seat in the King's Chamber
The Chapel Tower includes a second chapel for the private use of the royal family. The King's Tower with its four storeys housed the accomodation for the most important officers of the king's household like the treasurer and steward, not the king himself.
The Stockhouse Tower which is not connected to the royal chambers, held another prison (complete with chains at the wall) and probably more storage rooms. With so much place for storage one wonders why the garrison had to share one bowstring among them in 1321, lol. The Bakehouse Tower got its name due to the great oven built into one of its walls.
Each tower has an additional watchtower turret (the feature is missing in the unfinished Beaumaris Castle). Putlog holes in the walls point at the possibility of outward facing battlements, or brattices.
The east barbican
Behind the east range of the royal appartments is another barbican. It seems to have served not only as defense structure but also as garden overlooked by the king's and queen's chamber. There also was a water gate connecting to the Chapel Tower by a winding staircase down the bedrock which allowed to supply the castle by the sea, but that gate no longer exists.
The curtain wall of the barbican has a well preseved set of machiolations, or murder holes which you can see in the photo.
Kitchen Tower (left) and Stockhouse Tower seen from the western barbican
1) Moving the burial site was a humiliation for the Princes of Gwynedd as much as a strategical decision.
2) The town walls will get their own post.
3) The Conwy Guidebook gives the modern equivalent for the money: £ 5,800 would be £ 15-18 million today £ 15,000 about £ 45 million. Less than the Berlin Airport and with a better result.
4) I'll leave the history of Conwy Castle to another post.
5) Though Queen Eleanor of Castile, Edward's wife, visited Conwy only once prior to the building of the royal appartments.
More about the castle history can be found here.
Jeremy A. Ashbee. Conwy Castle and Town Walls - Cadw Guidebook, Cardiff 2007
Above: Conwy Castle viewed from the town wall (tower #13).
Below: Conwy's northern towers viewed from the town.
ords cannot do justice to Conwy Castle. The best, simple description is found in the guidebook published by CADW, the Welsh Historic Trust, which states: "Conwy is by any standards one of the great fortresses of medieval Europe." Conwy along with Harlech is probably the most impressive of all the Welsh castles. Both were designed by Edward I's master castle builder James of St. George, and while Harlech has a more storied past, Conwy's eight massive towers and high curtain wall are more impressive than those at Harlech.
U nlike Harlech however, Conwy Castle and town are surrounded by a well-preserved wall lending an additional sense of strength to the site. A similar town wall exists at Caernarfon Castle, but is far less complete and gets lost in the modern town. By contrast, Conwy's well-preserved wall helps the town maintain a medieval character lost by other Welsh castle-towns over the years. Construction of Conwy began in 1283. The castle was an important part of King Edward I's plan of surrounding Wales in "an iron ring of castles" to subdue the rebellious population. The highly defensible wall Edward built around the town was intended to protect the English colony planted at Conwy. The native Welsh population were violently opposed to English occupation of their homeland.
T oday, Conwy is approached from the east via the A55 through North Wales. The beauty of this section of the country rivals anything in Britain. Approaching Conwy, the castle seems to suddenly rise out of the hills. The majestic old suspension bridge connecting the castle with the main peninsula, depicted in many representations of the castle over the years, still guards the main approach to the castle.
T he castle dominates the entrance to Conwy, immediately conveying its sense of strength and compactness to the observer. The eight great towers and connecting walls are all intact, forming a rectangle as opposed to the concentric layouts of Edward's other castles in Wales. Almost all of the castle is accessible and well preserved. Journeying to the top of any of the towers offers the visitor spectacular views of the town, surrounding coastline and countryside. Sailboats and other pleasure-craft dot the picturesque harbor and quay next to the castle, while flocks of sheep roam the nearby hills.
W e arrived in Conwy late Saturday afternoon following a quick visit to Rhuddlan Castle. We drove through the town several times trying to find our hotel, without success. We finally stopped and asked a local man if he knew of the hotel, and were promptly given friendly, accurate directions to our destination. We checked in to the Park Hall Hotel, which is about a half mile outside town, changed and rested a bit following our long drive from York. We then returned to town and immediately assaulted the castle. In quoting from the castle guidebook: "Anyone looking at Conwy Castle for the first time will be impressed first and foremost by the unity and compactness of so great a mass of building, with its eight almost identical towers, four on the north and four on the south, pinning it to the rock on which it stands. Especially striking is the long northern front, where the tower's equidistant spacing divides the wall surface into three exactly similar sections, each pierced by a similar pair of arrowloops, and each rising to a common battlement line."
