Skenfrith Castle

Skenfrith Castle

Hall Range foundations

Hall range foundations

Skenfrith Castle

Skenfrith Castle (Welsh: Castell Ynysgynwraidd) is a ruined castle in the village of Skenfrith in Monmouthshire, Wales. The fortification was established by the Normans in the wake of the invasion of England in 1066, to protect the route from Wales to Hereford. Possibly commissioned by William fitz Osbern, the Earl of Hereford, the castle comprised earthworks with timber defences. In 1135, a major Welsh revolt took place and in response King Stephen brought together Skenfrith Castle and its sister fortifications of Grosmont and White Castle to form a lordship known as the "Three Castles", which continued to play a role in defending the region from Welsh attack for several centuries.

Skenfrith Castle was built in the wake of the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Shortly after the invasion, the Normans pushed up into the Welsh Marches, where William the Conqueror made William fitz Osbern the Earl of Hereford; Earl William added to his new lands by then capturing the towns of Monmouth and Chepstow. The Normans used castles extensively to militarily subdue the Welsh, establish new settlements and exert their claims of lordship over the territories.

Skenfrith Castle was one of a triangle of fortifications built in the Monnow valley around this time, possibly by Earl William himself, to protect the route from Wales to Hereford. The first castle on the site was built from earth and timber.

The earldom's landholdings in the region were slowly broken up after William's son, Roger de Breteuil, rebelled against the King in 1075. In 1135, a major Welsh revolt took place, however, and in response King Stephen restructured the landholdings along this section of the Marches, bringing together Skenfrith Castle and its sister fortifications of Grosmont and White Castle back under the control of the Crown to form a lordship known as the "Three Castles".

Conflict with the Welsh continued, and following a period of detente under Henry II in the 1160s, the de Mortimer and de Braose Marcher families attacked their Welsh rivals during the 1170s, leading to a Welsh assault on nearby Abergavenny Castle in 1182. In response, the Crown readied the castle to face an attack, and in 1186, £43 was spent developing the defences followed by more work in 1190, probably establishing a stone keep and curtain wall.

In 1201, King John gave the Three Castles to Hubert de Burgh. Hubert was a minor landowner who had become John's household chamberlain when he was still a prince, and went on to become an increasingly powerful royal official once John had inherited the throne. Hubert began to upgrade his new castles, starting with Grosmont, but was captured while fighting in France. While Hubert was in captivity, King John took back the Three Castles and gave them to William de Braose, a rival of Hubert's. King John subsequently fell out with William and dispossessed him of his lands in 1207, but de Braose's son, also called William, took the opportunity presented by the First Barons' War to retake the castles.

Once released, Hubert regained his grip on power, becoming the royal justiciar and being made the Earl of Kent, before finally recovering the Three Castles in 1219 during the reign of King Henry III. During Hubert's tenure, Skenfrith was entirely rebuilt; the old castle was levelled and a new rectangular castle with round towers and a central circular keep was constructed in its place.

Hubert fell from power in 1232 and was stripped of the castles, which were placed under the command of Walerund Teutonicus, a royal servant; having been reconciled with the king in 1234, the castles were returned to him briefly but he fell out with King Henry III again in 1239 and they were taken back once again and assigned to Walerund. Walerund built a new chapel at the castle in 1244, and repaired the keep's roof. In 1254, Skenfrith Castle and its sister fortifications were granted to King Henry's eldest son, and later king, Prince Edward.

The Welsh threat persisted, and in 1262 the castle was readied in response to Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's attack on Abergavenny in 1262; commanded by its constable Gilbert Talbot, Skenfrith was ordered to be garrisoned "by every man, and at whatever cost". The threat passed without incident. Edmund, the Earl of Lancaster and the capitaneus of the royal forces in Wales, was given the Three Castles in 1267 and for many centuries they were held by the earldom, later duchy, of Lancaster. Little further work was carried out at Skenfrith, although repairs were carried out to the tower and gates under King Henry VI. King Edward I's conquest of Wales in 1282 had removed much of the castle's military utility, although it continued to be used as an administrative centre. By 1538, Skenfrith Castle had fallen into disuse and then into ruin; a 1613 description noted that it was "ruynous and decayed".

In 1825, the Three Castles were sold off to Henry Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort. It was eventually acquired by the lawyer Harold Sands, who carried out some conservation of the site; he went on to give the castle to the National Trust. Skenfrith was placed into the care of the state in 1936, and extensive repair work was carried out. In the 21st century, Skenfirth Castle is managed by Cadw and protected under UK law as a grade II* listed building.

