Reconstructing Holt Castle, Denbighshire

Little physically now remains of Holt Castle, however, one of the first projects the Castle Studies Trust was for leading buildings reconstruction artist Chris Jones-Jenkins and the late and much missed Dr Rick Turner to digitally reconstruct the castle using a mixture of historical sources and recent archaeological excavations to bring the castle back to life with a series of images and a video fly through. Here, in a piece first published in History Extra in 2015 explains how it was done.

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History:

To secure his conquest of north-east Wales, Edward I created five new Marcher lordships in 1282, and gave them as reward to his political allies and close friends in recognition of their loyal service. The lordship of Bromfield and Yale was granted to John de Warenne, sixth earl of Surrey (1231-1304). It is not known when he started building Castrum Leonis or ‘Chastellion’ as Holt Castle was known in the Middle Ages. The castle is first referred to in 1311 some years after it was probably completed. Warenne’s master mason chose an open and relatively flat site above the west bank of the River Dee, close to one of the ferry crossings into Cheshire. This allowed him to create a symmetrical pentagonal castle with a tall round tower at each corner, and the main rooms ranged around an inner courtyard. There were up to three storeys raised above the original ground level, with the moat and up to additional three basement levels cut down into the sandstone bedrock. It was a revolutionary design and was one of a group of similar architectural experiments being undertaken by the other new Marcher Lords at castles such as Denbigh, Ruthin and Chirk. At all these sites geometrical complexity, architectural grandeur and the provision of well-appointed accommodation seemed to be more important than their defensive capabilities.

Holt Castle as it was in its pomp courtesy of Chris Jones Jenkins

            The sixth earl was succeeded by his grandson John, the seventh earl of Surrey (1286-1347). Described by Alison Weir as ‘a nasty, brutal man with scarcely one redeemable quality’, he was involved with the political upheavals of Edward II’s reign, including the loss of Holt Castle for a time to Thomas, earl of Lancaster. This John died without a legitimate heir, and Edward III intervened to settle his estates upon Richard FitzAlan, third earl of Arundel (c.1313-1376). His son, Richard the fourth earl (1346-1397) was one of the ‘Lords Appellant’, who had curbed Richard II’s powers and had the king’s closest allies executed or exiled during the ‘Merciless Parliament’ of 1388. It took nine years before the king was able to wreak his revenge on these powerful men. Arundel was brought to trial for treason at Westminster on 21 September 1397, and was convicted and beheaded on the same day. Richard II seized his estates and incorporated Bromfield and Yale into his new principality of Cheshire, with Holt Castle as its main stronghold. Building work was commissioned in 1398, which saw the Chapel Tower extended and included a water-gate, called ‘Pottrell’s Pit’ in later documents, linked to the river. Over the next year more than £40,000 in coin, jewellery, gold and silver plate was transferred from the royal treasury in London to Holt for safe keeping. When Henry Bolingbroke – later Henry IV – returned to England in 1399, he shadowed Richard II up the Welsh Marches and was quick to recapture Holt Castle. Despite being defended by 100 men-at-arms and being well provisioned, Henry’s men, including the French chronicler Jean Creton, were able to enter through the new water-gate and ascend ‘on foot, step by step’, to take the castle unopposed and so recover this vast proportion of the king’s disposable wealth.

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            Over the next 139 years, three more owners or stewards of the lordship of Bromfield and Yale were to be executed for treason. The first was Henry Stafford, second duke of Buckingham (1455-83). A year after his death, Sir William Stanley (c.1435-1495) acquired the lordship from Richard III. Despite his role at the Battle of Bosworth which brought his relative Henry VII to the throne, he was implicated in the Perkin Warbeck affair and was executed in 1495 after which Holt Castle reverted to the Crown. The last of this group was William Brereton (c.1487×90-1536) who was appointed steward of the castle where he held ‘great porte and solemnities’, before he was convicted of adultery with Anne Boleyn and beheaded.

            Holt Castle remained the property of the Crown and was to form part of the estates of the Princes of Wales. It was held for the king during the Civil War and in the 1670s, the buildings were sold off to Sir Thomas Grosvenor, who systematically dismantled nearly all the fabric and transported it to help in the building of his Eaton Hall, a few miles south of Chester. This has left us with the stump of rock and walling which survives today.