Below: view of the outer ward looking west from the King's Tower. The bow-shaped great hall (below 2) is to the left.
C onwy is by any standards one of the great fortresses of medieval Europe. First impressions are of tremendous military strength, a dominating position and a unity and compactness of design. The eight mighty towers seem to spring from the very rock which dictated the castle's eventual layout. As with Edward I's other great castles in north Wales, the design and building operations were in the hands of James of St. George, who eventually held the title of Master of the Kings Works in Wales. At Conwy, however, he somehow created a building which, more than any other, demonstrates his brilliant understanding of military architecture.
I t was during his second campaign in Wales that King Edward gained control of the Conwy valley in March 1283. He began work on the new fortress almost immediately, the natural advantages of the site being so far superior to those of the older castle at Deganwy on the opposite side of the estuary. Moreover, plans were laid for an accompanying garrison town, itself to be defended by a complete circuit of walls and towers. Castle and town walls were all built in a frenzied period of activity between 1283-87, a tremendous achievement in which up to 1,500 craftsmen and labourers were involved during peak periods.
I n like most of the king's other new castles in Wales, Conwy was not built to a "concentric" plan. The nature of the rock outcrop dictated a linear outline, with a lower barbican outwork at each end. The interior was sharply divided by a cross wall into two quite separate wards, so that either could hold out independently if the other should fall. When completed, the walls would have been covered with a white plaster rendering, which must have had a stunning effect, quite different from the gray stonework visible today. Traces of this can be seen clinging to the outer walls.
T he original entrance to the outer ward was by way of a long stepped ramp up to the west barbican, which was defended by drawbridge and portcullis. Inside the ward, the four towers provided some accommodation for the garrison, and in the base of the Prison Tower is the gloomy dungeon. On the left the foundations mark the site of the kitchens and stables. To the right, the unusual bowed plan of the Great Hall was made necessary by the rocky foundations. Some 125 ft long, it dominates the outer ward, and with its fine windows and original bright decoration it must have appeared a glorious sight during royal feasts.
A t the far end of the ward is the castle wall, and beyond this a further drawbridge protected the entrance to the inner ward. This was the heart of the castle, the area occupied by the private apartments of the king and queen. They included a hall and a sumptuous presence chamber, though only the shells of the once magnificent windows remain to give some indication of their former splendor. A beautiful little chapel gives one of the towers its name, and the King's Tower provided further private rooms.
K ing Edward was actually besieged at Conwy during the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1295. Though food ran low, the walls stood firm. Some alterations were carried out under Edward, the Black Prince in the 14th century. (Jeff's note: In 1403 the castle fell by trickery to the forces of Owain Glyndwr, was held by his men and later ransomed back to the English for some much-needed funds.) Conwy saw some action in the Civil War, but afterwards was left to the elements.
N o visit to Conwy is complete without a circuit of the town walls. They are one of the finest and most complete sets in Europe, over 3/4 mile in length with 21 towers and three original gateways.
Additional photographs of Conwy Castle
Approaching the castle from the wall walk.
View of the Chapel Tower and the River Conwy from the King's Tower.
View of the modern entrance to the castle leading from the visitor's center.
View of the Mill Gate section of town wall near the castle.
Detailed view of a fireplace from Conwy's Great Hall.
Additional view of the modern entrance to the castle (small gate at bottom right).
Conwy Castle is one of the earliest examples of Edward I's "iron ring" of castles built to pacify the rebellious princes of northern Wales.
Edward finally subdued the Welsh threat in Snowdonia in 1283. Well aware of the strategic importance of Conwy to the area, Edward immediately began building a massive castle there. So important was the castle to Edward that he imported up to 1,500 craftsmen from all over England to speed the building process. The castle was completed in only four years, a remarkable feat in those days.
Conwy was the work of Master James of St. George, Edward's favourite builder. Master James was also responsible for Harlech, Beaumaris, and at least 9 other of Edward's Welsh castles. For more about this remarkable architect, see our article on Beaumaris.
Conwy is unusual in that the castle walls swoop down from the high cliffs where the castle stands, to enclose the entire medieval town. Some of the wall has disappeared over the centuries, but in general, it has fared well, and a visitor can walk along the old battlements. There are still 21 towers along the course of the wall, and the three gateways flanked by twin towers gives you a sense of the original grandeur of Edward's scheme.