Skenfrith Castle was constructed alongside the River Monnow. The current castle was created by Hubert de Burgh in the early 13th century, when the earthworks of the 11th-century Norman castle were flattened and spread out over the current site to a depth of 12 feet (3.7 m); the 12th-century stone fortifications and buildings were demolished at the same time. Hubert's castle forms a polygon, with four walls approximately 80 metres, 60 metres, 60 metres and 40 metres (260 feet, 200 feet, 200 feet and 130 feet) long respectively, and was built from Old Red Sandstone. It was originally protected by a stone-revetted, water-filled moat, 9 feet (2.7 m) deep and 46 feet (14 m) wide, fed by the river. The moat is now filled in and grassed over. The castle was entered from the north-west side over a bridge and through a gatehouse, both since destroyed.

The curtain wall survives to a height of up to 5 metres (16 ft), and was probably originally topped by a 6 feet (1.8 m) high parapet and protective timber hoarding. The castle had circular towers on each corner, probably only used for storage and defence, of which three still survive, the north-west tower having been reduced to its foundations. A watergate on the eastern side of the castle led down to the Monnow.

A two-storey hall range stretched across the south-western inside of the castle, of which only the foundations now survive. Originally the hall range comprised a long room on the northern end, and a smaller chamber to the south, although the northern section was subsequently subdivided. The floor level of the hall range was later raised due to flooding, with the ground floors being filled in with gravel. The main hall would have been on the first floor, above the surviving ground floor fireplace. The south end of the range held a water reservoir for the castle. On the opposite side of the hall range was a kitchen block, of which nothing now survives above ground.

The three-story circular keep in the middle of the castle is 12 metres (39 feet) high and and 10 metres (33 feet) across, with a protruding staircase tower on its south-western side. It closely resembled similar keeps built during this period in France by Philip II and at Pembroke by William Marshal; its staircase tower was similar to others built across the Welsh Marches at the time, including at Caldicot and Longtown.

Earth was piled up around the 2 metres (6 feet 7 inches) plinth at the base of the keep, probably to defend the base of the walls, with the result closely resembling a motte. Originally it would have been topped with defensive wooden hoarding, with an external wooden staircase reaching up to the entrance on the first floor: the current, ground floor entrance was cut out of its walls at a later date. The basement was accessed by a trapdoor and used as a storeroom. The first floor chamber would have been an antechamber, while the second floor chamber was fitted with windows, a large fireplace and a private latrine, and would have provided living accommodation for the lord.

Access to the Castle is via a flight of wooden steps. Lawned areas form the interior surface with some masonry steps and gravelled areas, thus access is poor. There is a small area for parking that will accommodate approx. 6 cars in front of the castle. There is no dedicated disabled parking. Assistance dogs are welcome. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

 

Location : Skenfrith, near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, NP7 8UH

Transport : Abergavenny (National Rail) 11 miles. Bus Routes : 412, 413 stop 1 mile.

Opening Times : Daily, 10:00 to 16:00

Tickets : Free

Tel : 01874 625515

Grosmont Castle

Grosmont Castle

Ditch, bridge, gatehouse

Ditch, bridge, gatehouse

AUDIO

Grosmont Castle

Grosmont Castle is a ruined castle in the village of Grosmont, Monmouthshire, Wales. The fortification was established by the Normans in the wake of the invasion of England in 1066, to protect the route from Wales to Hereford. Possibly commissioned by William fitz Osbern, the Earl of Hereford, it was originally an earthwork design with timber defences. In 1135, a major Welsh revolt took place, and in response King Stephen brought together Grosmont Castle and its sister fortifications of Skenfrith and White Castle to form a lordship known as the "Three Castles", which continued to play a role in defending the region from Welsh attack for several centuries.

Grosmont Castle was built following the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Shortly after the invasion, the Normans pushed up into the Welsh Marches, and William the Conqueror made William fitz Osbern the Earl of Hereford. The new Earl then added to his estate by capturing the towns of Monmouth and Chepstow. The Normans used castles extensively to subdue the Welsh, establish new settlements and exert their claims of lordship over the territories.

Grosmont was one of three fortifications built in the Monnow valley around this time to protect the route from Wales to Hereford, possibly by the earl himself. The first castle on the site was built from earth and timber, with a keep and a motte protected by a palisade and a ditch. The Normans established a borough alongside the castle, which later became the village of Grosmont.