Reconstructing the Castle:

Two attempts have been made to understand the original the former appearance of Holt Castle: by Alfred Palmer in 1907 and Lawrence Butler in 1987. They had access to plans and views of the castle drawn in 1562 and 1620. The problem they faced was that these two sets of drawings are contradictory and they were hard to relate to what survived. Since 1987, new evidence has been made available:

  1. Documentary evidence for Richard II’s building work.
  2. The publication of a transcript of the Holt Castle inventory taken after Sir William Stanley’s arrest in 1495.
  3. The discovery of a new early-seventeenth century plan of the castle in the National Library of Wales.
  4. A programme of masonry consolidation, archaeological excavation and survey led by Steve Grenter, Wrexham County Borough Council, in partnership with the Holt Local History Society.

This new work prompted me to undertake another attempt to reconstruct Holt Castle. With the help of a grant from the Castle Studies Trust, I was able to commission the well-known castle reconstruction artist, Chris Jones-Jenkins, to develop a 3D digital model which was flexible enough to capture and assimilate the new data and modify the structure as new insights were gained.

The challenge has been to weigh each source of evidence and identify which strands should have precedence when contradictions emerge. A hierarchy was developed:

  1. The visible masonry of the castle and the modern topographical survey of the site provided the primary terrain model on which the remainder of the castle was constructed.
  2. The archaeological evidence for the rock-cut footings, the bases of three of the towers and the line of the channel leading into the water-gate provided other fixed points in the model.
  3. By considering the content and the potential reasons for the drawing of the three, early-modern ground plans and the two associated views, that of 1562 was assessed to be the most reliable for the details that it showed, the early seventeenth century plan for its dimensions, and those by John Norden of 1620 to be the most inaccurate, despite them being the ones most frequently published.
  4. The list of rooms and the route followed by the appraisers of the 1495 inventory provides the most comprehensive source for the internal layout of the castle. However, it became clear that those rooms without contents, such as the triangular ante-rooms to the towers and the latrines, were not listed.
  5. None of the views of the castle were architecturally detailed, and none showed all of the exterior or much of the inner courtyard. This information had to be derived from surviving details from other Edwardian castles in North Wales or from work undertaken in Richard II’s reign, when considering the projection from the Chapel Tower.
Holt First floor floor plan with with watergate to the fore and great hall and stable section to the right, copyright Chris Jones-Jenkins

The development of the model became an iterative process between the historian and the artist. Different combinations of layout and floor heights were tried, building on the fixed points surviving at basement level and rising up in an effort to accommodate all the rooms. Suites of accommodation began to emerge. Sir William Stanley’s great chamber led off the high end of the hall and controlled access in one direction to his counting house and the chapel, and in the other to the Treasure House and the High Wardrobe, where all the valuables were kept. Across the courtyard his wife, Elizabeth, had her own great and bed chamber, linked to the nursery. Above her accommodation was a chamber for her gentle women, well away from the yeomen’s dormitory under the lord’s great chamber. One range was dominated by the kitchen, rising the full height of the castle, connected at basement level to a larder, pastry house, well house and a wine cellar on one side and offices for the cook and butler on the other. As was normal the constable had a suite over the inner gate, but unusually a stable for 20 horses was created in a basement below the hall with access for the animals across the moat and up a ramp into the castle.

Holt Great Hall and Stables copyright Chris Jones-Jenkins

Working on this reconstruction, our admiration only grew for the original designer. He created a symmetrical plan and external appearance but produced complex internal arrangements to meet his patron’s needs. Holt is as much a chivalric ideal as a practical castle. An animation of the reconstruction of Holt Castle has been produced by Mint Motion of Cardiff and can be viewed here:

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Feature image courtesy of Wrexham Borough Council

Castle Studies Trust Christmas Quiz – the Answers

So how many did you get right? Find out below

  1. Lincoln (2020 project)
  2. Pembroke (2018)
  3. Shrewsbury (2018 and 2019)
  4. Pulverbatch, Shropshire (2017)
  5. Pleshey, Essex (2015)
  6. Druminnor, Aberdeenshire (2019)
  7. Thornbury
  8. Warkworth (2020)
  9. Ruthin
  10. Ravenscraig, Aberdeenshire
  11. Hoghton Tower, Lancashire (2019)
  12. Wigmore
  13. The Wirk (2020)
  14. Slingsby, Yorkshire – article by Bethany Watrous on her digital reconstruction
  15. Caus, Shrophshire (2016)
  16. Gleaston, Cumbria (2015)
  17. Laughton (2018, 2019)
  18. Shrewsbury again (found during 2018 execavation)
  19. Clifford, Herefordshire (2017)
  20. Ballintober, Ireland (2014)

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Castle Studies Trust Christmas Quiz

To help keep you entertained during this strange and hopefully unique Christmas the Castle Studies Trust has prepared a Christmas quiz. Can you name the castles these pictures are or images are taken from either our projects from all years or blog posts during the year?