The reason for the strong defensive walls becomes clear when you consider that Edward not only imported builders, he imported a whole population of English settlers to Conwy! These new settlers were carefully protected from the local Welsh population by the castle and town walls. In a sense, Conwy became an outpost of England within hostile enemy territory.
The castle itself is comprised of eight massive round towers forming a rectangle. This in itself sets Conwy apart from the model of concentric rings Edward and Master James perfected at most of his other Welsh castles.
Conwy Castle saw its last military action during the English Civil War. Cromwell's Parliamentary army besieged the castle for three months in 1646 before the defenders capitulated. After the Restoration of the Monarchy, the Earl of Conwy took ownership of the castle. The Earl, unfortunately, used his position to strip the castle of iron, timber, and lead for building, leaving Conwy open to centuries of disintegration and neglect.
The castle is remarkably well preserved, especially considering the depredations of the Earl, and terrific views of the harbour and town of Conwy can be had from the towers. The Inner Ward contains the royal apartments built for Edward and Queen Eleanor in 1283. These apartments originally rose above heated basements, but the floors are no longer intact.
The importance of Conwy Castle from an architectural standpoint is borne out by the fact that it has been named a World Heritage Listed Site.
In the town of Conwy, you can see the Smallest House in Britain, the Teapot Museum, and Aberconwy House, an authentic 14th-century merchant's dwelling. Also, Conwy is home to the striking Conwy Suspension Bridge, built by Thomas Telford in 1826.
Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.
About Conwy Castle
Address: Rose Hill Street, Conwy, Gwynedd, Wales, LL32 8AY
Attraction Type: Castle
Website: Conwy Castle
Email: [email protected]
OS: SH783 774
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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The rectangular castle is built from local and imported stone and occupies a coastal ridge, originally overlooking an important crossing point over the River Conwy.
You enter the castle through the western barbican in front of the main gate. The barbican was once reached fromer a drawbridge and ramp that came up steeply from the town below. Interestingly, this barbican features the earliest surviving stone machicolations in Britain, and the gate would originally have been protected by a portcullis. Machicolations are holes in the battlements where defenders could throw stones, oil or anything down onto an unsuspecting intruder!
The gate leads through to the outer ward where administrative and service buildings would have existed. On the south side of the ward are the great hall and chapel, sitting above the castle cellars. On the north side of the ward are other small buildings like the kitchen, brewhouse and bakehouse. The inner ward would have been separated from the outer ward by an internal wall, a drawbridge and a gate. Inside, the ward was the royal private household.Reconstruction of Conwy Castle
These royal rooms were on the first floor which ran around the outside of the ward. The four towers have an additional watchtower turret, probably intended for security and to show the royal flag clearly. On the east side of the inner ward is another barbican, surround the castle garden. There have been many changes in the garden, including a lawn, vines, crab-apple trees and formal ornamental flowers. A gate once led down to the river where a small dock was built, allowing important visitors to enter the castle in private, and also to resupply the castle.
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A Medieval enthusiast and fan of the middle ages. I enjoy writing and sharing about medieval history, castles, kings and the important historical events of our lands.
Inner Ward, Conwy Castle - History
The next leg of this journey takes you to the Medieval Castle of Conwy in North Wales or GwyneddrrVia Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Conwy Castle, Wales
Castles fascinate me! (Not an unusual remark from someone who was born and raised on the North American continent where the closest we can come to castles are Toronto’s Casa Loma or California’s Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley, neither fitting my definition of a castle.) When I was offered the opportunity to see the “Giants of the North” (Conwy Castle, Caernarfon Castle and Harlech Castle) while visiting Wales, needless to say I jumped at the chance.
The castle-town of Conwy was the impressive beginning to our tour of those three of King Edward I’s Iron Ring of Castles. Conwy Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and part of the World Heritage Sites designated as The Castles and Town Walls of King Edward I in Gwynedd, the Welsh name for North Wales.
The castles of Northern Wales are magnificent stone edifices, giving those who walk through them an impression of their former grandeur. As we began our tour of Conwy Castle, my friends and I all had cameras in hand trying to preserve our memories of the fascinating structure we were exploring. The wooden components have rotted away with time, and the metal was taken away and sold eons ago, so they stand like massive skeletons without the visceral blood and tissue to fully restore them to their former glory. Visiting those castles brought to my mind visions of those who peopled this land long before our time. Their stories are told in history books and movies – but nothing compares to actually clambering through the heart of those fortresses. I gazed up in awe at the massive towers created so many centuries ago. My mind worked overtime as I wandered through those magnificent ruins trying to visualize what they looked like in their glorious prime. The people who lived and breathed in them came quickly to my mind also.