The earl's landholdings in the region were slowly broken up after William fitz Osbern's son, Roger de Breteuil, rebelled against the Crown in 1075. By the early 12th century, Grosmont was owned by the Anglo-Norman nobleman Pain fitzJohn. In 1135, a major Welsh revolt took place, and in response King Stephen restructured the landholdings along this section of the Marches, bringing Grosmont Castle and its sister fortifications of Skenfrith and White Castle back under the control of the Crown to form a lordship known as the "Three Castles".

Conflict with the Welsh continued, and following a period of detente under Henry II in the 1160s, the de Braose and de Mortimer Marcher families attacked their Welsh rivals during the 1170s, leading to a Welsh assault on nearby Abergavenny Castle in 1182. In response, the Crown readied Grosmont to face a potential Welsh attack. Over the next three years, £15 was spent on the castle under the supervision of Ralph of Grosmont, a royal official, probably for works on the timber fortifications.

In 1201, King John gave the 'Three Castles' title to Hubert de Burgh. Hubert was a minor landowner who had become King John's household chamberlain while still a prince, and went on to become an increasingly powerful royal official once King John inherited the throne. Hubert began to upgrade his new castles, starting with Grosmont, where he rebuilt the hall block in stone. Hubert was captured fighting the French in 1205 and, while he was imprisoned, King John took back the castles and gave them to William de Braose, one of Hubert's rivals. King John subsequently fell out with William and dispossessed him of his lands in 1207, but de Braose's son, also called William, took the opportunity of the chaos during the First Barons' War to retake the castles.

Once released from captivity, Hubert regained his grip on power, becoming the royal justiciar and being made the Earl of Kent, before finally recovering the Three Castles in 1219 during the reign of Henry III. He resumed his work at Grosmont, rebuilding the timber walls in stone and adding three mural towers and a gatehouse to its defences. The result was secure, high-status accommodation. Hubert fell from power in 1232 and was stripped of the castles, which were placed under the command of Walerund Teutonicus, a royal servant. King Henry led an army into Wales in 1233 against the rebellious Richard Marshall, the Earl of Pembroke, and his Welsh allies, and camped outside Grosmont Castle that November. Richard carried out a night attack on their encampment and, while not taking the castle itself, forced the rest of the King's army to flee in confusion.

Hubert was reconciled with the King in 1234 and the castles were returned to him, only for him to fall out with King Henry III again in 1239: Grosmont was taken back and put under the command of Walerund. Walerund completed some of Hubert's work, including building a new chapel. In 1254, Grosmont Castle and her sister fortifications were granted to King Henry's eldest son and later king, Edward. The Welsh threat persisted, and in 1262 the castle was readied in response to Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's attack on Abergavenny in 1262; commanded by its constable Gilbert Talbot, Grosmont was ordered to be garrisoned "by every man, and at whatever cost". The threat passed without incident.

Edmund, the Earl of Lancaster and the capitaneus of the royal forces in Wales, was given the Three Castles in 1267 and for many centuries they were held by the earldom, and later duchy of Lancaster. King Edward I's conquest of Wales in 1282 removed much of Grosmont's military utility, but, under either Henry of Lancaster or his son Henry of Grosmont, the interior of the castle was modernised in the first half of the 14th century to create a suite of high quality apartments. A deer park was maintained around the castle. The historian Jeremy Knight describes the castle at this time as forming "a small but very comfortable residence".

The castle's final military role was during the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr at the start of the 15th century. There was a battle between the Welsh and Richard Beauchamp near Grosmont in 1404, leading to an English victory. The castle was besieged the next year by Owain's son, Gruffudd, but the castle was relieved by an English force sent by Prince Henry. By 1538, Grosmont Castle had fallen into disuse and then into ruin; a 1563 survey notes that its bridge had collapsed and that, although the outer walls were intact, the interior was in decay and its building materials inside had either been removed or were rotten. A 1613 description noted that it was "ruynous and decayed".

In 1825, the Three Castles estates were sold off to Henry Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort. In 1902, Henry Somerset, the 9th Duke, then sold Grosmont Castle to Sir Joseph Bradney, a soldier and local historian. Evidence was given to the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire in 1909, stating that Grosmont was exceptionally well looked after. The castle was placed into the care of the state in 1922 by Frances Lucas-Scudamore, and conservation work was carried out, including clearing the basement of the north block of debris. In the 21st century, Grosmont Castle is managed by the Welsh heritage organisation Cadw and is protected under UK law as a grade I listed building.