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  1. Where is this?

2. Where did this CST funded excavation take place?

3. Where is this?

4.What motte and bailey castle, which we funded a geophysical survey for, is this?

5. Where can you find this bridge which the Trust co-funded post excavation work on?

6. In which Scottish castle did the geophysical survey we funded find this well?

A latter coming protruding from a circular opening in the ground.
Photo by Iain Ralston and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 licence.

7. Where is this?

8. Where is this great tower?

9. This is a reconstruction drawing of which castle?

10. Where is this castle built by a queen?

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11. Where is this castle?

12. The entrance to which border castle is this?

13. Where is this base a tower? It’s one of the projects the CST has funded

14. Where is this?

15. The plan of which castle is this, which the CST funded work on?

16) Which castle is this? We funded a building survey on it previously?

17. For which castle are these aerial images of, which include results of the geophys survey the CST funded on it?

18. These pieces of Saxon pottery were found at which excavation the CST funded?

19. This is a CST study day at our first ever excavation we funded? Which castle?

20. The CST funded a buildings survey of this castle. Where is it?

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James of St George and the Edwardian Castle

Malcolm Hislop, researcher and author, writes about some of the themes of his most recent book.

Often thought as a highpoint of English military architecture, the castles of Edward I and his followers in north Wales hold a special place in hearts and minds of many in this country and abroad. Scholars have spent much time and effort on researching this (relatively brief) episode of intensive castle construction. We feel we know these buildings so well, and yet, notwithstanding the many accounts of individual castles, it is strange to relate that no lengthy general survey of the architecture (as opposed to the building history) has ever been published. Nor, despite presenting an obvious opportunity for furthering our understanding of the manner in which architectural style was formulated and disseminated in the late thirteenth century, have the influences on and of the Edwardian castle been widely discussed.

Conwy. The outer gatehouse and truncated approach ramp of c. 1283 by James of St George.

Edward’s Welsh castles are inextricably linked to the technical mastermind behind the project, the Savoyard mason, James of St George. Castle builders (in the practical sense) tend to be less well known than their patrons. The ones who can be identified are far outweighed by those who remain anonymous. Moreover, a master builder whose career can be reliably reconstructed to a significant degree is a rarity to be cherished. Master James is one such exception, his reputation as an architect of international repute being established in one of the great historical detective stories of the later twentieth century, which did much to personalise the often anonymous process of medieval construction.

Beaumaris. The North Inner Gate of c. 1295 etc. by James of St George.

Master James’ star has not ridden quite so high in recent years. His architectural role questioned, his artistic contribution doubted, James now seems a slightly diminished figure, with only his organisational and planning abilities remaining unchallenged. There were certainly other master builders employed on the royal works who exercised a degree of independence; it is clear too that there were other influences on the royal works in Wales than can be accounted for by Master James’ accumulated experience in Savoy. In particular, what was the part played by Walter of Hereford, the technical and artistic master mind behind Vale Royal Abbey, and resident master at Caernarfon from 1295? These are interesting issues requiring a greater depth of enquiry, but the initial conclusions of a broader than usual sweep of the architecture are that in addition to his organisational and technical responsibilities Master James also exercised a significant creative role.

Duffus. The great tower of c. 1305 built in Moray with Edward’s assistance.

Edward’s crushing of all resistance in north Wales was swiftly followed by an attempt to subjugate Scotland. Building work in Wales was mothballed and James of St George and Walter of Hereford were redirected northwards. The impact of Edward’s invasion of Scotland on castle building in the northern kingdom tends to receive little attention. Most of the royal works were in timber, little survives above ground level, and archaeology has not yet revealed much that can enlighten the subject. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a good deal more to say about the contemporary building works of his supporters, that survival of which is much greater, and that in a number of instances there was an English contribution to design and construction. The story of Edwardian castle building in Scotland is only just beginning to take shape.

Newark. The river front of c. 1300, probably influenced by Caernarfon.

Another under-researched theme is the effect of the Edwardian castles in Wales on the architecture of England. There has been an understandable tendency to view the years immediately following the Edwardian conquest of Gwynedd as an anti-climax in English castle building, and that there is little continuity from the Welsh project. Yet the craftsmen dispersed, and building went on, not in such concentrated or dramatic fashion, but often in small quiet ways that escape the notice of the wider world. The full extent of this influence on fourteenth-century castle design is yet to be recognised, but it includes both the broader aspects and the smaller details and represents the final chapter in the story of the Edwardian castle.