At the conclusion of King Edward I of England’s successful second campaign to conquer the Welsh, he began to build his Iron Ring of Castles. Conwy Castle and the town walls were built during a four-year period between 1283 and 1287. The Welsh people were uprooted, and a new town within the walls was built to house an English colony, the families of the men stationed at the garrison and their suppliers. It took 1500 workers to complete the Conwy project. It replaced an older castle, Deganwy Castle which had been destroyed by the Welsh leader, Llewelyn the Last, in 1263. Built on a rock precipice at the mouth of the Conwy River and overlooking the North Sea, the castle defended both the river and the town’s harbour. This massive fortification shows the lengths to which the English King was willing to go to suppress the Welsh people and impress them with his might.
With water on two sides of the castle, access was strictly limited to those who could be seen from within the towers or through the arrow slits in the walls. The castle was once approached up a stepped ramp. (Today only a small portion of the original ramp exists.) A drawbridge existed to cross the water that once flowed around the base of the castle. The water was diverted in the 19th Century when the North Coast Railway was built on reclaimed land around the castle. Today we walked up a steep, paved incline along the base of the castle wall. Once across the drawbridge, a gateway with a portcullis was the next defense. The pointed iron bars in the portcullis gate could be dropped on invaders. Donna Goodman, our guide, showed us where the portcullis gate once hung, but unfortunately the iron went with the metal, being hocked in exchange for money, many years ago. Recycling took place in ancient times too! Passing that we went into the barbican, then turned left in a planned bottleneck, then through the main gateway. The objective for the design of this elaborate entrance was defensive planning.
The area we now entered was known as the “outer ward”. It was the area that housed the living quarters for the garrison, the kitchens and stables. It also contained the prison tower. The damp, dark dungeon, with all its evil connotations, was located at the base of this tower. The outer ward was protected by four massive towers in the thick outer castle wall, approximately 70′ (21 m.) tall by 30′ (9.1 m.) in diameter. A 15′ (4.6 m.) thick stone wall, with enfilading arrow loops and archer’s turrets, divided this outer ward from the inner ward. Also separating them, in the outer ward, was a deep rock gulley and the castle well. A drawbridge once connected the two wards of the castle. It is obvious that each area could be separately defended if the need arose. The exterior castle wall of the inner ward was also protected by another four of the massive towers those had additional turrets and arrow slits to allow greater defense of the Royal apartments. As I walked through this imposing structure, I was utterly amazed to think it could have been built so many centuries ago, and the skill it must have taken to design and execute its erection, all within four years.
The inner ward contained the royal apartments. Conwy Castle has the most complete set of medieval royal apartments still existing in Britain today. They were located on the first floor, while the service accommodation was in the basement which was heated and provided the heat for the royal residences above.
The remains of the fireplaces that once warmed Conwy Castle, Wales
The remains of a series of fireplaces could be seen in the basement walls, above which the Great Hall once stood. Now the separating wooden floors no longer exist, and only the holes in the walls were visible where the massive beams rested in the distant past. One can only imagine the once grand external staircase that led to the Great Hall. I really had to stretch my imagination to picture this as being the luxurious residence of King Edward I and his wife, the Queen remembered as Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The once majestic Conwy Castle, Wales
My friends and I eagerly entered the various towers and climbed up the circular stone steps, some of which led to the royal apartments or other private rooms. We checked out all the openings we found that took us into the various rooms. Sometimes I would enter an opening off the stairway to find a small enclosed space in the wall, with an opening covered by a metal grate which was open to the outside of the castle walls. It would have been a latrine.The openings for a latrine and an arrow slit in the Conwy Castle wall.
In the Chapel Tower, much of its original carved decoration can still be seen in the little Royal Chapel. The tower’s winding stone stairs also led up onto the castle’s wall walk and even further up to the tops of the towers. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a soldier, with a metal helmet and breast plate, patrolling the castle wall. Instead, I kept finding my friends, with cameras in hand, taking pictures of the marvelous view of the interior of the castle, the town and the harbour. From these vantage points I too kept my camera busy, especially as I looked out on the impressive bridges fanning across the River Conwy.