Grosmont Castle overlooks the village of the same name, and in its current form dates mostly from the work carried out by Hubert de Burgh with later 14th-century additions. It originally comprised an inner and an outer ward, but the latter has been encroached upon by local gardens. The outer ward would have held a rectangular storehouse or stable. The inner ward forms a stone castle with a gatehouse, two circular mural towers, a hall and a north accommodation block, the whole being protected by a ditch. Originally other timber buildings would have been raised against the outer stone wall as accommodation for the castle's servants, but only limited traces of these survive.

The gatehouse was originally a two-storey, rectangular tower with 14th-century additions, including a buttressed drawbridge pit, but only limited parts of it now survive. The south-west tower was converted into a three-storey suite of rooms in the 14th century; its basement was filled in. The three-storey west tower was also altered during the 14th century, and the basement filled in. The north block is primarily a 14th-century addition to the castle, built over the remains of one of the circular towers and the old postern gate. It comprises three distinct buildings, the largest being a three-storey residential tower. The block has a distinctive octagonal chimney with a carved top.

The hall block is a pilaster-buttressed, two-storey building, 96 by 32 feet (29.3 by 9.8 m) across, with the floors originally linked by a spiral staircase. The first floor of the block contained the hall and a solar room separated by a wooden divide; the hall had a fireplace in the middle of its exterior wall, with two large windows on either side. The ground floor holding two service rooms lit by narrow loop windows. An external wooden staircase would have led up directly into the main hall from the inner ward. The block would have closely resembled de Burgh's hall at Christchurch Castle.

 

The entrance is reached from the main road by a firm path and through a field. There is a narrow wicket gate. On street parking in the village is limited. Approx. 300 metres away from the monument. There is a 'RADAR' key toilet in the village, 200m from the start of the path. Assistance dogs are welcome. Dogs on a lead are welcome. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

 

Location : Grosmont Castle, B4347, Abergavenny NP7 8EP

Transport : Abergavenny (National Rail) 14 miles. Bus Routes : No buses, Alpha Taxi in Grosmont.

Opening Times : Daily, 10:00 to 16:00

Tickets : Free

Tel : 01443 336000

White Castle

White Castle

Outer ward gatehouse

outer ward gatehouse

AUDIO

White Castle

White Castle (Welsh: Castell Gwyn), also known historically as Llantilio Castle, is a ruined castle near the village of Llantilio Crossenny in Monmouthshire, Wales. The fortification was established by the Normans in the wake of the invasion of England in 1066, to protect the route from Wales to Hereford. Possibly commissioned by William fitz Osbern, the Earl of Hereford, it comprised three large earthworks with timber defences. In 1135, a major Welsh revolt took place and in response King Stephen brought together White Castle and its sister fortifications of Grosmont and Skenfrith to form a lordship known as the "Three Castles", which continued to play a role in defending the region from Welsh attack for several centuries.

White Castle was built in the wake of the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Shortly after the invasion, the Normans pushed up into the Welsh Marches, where William the Conqueror made William fitz Osbern the Earl of Hereford; Earl William added to his new lands by then capturing the towns of Monmouth and Chepstow. The Normans used castles extensively to militarily subdue the Welsh, establish new settlements and exert their claims of lordship over the territories.

White Castle, originally called Llantilio Castle, was one of three fortifications built in the Monnow valley around this time, possibly by Earl William himself, to protect the route from Wales to Hereford, and overlooked the manor of Llantilio Crossenny and the River Monnow. The first castle on the site was built from earth and timber, with three large earthworks forming an inner and outer ward, and a hornwork protecting the main entrance to the south. A mill was constructed at Great Trerhew to grind corn for the castle garrison.

The earldom's landholdings in the region were slowly broken up after William's son, Roger de Breteuil, rebelled against the Crown in 1075. In 1135, a major Welsh revolt took place, however, and in response King Stephen restructured the landholdings along this section of the Marches, bringing White Castle and its sister fortifications of Grosmont and Skenfrith back under the control of the Crown to form a lordship known as the "Three Castles".

Conflict with the Welsh continued, and following a period of detente under Henry II in the 1160s, the de Mortimer and de Braose Marcher families attacked their Welsh rivals during the 1170s, leading to a Welsh assault on nearby Abergavenny Castle in 1182. In response, the Crown readied the castle to face an attack, and between 1184 and 1186, work costing £128 was carried out by Ralph of Grosmont, a royal official, probably to build a stone curtain wall around the inner ward and to add a small stone keep to the defences.

In 1201, King John gave the Three Castles to Hubert de Burgh. Hubert was a minor landowner who had become John's household chamberlain when he was still a prince, and went on to become an increasingly powerful royal official once John inherited the throne. At this time, White Castle was primarily a military fortification, holding a garrison and stores of arrows and crossbow bolts. It was relatively exposed to the elements and had, at best, only basic accommodation; the historian Cathcart King describes the conditions in the castle as likely to have been "miserable", "squalid" and "unpleasant".