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Malcolm Hislop’s book James of St George and the Castles of the Welsh Wars (September 2020) is published by Pen and Sword. Hardback, 302 pages, 175 colour and monochrome illustrations.

Carreg Cennen in the Wars of the Roses

The striking ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle in south Wales have a rich history, bound up in power struggles between the Welsh and English and the Wars of the Roses. Dr. Dan Spencer takes us on a journey through its past.

Carreg Cennen Castle on a limestone crag. © Dan Spencer

Carreg Cennen was most probably founded by the Welsh prince of Deheubarth, Rhys ap Gruffydd, in the late twelfth century. It is situated in a prominent position on a high limestone crag overlooking the River Cennen. Carreg Cennen was later captured by the English during the conquest of north Wales in the late thirteenth century. Edward I granted the castle to John Giffard, Lord Giffard of Brimpsfield, who extensively rebuilt the castle. Carreg Cennen was acquired by Henry, duke of Lancaster, in 1340, and thereafter by marriage to his son-in-law, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III. The duchy of Lancaster subsequently passed into royal ownership, upon the accession of Henry IV, Gaunt’s eldest son, to the throne in 1399. Carreg Cennen was captured by the rebels of Owain Glyn Dŵr in the early fifteenth century, with repairs carried out during the reign of Henry V.1

The main approach to the castle © Dan Spencer

In 1455, Welsh landowner Gruffydd ap Nicolas seized the castle, taking advantage of a power vacuum in south Wales, where many of the principal royal offices were held by absentee officials. This move was not welcomed by the government of Henry VI. Gruffydd subsequently came into conflict with Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, a half-brother of the king, in the following year. Richmond eventually emerged victorious from the struggle in the late summer of 1456, at which time it appears that Gruffydd relinquished control of Carreg Cennen.2 The earl died of the plague later that year, with the task of maintaining royal authority in southern Wales thereafter entrusted to his brother, Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke.

In 1459, civil war broke out when the Yorkist lords, Richard, duke of York, Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, and his son Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, attempted to seize power. This development prompted Jasper to install a garrison in the castle, which remained in place until at least the following year.3 It is not known how large the garrison was, and Carreg Cennen appears not to have seen any military action at this time. This is not surprising, as potential attackers would have been deterred by its strong defences. It was also in a relatively isolated location, far removed from the main areas of conflict.

One of the towers, with buttresses at the base © Dan Spencer

Instead the fate of Carreg Cennen was decided by events elsewhere. The decisive clash of the conflict took place at the Battle of the Towton on 29 March 1461, the largest engagement of the Wars of the Roses. The Yorkists led by Edward IV were victorious, with Henry VI and his remaining supporters forced to take refuge in Scotland. Later that summer, Edward delegated the task of subduing Wales to some of his trusted supporters, who included William, Lord Herbert.4

By the end of 1461, the Yorkist commanders had succeeded in conquering almost all of Wales (with the main exception of Harlech in the north-west), and Jasper Tudor fled overseas. This left Carreg Cennen as the last remaining Lancastrian fortress in the south. In the spring of 1462, Lord Herbert instructed his half-brother, Sir Richard Herbert, and another member of the gentry, Sir Roger Vaughan, to take control of the castle. They set off from Raglan Castle, Herbert’s ancestral seat, with a force of 200 gentlemen and yeomen and soon reached Carreg Cennen. The defence of the latter was led by Thomas and Owen ap Gruffydd, sons of the recently deceased Gruffydd ap Nicolas. It is unclear whether they had been given this responsibility by Jasper Tudor, or if they had exploited the situation to take control of the castle. Either way, the brothers were said to have a large force under their command and had a strong defensive position. Nevertheless, the futility of the Lancastrian cause prompted them to surrender under terms. They were pardoned in return for pledging allegiance to Edward IV.5