It wasn’t unusual to spot a Canadian photographer in Conwy Castle.
The three bridges as seen from the Castle walk at the rear of the fortress.
A view from the Conwy Castle walk.
At the rear of the fortress a second barbican guarded entrance allowed entrance from the Conwy River. This was particularly valuable, allowing royalty private access or emergency exit by water, without having to go through what might have been hostile Welsh settlements. Today, the watergate is now gone. It was removed in 1826 when the castellated suspension bridge was built, carrying the London to Holyhead road across the River Conwy. In the same century the railway bridge was built with stone battlements to blend in with the medieval stone castle. Then in 1978 a modern bridge was built, making a triumvirate of bridges dominating the river crossing just outside the castle walls. The combination of the bridges with the castle make an impressive sight!
As I roamed the castle with camera in hand, my mind kept trying to envision the grandeur of the castle at the height of its glory, but instead kept coming back to the fact that this castle had been built to symbolize domination of the Welsh people over 700 years ago, and I understand that the Welsh people have never accepted that domination. Traveling here has made me realize how well the Welsh people have maintained their separate identity, keeping their language, their customs, their pride, their music and especially their flag with the red dragon flying, through the many generations since that time.The Welsh flag still flies over Conwy Castle.
Entrance to the Prison Tower, Conwy Castle Wales
Conwy Castle well still has water in it. A view from the Castle Walk. A portion of the Conwy town walls and one tower.
A gate in the Conwy town wall. The wall and several towers around Conwy. Conwy Castle as seen above the town of Conwy.
Conwy Castle and Walls are under the care of Cadw which is a Welsh word meaning ‘to keep’ or ‘to protect.’
Inner Ward, Conwy Castle - History
Taken together, the castle and town walls of Conwy are the most impressive of all the fortresses raised by King Edward I to subdue Wales. Planned as a single unit and substantially built in an astonishing four and a half years between 1283 and 1287, they remain the finest and most complete example of a fortified town and castle in Britain.
Over three-quarters of a mile long, the town walls defended the largest of Edward's Welsh "frontier towns" each of their twenty-one towers ingeniously served as a circuit breaker, allowing attackers who scaled the intervening tower to be cut off and slain.
Conwy's town walls also acted as the outermost defences of the royal castle, an imposingly compact eight-towered stronghold on a promontory surrounded by water on three sides. Nearest the town, the castle's own outer ward housed the garrison. Then, doubly defended by town wall and outer ward, came the king's private apartments in the castle's inner ward, its towers still crowned by turrets for the royal standards.
Conwy's triumph of medieval fortress-building is not to be missed by any visitor to north Wales, A World Heritage Listed Site.
Places of interest to visit in Conwy
A fine example of a medieval timber-framed merchants house. Built around 1400, Aberconwy is said to be the oldest house in Wales. Now a Heritage Centre, it contains an interesting exhibition illustrating the social history of the area since Roman times. Run by National Trust*
Opening times: time vary, see website for details - Admission Charge*
Location: Castle Street, Conwy, LL32 8AY - Tel: 01492 592246 - Website
Parts of a castle
Castles were built specifically to defend against an enemy siege. Every piece of the castle was designed with this in mind. There were many different designs of castles that ranged from the simple wooden motte and bailey to the all defensive stone keep. The following is a list and description of all major pieces of the a large stone keep.
The first and outermost piece was the moat, which was a large deep ditch that surrounded the castle. The moat was usually filled with water, which greatly hindered oncoming offensives. Following the inner edge of the moat is the outer curtain, otherwise known as the outer wall. This was the second line of defense. Embedded in the outer wall was the outer gate house. The outer gate house contained the drawbridge which was used to cross the moat. Behind The outer wall was a much larger inner wall (inner curtain), which likewise contained the inner gate house. Embedded within the inner wall were large towers used to house a variety of deadly weapons such as archers, boiling oil, and throwing stones. If the enemy was successful in breaching the inner wall or the inner gate house they would find themselves stuck in the inner ward, which was a large courtyard right in the center of the castle. The inner ward was defended by the keep which was a large castle like tower. The keep was the safest place in the castle and the final line of defense. Once overrun, the castle was lost.
Tag: Welsh history
Welcome back folks! What started as a day trip to Anglesey has turned into a trip around all four of Edward I’s castles in north Wales! For day three, let me take you around Conwy.
Perhaps the most arresting approach to any town in Britain, this is the sight that greets you on the way in to the town. Amazing stuff!
