The kings of England and the Welsh princes had vied for control of North Wales since the 1070s and the conflict had been renewed during the 13th century, leading to Edward I intervening in North Wales for the second time during his reign in 1282. Edward invaded with a huge army, pushing north from Carmarthen and westwards from Montgomery and Chester. Edward decided to permanently colonise North Wales and provisions for its governance were set out in the Statute of Rhuddlan, enacted on 3 March 1284. Wales was divided into counties and shires, emulating how England was governed, with three new shires created in the north-west, Caernarfon, Merioneth and Anglesey. New towns with protective castles were established at Caernarfon and Harlech, the administrative centres of the first two shires, with another castle and walled town built in nearby Conwy, and plans were probably made to establish a similar castle and settlement near the town of Llanfaes on Anglesey. Llanfaes was the wealthiest borough in Wales and largest in terms of population, an important trading port and on the preferred route from North Wales to Ireland. The huge cost of the building the other castles, however, meant that the Llanfaes project had to be postponed.
In 1294 Madog ap Llywelyn rebelled against English rule. The revolt was bloody and amongst the casualties was Roger de Pulesdon, the sheriff of Anglesey. Edward suppressed the rebellion over the winter and once Anglesey was reoccupied in April 1295 he immediately began to progress the delayed plans to fortify the area. The chosen site was called Beaumaris, meaning "fair marsh", whose name derives from the Norman-French Beau Mareys, and in Latin the castle was termed de Bello Marisco. This was about 1 mile from Llanfaes and the decision was therefore taken to move the Welsh population of Llanfaes some 12 miles (19 km) south-west, where a settlement by the name of Newborough was created for them. The deportation of the local Welsh opened the way for the construction of a prosperous English town, protected by a substantial castle. The castle was positioned in one corner of the town, following a similar town plan to that in the town of Conwy, although in Beaumaris no town walls were constructed at first, despite some foundations being laid. Work began in the summer of 1295, overseen by Master James of St George. James had been appointed the "master of the king's works in Wales", reflecting the responsibility he had in their construction and design. From 1295 onwards, Beaumaris became his primary responsibility and more frequently he was given the title "magister operacionum de Bello Marisco". The work was recorded in considerable detail on the pipe rolls, the continuous records of medieval royal expenditure, and, as a result, the early stages of construction at Beaumaris are relatively well understood for the period.
A huge amount of work was undertaken in the first summer, with an average of 1,800 workmen, 450 stonemasons and 375 quarriers on the site. This consumed around £270 a week in wages and the project rapidly fell into arrears, forcing officials to issue leather tokens instead of paying the workforce with normal coinage. The centre of the castle was filled with temporary huts to house the workforce over the winter. The following spring, James explained to his employers some of the difficulties and the high costs involved: "In case you should wonder where so much money could go in a week, we would have you know that we have needed – and shall continue to need 400 masons, both cutters and layers, together with 2,000 less skilled workmen, 100 carts, 60 wagons and 30 boats bringing stone and sea coal; 200 quarrymen; 30 smiths; and carpenters for putting in the joists and floor boards and other necessary jobs. All this takes no account of the garrison ... nor of purchases of material. Of which there will have to be a great quantity ... The men's pay has been and still is very much in arrears, and we are having the greatest difficulty in keeping them because they have simply nothing to live on."
The construction slowed during 1296, although debts continued to build up, and work dropped off further the following year, stopping entirely by 1300, by when around £11,000 had been spent. The halt was primarily the result of Edward's new wars in Scotland, which had begun to consume his attention and financial resources, but it left the castle only partially complete: the inner walls and towers were only a fraction of their proper height and the north and north-west sides lacked outer defences altogether. In 1306 Edward became concerned about a possible Scottish invasion of North Wales, but the unfinished castle had already fallen into a poor state of repair. Work recommenced on completing the outer defences, first under James' direction and then, after his death in 1309, Master Nicolas de Derneford. This work finally halted in 1330 with the castle still not built to its intended height; by the end of the project, £15,000 had been spent, a colossal sum for the period. A royal survey in 1343 suggested that at least a further £684 would be needed to complete the castle, but this was never invested.
In 1400 a revolt broke out in North Wales against English rule, led by Owain Glyndŵr. Beaumaris Castle was placed under siege and captured by the rebels in 1403, being retaken by royal forces in 1405. The castle was ill-maintained and fell into disrepair and by 1534, when Roland de Velville was the castle constable, rain was leaking into most of the rooms. In 1539 a report complained that it was protected by an arsenal of only eight or ten small guns and forty bows, which the castle's new constable, Richard Bulkeley, considered to be completely inadequate for protecting the fortress against a potential Scottish attack. Matters worsened and by 1609 the castle was classed as "utterlie decayed".