The view from the castle © Dan Spencer

On Lord Herbert’s instructions, the castle was provisioned, and a garrison was installed for its safeguard. This consisted of a small force of nine men, who served there from the beginning of May until mid-August. These men each received 4d. per day in wages, the standard rate for footmen or archers at this time, as well as 1s. 10d each per week to pay for their expenses.6 The garrison was required, as is explained in a surviving letter from Edward IV, because ‘the said castle was of such strength that all the misgoverned men of that country there intended to have inhabited the same castle and to have lived by robbery and spoiling our people of the country’. However, as the letter went on to explain ‘we soon after were advised that the said castle should be thrown down and destroyed’ to avoid the inconvenience of expending money on maintaining its defence. The source of this advice is unspecified, but it could have been from Lord Herbert, who, as chamberlain of south Wales, was acutely aware of the financial burden of paying for its garrison. This was an extraordinary decision, as no other castle was slighted  by royal command at this time, which may have reflected Yorkist concerns about its potential as a formidable fortress in an area with Lancastrian sympathies. It could also have stemmed from more general unease about law and order in the region. The king therefore issued orders to Herbert to oversee its destruction. A labour force of 500 men was recruited who used a variety of tools to ‘break and throw down’ the castle.7 The extent of the destruction is unclear, but at the very least the labourers made the place uninhabitable, with Carreg Cennen thereafter falling into ruin.

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Dr. Dan Spencer is the author of The Castle in the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen & Sword, which is due for release on 30 October: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Castle-in-the-Wars-of-the-Roses-Hardback/p/18426


Footnotes

[1] J. M. Lewis, Carreg Cennen (Cardiff: Cadw, 2016), p 1; H. M. Colvin, The History of the King’s Works, volume 2 (London: H.M.S.O, 1963), p. 602.

[2] For Gruffydd’s seizure of the castle and conflict with Edmund Tudor see, William Rees, ed., Calendar of Ancient Petitions relating to Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1975), pp. 184-6; PL, I, pp. 392-3.

[3] For the garrisoning of Carreg Cennen by Jasper see, TNA, DL 29/584/9249; DL 29/596/9558.

[4] For an overview of these events see, Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1991).

[5]. For the occupation of the castle by the sons of Gruffydd ap Nicolas and its surrender see, TNA, SC 6/1224/6; SC 6/1224/7.

[6] TNA, SC 6/1224/6.

[7] Quoted from TNA, SC 6/1224/7, whose Middle English text has been modernised.


Pembroke Castle keep – William Marshal’s statement in stone

Neil Ludlow, co-project lead in both the Castle Studies Trust funded 2016 geophysical survey and 2018 excavations looks at Pembroke Castle’s most iconic structure, it’s keep.

Pembroke Castle is probably best-known for its magnificent cylindrical keep, begun in 1201-2. But why was it built? And how was it used? These and other questions are being explored as part of the wider study of the castle.

Great keeps like these were bold statements of power and prestige. At Pembroke, it seems the keep was also celebratory and commemorative, marking the marriage, ennoblement and inheritance of its builder, William Marshal – and in the most conspicuous way. But it was not intended for residential use: there is neither bedchamber, latrine nor water supply. Household accommodation was instead provided by the great hall, while a chamber block served the Marshal earls on their rare visits to Pembroke.

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Use of the keep, as intended, was restricted and episodic, probably confined to the handful of occasions when the earl visited. Access was clearly limited to those above a certain rank – for instance, there is only one spiral stair and no separate stair for lower ranks. And the interior had to be crossed to get to the stair, showing that its use was strictly controlled.

Pembroke Castle keep section drawing. Copyright Neil Ludlow

The main chamber lay on the second floor, which has a high-quality window and a fireplace. It may have been intended as an audience or reception chamber, and a setting for formal and ceremonial occasions. It has been suggested that its external doorway was served by an external bridge and stair from the curtain wall, but such an arrangement is inconsistent with the remains. The doorway may instead have led onto an appearance balcony, visible from the town before the outer bailey was added and allowing the earls to be seen by their subjects. Similar balconies existed at King Henry II’s round keeps in France.

Pembroke keep second floor door. Copyright Neil Ludlow

The first floor, at entrance level, may have been an anteroom or ‘waiting area’ for the second floor. It too has a fireplace. The uppermost chamber lies beneath the unique, masonry dome. It lacks a fireplace, suggesting events here were of short duration. Nevertheless, it is lit by a second elaborate window, while a decorative painted scene can perhaps be envisaged on the underside of the dome. It may have been a ‘prospect chamber’ for entertaining special guests. Other openings, at all levels, are very narrow slits which are too small, too narrow and too high up to have been used by archers, and were probably for light and ventilation only.

At summit level, at least one major change in design occurred during construction, which culminated with the crenellated parapet and concentric inner wall that now crown the keep. As originally built, the dome seems to have been circled by a wide, slate-lined drainage channel. The slates are fossilised, as a series of crests and troughs, within the concentric inner wall and seem to have been truncated when the present wall-walk was established. It is not known whether they were contemporary with the overhanging timber hourd, the sockets for which can be seen beneath the present parapet, but it is difficult to envisage how the two could have worked together.