I’ve written two similar blogs already this week – Beaumaris and Caernarfon – but I don’t feel that I’ve done the subject of the Conquest of Wales much justice. Well, I won’t go into it here, but I will at least sketch in some info for you. Llywelyn the Great reigned as Prince of Gwynedd and Lord of Snowdonia from 1199 to 1240. He was married to the daughter of King John, but his expansionist foreign policy brought him into frequent conflict with England. However, he was recognised as Prince by Henry III, his brother-in-law.
Llywelyn left his kingdom in turmoil when he left his lands entirely to his youngest son Dafydd, disinheriting his illegitimate son Grufudd (under Welsh law at this time, land was inherited by all children as a partition). Dafydd immediately imprisoned Grufudd at Criccieth and consolidated his power from Llywelyn’s castle at Deganwy. Henry III then decided to intervene, however, and supported Grufudd. In 1246 Dafydd died, and the castle at Deganwy was captured by the English, who made it a mighty seat of power in the area, establishing a town in its shadow.
The castle at Deganwy was destroyed by Grufudd’s son, Llywelyn, in 1263, as he led a campaign to expel the English from his ancestral lands. In 1267, Henry III accepted Llywelyn as Prince of Gwynedd, in return for Llywelyn’s homage. Henry died in 1272, and was succeeded by his son Edward I. Llywelyn begged off attending the coronation, then repeatedly refused to pay homage to Edward. Things probably could have been handled better, of course, insofar as Henry had requested Llywelyn pay him homage, but Edward demanded it. In what can easily be imagined as a towering fury, Edward launched a concerted attack on Llywelyn, with forces coming from Chester, Montgomery, Carmarthen and by boat to Anglesey. It didn’t take long for Llywelyn to surrender at Aberconwy Abbey in 1277.
The terms of this surrender were to confine Llywelyn to Snowdonia, and to ensure they were kept, a massive programme of castle-building began, with fortresses being put up at Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth and Aberystwyth. Edward granted land to his lords across most of north wales, and further castles were built at Denbigh, Holt, Chirk, Ruthin and Hawarden. It was a misguided attack on the latter by Llywelyn’s younger brother Dafydd in 1282 that sparked the second campaign of Edward I, with an even larger army intent on ending the Welsh problem once and for all. Llywelyn was killed at Cilmeri, and Edward established his forward command post at Aberconwy Abbey in March 1283. It was from here that the capture of Dafydd was led, and evidence suggests that Edward had initially planned to make Conwy the administrative centre of his power in Wales, though ultimately it was Caernarfon that fulfilled this role.
Conwy was planned from the outset as a castle and town, and the initial planning stages began even before Dafydd’s capture and execution. Building work was incredibly swift, with the curtain walls being built within the first two years of construction. By 1287, both the castle and town walls were complete, at the cost of £15,000 (over £12.5m by today’s standards).
The castle has the most complete interior of any royal castle from medieval Britain, including the royal apartments in the inner ward, and the hall in the outer ward.
During the rebellion of 1294, Edward and his queen Eleanor of Castile stayed at Conwy while the English response was carried out. This is apparently the only known time that the king stayed at the castle. Of course, he was soon off fighting up in Scotland, anyway.
The town that sprang up around the castle was intended for English habitation only, and until the Tudor period, Welshmen were forbidden from entering any of the English towns in Wales, much less from trading with them. There are few surviving buildings in the town from this early period, though Aberconwy House is a typical medieval merchant’s house.
The town walls encircle an area of 22 acres and run for 1400 yards in a virtually unbroken circuit, with three fortified gates and twenty-one towers placed at regular intervals:
Not far from the massively-fortified Upper Gate is the site of ‘Llywelyn’s Hall’, a timber-framed structure that originally stood flush to the town walls, and is marked now by the only section of wall with windows built in. The hall was moved to Caernarfon in 1316 as a symbolic show of domination over the Welsh, but has long since vanished.
The entire project of building is really crazy when you think that, firstly, it was finished in four years, but also that it was being built at the same time as Caernarfon and Harlech Castles over on the west coast! An awesome amount of manpower and materiel was needed for this project, which really goes to show just how powerful the medieval monarchy was!
Conwy Castle was the first of the four royal castles of Edward I that I visited, nearly seven years ago now, and it is probably the one I’ve been to most since. It’s definitely worth a visit, with a stroll along the town walls to finish! Marvellous!