The English Civil War broke out in 1642 between the Royalist supporters of Charles I and the supporters of Parliament. Beaumaris Castle was a strategic location in the war, as it controlled part of the route between the king's bases in Ireland and his operations in England. Thomas Bulkeley, whose family had been involved in the management of the castle for several centuries, held Beaumaris for the king and may have spent around £3,000 improving its defences. By 1646, however, Parliament had defeated the royal armies and the castle was surrendered by Colonel Richard Bulkeley in June. Anglesey revolted against Parliament again in 1648, and Beaumaris was briefly reoccupied by royalist forces, surrendering for a second time in October that year. After the war many castles were slighted, damaged to put them beyond military use, but Parliament was concerned about the threat of a royalist invasion from Scotland and Beaumaris was spared. Colonel John Jones became the castle governor and a garrison was installed inside, at a cost of £1,703 a year. When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660 and restored the Bulkeley family as castle constables, Beaumaris appears to have been stripped of its valuable lead and remaining resources, including the roofs.
Lord Thomas Bulkeley bought the castle from the Crown in 1807 for £735, incorporating it into the park that surrounded his local residence, Baron Hill. By then the castles of North Wales had become attractive locations for visiting painters and travellers, who considered the ivy-clad ruins romantic. Although not as popular as other sites in the region, Beaumaris formed part of this trend and was visited by the future Queen Victoria in 1832 for an Eisteddfod festival and it was painted by J. M. W. Turner in 1835. Some of the castle's stones may have been reused in 1829 to build the nearby Beaumaris Gaol. In 1925 Richard Williams-Bulkeley gave Beaumaris to the Commissioners of Works, who then carried out a large scale restoration programme, stripping back the vegetation, digging out the moat and repairing the stonework. In 1950 the castle, considered by the authorities to be "one of the outstanding Edwardian medieval castles of Wales", was designated as a Grade I listed building – the highest grade of listing, protecting buildings of "exceptional, usually national, interest". Beaumaris was declared part of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage site in 1986, UNESCO considering it one of "the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe".
Disabled visitors and companion admitted free. There are 2 dedicated disabled parking spaces on the roadside adjacent to visitor centre. Access is level from the visitor centre into the site via the pathway and small bridge. Majority of grounds are on level grassed lawns. Assistance dogs only are welcomed. There are disabled toilets available.
The jail was designed by Hansom and Welch (Joseph Hansom is more famous for designing the Hansom Cab), and was built in 1829. It was expanded in 1867 to accommodate approximately 30 inmates but was closed just 11 years later. The building then became a police station until the 1950s when it became, oddly, a children's clinic and lastly a museum in 1974. During the Second World War the town's air raid siren was located in the gaol and was kept in operation during the Cold War in case of nuclear attacks. The gaol's chapel is not original to the building, and the pews and pulpit were sourced from a chapel being renovated elsewhere on the island. It is possible to tell that the pews are not the original ones as the numbering sequence is out of order and they are not fixed to the floor. The prison regime may appear brutal to a modern visitor, but in its day it was seen as humane improvement on earlier gaols. Even so, methods of keeping criminals in check included chains, whippings and isolation in a dark cell for up to three days. It has one of the last working treadmills in Britain. The treadmill at Beaumaris is unusual in that it pumped water to the top of the building for use in the cells, meaning that the prisoners were not forced to work for no reason.
Only two hangings took place at Beaumaris. The first was that of William Griffith, in 1830, for the attempted murder of his first wife. He reacted badly to the news that he was to hang and on the morning of his execution, barricaded himself inside the cell. The door was eventually forced open and he was half dragged and half carried to the gallows. The second and final execution was that of Richard Rowlands in 1862, having been found guilty of murdering his father in law. He protested his innocence right up to the final moment and legend has is that he cursed the church clock from the gallows, saying that if he were innocent the four faces of the nearby church clock would never show the same time. Indeed, for a while they did not, although this has been attributed to the wind buffeting the southern face. Both men were buried in within the walls of the gaol in a lime pit, but the exact location of their burial is unknown. The metal rivets which held the gallows in place, along with the two doors which the condemned man passed through can still be seen from the street outside the Gaol walls. Throughout its time as a gaol there was only one instance of a prisoner escaping. The prisoner, John Morris, escaped on 7 January 1859, using rope he had stolen whilst working with it. Although he broke his leg whilst escaping he did make it out of the town, before being recaptured. The gaol and courthouse are open to the public and are wheelchair accessible.
Location : Castle St, Beaumaris, Anglesey LL58 8AP
Location : Beaumaris Gaol, Steeple Lane, Beaumaris LL58 8EP, Wales
Transport : Bangor (National Rail) then bus (53, 57, 58). Bus Routes : 50, 53, 57, 58 and 468 all stop closeby.
Opening Times Castle: Daily 09:30 to 17:00; until 18:00 through August
Opening Times Gaol: Daily except Fridays 10:30 to 17:00
Tickets Castle: Adults £6.00; Seniors/Children (5 - 16) £4.20
Tickets Gaol: Adults £5.00; Children £4.00; Concessions £3.00
Tel Castle: 01248 810361
Tel Gaol: 01248 810921