Pembroke Castle keep from southeast (photo: Adam Stanford @ Aerial-Cam)

Hourds like this are now thought to have often been leisure-related rather than military,providing a viewpoint from which a lord’s estates could be shown off to his important guests. At any rate, this overall scheme was replaced, possibly before it was complete, by the present parapet, wall-walk and concentric inner wall. Another slate channel, within the latter, runs around the haunches of the dome and is of very similar design to the earlier drain. These substantial drainage arrangements may indicate that the dome was not roofed, perhaps instead being finished with slates like the domes of some later medieval church towers in south Pembrokeshire.

Much later alterations at summit level included the insertion of a floor beneath the dome – creating an attic space which was accessed from the wall-walk through a secondary doorway, and lit by crudely-inserted window – showing how the keep’s role changed through time, with loss of its original prestige. And much of the dome’s facework was robbed, perhaps to make the central ‘turret’ that now occupies the summit. Part of the second drainage channel was removed in order to create access to this turret, confirming that it is a later addition, but it was present by c.1600 when it was shown in a sketch of the castle.

Either one of these summit alterations may be contemporary with the partition in the body of the keep, the chase (or scar) for which survives in the internal plaster. The plaster contains coal fragments; a corresponding absence of charcoal suggests that the present finish may itself be late, but also means that it cannot be radiocarbon-dated.

Pembroke Castle keep from north (feature photo) Adam Stanford @ Aerial-Cam

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Reconstructing Ruthin Castle

The commission to carry out a reconstruction drawing of Ruthin Castle came after several years of visits and informal discussions with Will Davies and others, all anxious to bring the castle to greater prominence. Once the Ruthin Castle Conservation Trust had been set up in 2016 to arrest the deterioration of the castle ruins, it became imperative that better researched material, texts and drawings be produced to raise awareness of the castle and the critical condition of the ruins. The Trust accordingly commissioned a reconstruction drawing with grant aid from Castle Studies Trust, Castle Studies Group, and the Cambrian Archaeological Association.

The available documentary sources were scarce. Principal among them was the somewhat hesitant plan drawn by Randle Holme in the 17th century, complete with alterations and amendments, accompanied by two very similar versions of a perspective view, and the inevitable Buck from a century later.

An engraving by the Buck brothers in 1742 from the collection of the National Library of Wales.

Rick Turner identified a detail in the background of a 17th-century picture of “Orpheus Charming the Animals” housed at Chirk Castle, which he believed represented Ruthin. After several attempts at getting a good look at it, some shots were obtained for me by helpful member of National Trust staff. All this was greatly enhanced by a reasonably good topographical survey of the hotel and gardens prepared some years ago.

I began by creating a very rough block model of the remains of the castle with the hotel in place, to better identify the elements missing completely and those in doubt, with a view to possibly carrying out some minor excavations to resolve some of these issues. Unfortunately this was not to happen within our timescale, so such revelations still await us in the future.

The need to produce a useful image for the Trust rather than a long drawn out programme of investigation resulted in a quick agreement of the general viewpoint, displaying the most dramatic surviving parts of the castle in a completed medieval context, but in such a way that minimised the missing pieces. The result was essentially the Buck and Holm views, but altering some details contained in the latter which did not agree with the surviving remains. A lower vantage point was chosen to conceal the missing details of the buildings in the background.

The model was subtly orientated to provide the optimum view, turned into a line drawing, and then the final colour version was produced.

Ironically, it was at this point that the most heated discussion began, regarding the colour of the walls. The present remains of the outer ward are predominantly of a deep red sandstone, with the inner ward of light grey limestone (with some red quoins). The implications of this were far reaching, but for the purposes of the drawing the issue was simply to render or not to render, and if rendered, what colour? The castle is described in some documentary sources as “Castell Coch”, hence red was taken to be the main colour, so perhaps the inner grey ward was rendered red. In the end the consensus was not to render at all, but to expose the masonry as it presently appears, with the red colour of the outer bailey dominant, giving rise to the name. Even then there was some dissent over the strength of the colour of the natural red sandstone in the final image, but “Castell Coch” won out.

Reconstruction drawing of Ruthin Castle from the south-west as it may have appeared in the late medieval period. 
Artist: Chris Jones-Jenkins. Copyright: Ruthin Castle Conservation Trust.

The original painting has now been elegantly framed and is hanging in the foyer of the Castle Hotel, available for all to see. It is hoped that the image will go on to stimulate further discussion in the years to come and generate interest in and publicising the work of the Trust in promoting this historic asset.


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Pembroke Castle 2018 Excavations – the results

Parchmarks, and geophysical survey funded by the Castle Studies Trust in 2016, show that a large building once occupied the outer ward of Pembroke Castle. In outline, it seemed to be a free-standing, winged ‘mansion-house’, of a kind broadly dateable to the fifteenth century – making it a compelling candidate for the location of King Henry VII’s birth in 1457. But further investigation was needed to confirm its form and date.

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This began in 2018, with an archaeological evaluation that again was funded by the Castle Studies Trust, and carried out by Dyfed Archaeological Trust with the assistance of dedicated volunteers, and the support of Pembroke Castle Trust and staff. In essence, this was a preliminary scoping exercise: two trial trenches were excavated, representing around 20% of the suspected area of the building. And, as Pembroke Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the consent needed to carry out the work specified that the bulk of the stratified deposits had to be left in situ. Project objectives had, therefore, to be kept within realistic boundaries, namely to establish the condition, character and extent of the building – and, if possible, its date.

Pembroke Excavations Trench 1

Despite these limitations, we feel that the evidence uncovered does not seriously challenge our interpretation of the building as a winged house. It was shown to have had stone walls, one of which housed a stairway suggesting it had at least one upper floor, and an annexe containing a pit for kitchen waste alongside a possible cess-pit. The dating evidence was not precise, but does not rule out a late-medieval date, while the stair was of a helical form seen in fifteenth-century buildings in Pembrokeshire. Which means that we could still be looking at Henry VII’s birthplace.

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And the trenches may confirm our suspicions about the antiquity of the castle site. It has long been suggested that the medieval remains overlie an earlier, Iron Age fort, which may have continued to be used throughout the Roman period – and perhaps even right up until the Norman Conquest. The waste deposits seemed to slump into an earlier pit or trench, and contained Roman pottery and charcoal yielding a Roman-period radiocarbon date. Both perhaps came from disturbance of deposits within the earlier feature.

Future Plans

We feel that further excavation is the only way to fully unlock the secrets of this intriguing building, as the best clues to its date, status and function will probably be found in its form and plan. This information may in fact prove even more useful than the dating evidence provided by finds and radiocarbon samples. This is because the area around the building was heavily disturbed by excavation in the 1930s, following which soil, containing pottery, seems to have been brought in from outside the castle for landscaping. In addition, the scheduled monument consent limits the excavation of the undisturbed deposits.

Further investigations will hopefully begin next year. Another trench in the area of the suspected cess-pit may confirm whether or not it occupies a winged ‘annexe’ housing a suspected second stairway, while a trench in the suggested kitchen wing may show whether it did contain any ovens or fireplaces. It is hoped that, eventually, the entire ground-plan of the building will be revealed. We may then also see how it related to other deposits and features in the outer ward. Excavation can be a cautionary tale, which advises against letting prior assumptions govern interpretation of the results. It is entirely possible that a very different storyline from the one suggested above may yet emerge.

Neil Ludlow – consulting archaeologist on the excavation

To read the full report you can download it here: https://www.castlestudiestrust.org/Pembroke-Castle-2018.html

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Five New Awards and £100,000 in six years

We are excited to announce five grants totalling a record £27,000 that will advance our understanding of castles. These awards mean we have reached the landmark of giving away £100,000 in grants. It has taken six years for us to do that during which time the Trust has doubled the maximum amount we can award to £10,000.

Before you read about the five projects below, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter if you haven’t already.

  • Druminnor, Aberdeenshire – Using GPR for an investigation of the 15th century core of the castle – presently under a hardcore car park. This was the original caput of the lords of Forbes. During the 15th century they were amongst the most powerful families in the North-east of Scotland.
  • Hoghton Tower, Lancashire – This project aims to form an axis of research into Hoghton Tower’s unique physical history. The main focus will be to investigate and advance the knowledge of the pre-1560 site and specifically try to test the hypothesis that the north side building may form part of the ‘original’ Hoghton Tower.
  • Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire – Excavation to try to confirm the findings of the geophysical surveys the CST funded in 2018. These indicated that the castle was placed right on the top of a high status Saxon dwelling.
  • Shrewsbury, Shropshire – Geophysical survey and excavation to determine how the castle buildings were laid out in the bailey. This will be the first time the well preserved motte-and-bailey castle has been excavated. First mentioned in 1069, Shrewsbury Castle was a key point along the Anglo-Welsh border and fell into ruin following the conquest of Wales.
  • Wressle, East Yorkshire – A geophysical survey of the area to the south of the castle ruins which had been covered by the previous earthwork survey funded by the CST, to get more information about the various garden structures there, as well as other details regarding the deserted village, moat and fishponds. The 14th century castle was one of the most important castles owned by the Earls of Northumberland.

Be sure to follow us on social media where we’ll be bringing you updates from the field, with work starting this month. In the meantime, here are some of our supporters discussing our work. we hope you’re looking forward to this year’s projects as much as we are!

The projects we’re considering for 2019

The deadline for grant applications passed on 30th November. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the 12 projects, coming from all parts of Britain and one from Ireland, are asking for over £75,000.* They cover not only a wide period of history but also a wide range of topics. In a little more detail, here are the applications we’ve received:

Collyweston, Northamptonshire

  • Contributing towards a community excavation at the early Tudor palace commissioned by Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. According to building accounts the palace was built around three courtyards and was the first brick building in Northamptonshire. The palace was demolished in 1640 and the site has never been excavated before.

Druminnor, Aberdeenshire

[10] Druminnor Castle - "Woops!"
Using Ground Penetrating Radar for an investigation of the 15th-century core of the castle – presently under a hardcore car park. This was the original caput of the lords of Forbes. During the 15th century they were amongst the most powerful families in the North-east of Scotland.

Hoghton Tower, Lancashire

hoghton tower
This project aims to form an axis of research into Hoghton Tower’s unique physical history. The main focus will be to investigate and advance the knowledge of the pre-1560 site and specifically try to test the hypothesis that the north side building may form part of the ‘original’ Hoghton Tower.

Lathom, Lancashire

Excavation to establish the form and location of the southern perimeter of the curtain wall of the 15th-century castle known as the Northern Court of which nothing remains above ground from the period. It was one of the most important castles in the north west of England in the late 15th and 16th centuries. The castle was besieged twice in the English Civil War and then slighted. In 2017 we funded analysis of masonry recovered in earlier excavations, which indicated architectural links with Caernarfon Castle.

Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire

Photo by Mike Neid

Following on from last year’s grant, this project would undertake excavation to investigate features identified during the geophysical survey. The survey suggested that the castle was built over an Anglo-Saxon lordly residence, and the excavation would test whether there is further evidence to corroborate this.

Lewes, East Sussex

Photo by Richard Gailey, licensed CC-BY 2.0.

This research aims to answer an intriguing question: why does Lewes Castle, East Sussex, have two mottes? Do they represent a highly distinctive architectural statement, or did burial mounds of possible Romano-British or earlier origins influence the form of the 11th century fortification?

Loughmoe, County Tipperary

Castles of Munster, Loughmoe, Tipperary - geograph.org.uk - 1542634
To produce the first-ever detailed survey and structural history of the building which dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, and to determine using geophysics the extent of the original castle and whether the renaissance part had a precinct, other buildings, and gardens.

Raglan, Monmouthshire

Photo © Jeremy Cunnington

Using inferences from previous geophysical surveys to focus on key areas of the lower terraces and bowling green of the castle potentially revealing more about the clandestine political activity of the Somerset family in the late 16th and 17 centuries.

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Shrewsbury Castle looking West
Geophysical survey and excavation concentrating on the inner bailey to in particular examine the tail of the north rampart. Despite being one of the main fortresses on the Welsh border no major excavations have taken place in the bailey. Thus the medieval plan of the enclosure, and the missing domestic ranges that should be there, are completely unknown.

Snodhill, Herefordshire

Photo © Jeremy Cunnington

Excavations in this important Welsh border fortress that was in use from just after the conquest to the English Civil War. The aim is to answer some key questions about the castle e.g. the keep’s entrance and final form, to establish the form of the North Tower and along the south side to see if that was where the entrance was.

Tarbert, Argyll

East Loch Tarbert and Tarbert Castle - geograph.org.uk - 1624617
Funding post-excavation costs of a community archaeology project. The project will be trying to see discover a number of things about this royal castle including if there was a southern entrance into the outer bailey, and what buildings there were along the north east range of the inner bailey.

Wressle, East Yorkshire

A geophysical survey of the area to the south of the castle ruins which had been covered by the previous earthwork survey funded by the CST, to get more information about the various garden structures there, as well as other details regarding the deserted village, moat and fishponds. The 14th century castle was one of the most important castles owned by the Dukes of Northumberland.

The applications have been sent to our expert assessors who will go over them. You can see how the assessment process works from our blog back in January 2016. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

*The article was updated at 15:28, 10th December to remove Halton Castle.