Hubert began to upgrade his new castles, starting with Grosmont, but was captured while fighting in France. While Hubert was in captivity, King John took back the Three Castles and gave them to William de Braose, a rival of Hubert's. King John subsequently fell out with William and dispossessed him of his lands in 1207, but de Braose's son, also called William, took the opportunity presented by the First Barons' War to retake the castles.

Once released, Hubert regained his grip on power, becoming the royal justiciar and being made the Earl of Kent, before finally recovering the Three Castles in 1219 during the reign of King Henry III. Hubert fell from power in 1232 and was stripped of the castles, which were placed under the command of Walerund Teutonicus, a royal servant; having been reconciled with the King in 1234, the castles were briefly returned to Hubert, but he fell out with King Henry III again in 1239 and they were taken back and assigned to Walerund. Walerund built a new hall, buttery and pantry at the castle in 1244. In 1254, White Castle and its sister fortifications were granted to King Henry's eldest son, and later king, Prince Edward.

During the 13th century, the castle was almost entirely rebuilt, although historians have put forward two possible timelines for when this work was carried out. The conventional historical dating places the work as being carried out in the 1250s and 1260s, as a single programme of work, with the keep being demolished, a new gatehouse and four mural towers being constructed and the outer ward reinforced with a stone wall and gatehouse of its own. Paul Remfry, however, argues that the work occurred somewhat earlier during Hubert's tenure, being carried out in two waves between 1229–1231 and 1234–1239. Around this time the fortification is first described in the records as the "White Castle", due to the white rendering applied to its external walls.

The Welsh threat persisted, and in 1262 the castle was readied in response to Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's attack on Abergavenny in 1262; commanded by its constable Gilbert Talbot, Grosmont was ordered to be garrisoned "by every man, and at whatever cost". The threat passed without incident.

Edmund, the Earl of Lancaster and the capitaneus of the royal forces in Wales, was given the Three Castles in 1267 and for many centuries they were held by the earldom, later duchy, of Lancaster. King Edward I's conquest of Wales in 1282 removed much of White Castle's military utility, although it continued to be used in the administration of the surrounding manor, and for mustering military levies. Little further work was carried out on the fortification, although one of the gatehouse towers was repaired at some point during the period, and repairs were carried out to the chapel tower and gatehouse under King Henry VI. By 1538, White Castle had fallen into disuse and then into ruin; a 1613 description noted that it was "ruynous and decayed".

In 1825, the Three Castles were sold off to Henry Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort. In 1902, Henry Somerset, the 9th Duke, sold White Castle to Sir Henry Mather Jackson. Evidence was given to the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire in 1909, stating that Sir Henry had taken steps to strip the castle of ivy and that it was now in a good condition; the site was apparently looked after by an old woman, who charged visitors for entry. The castle was placed into the care of the state in 1922. In the 21st century, White Castle is managed by the Welsh heritage agency Cadw and is protected under UK law as a grade I listed building.

White Castle occupies a hill near the village of Llantilio Crossenny, overlooking the surrounding landscape. The castle dates mainly from the 13th century and is made up of a central inner ward, a crescent-shaped hornwork to the south, and an outer ward to the north, with its stonework constructed from red sandstone. The outer ward was originally much larger, extending around the castle further to the east, but only limited traces of these earthworks survive. It is now entered from the north-east although, prior to the 13th century, the castle 's entrance was originally on the south side. The historian Paul Remfry considers the castle to be "a masterpiece of military engineering" for the period.

The outer ward is 320 by 170 feet (98 by 52 m) across, accessed by a gatehouse on the eastern edge and defended by a stone curtain wall, a dry ditch and four mural towers. The gatehouse, which survives up to 5 metres (16 feet) in height, originally had a portcullis and a drawbridge. Three of the towers were circular in design, but one was rectangular and would have been used as lodgings for a household official. There was a large building, probably a barn, 115 by 66 feet (35 by 20 m) across, on the north-western edge of the ward, alongside a group of smaller buildings, but all have since been lost.

The inner ward is approximately 150 by 110 feet (46 by 34 metres) across, protected by a deep, revetted, water-filled moat, dug out of the rock. The curtain wall has four circular, four-storey towers and a gatehouse, with domestic buildings reaching around the insides of the defences. The four-storey gatehouse is flanked by two circular towers and would have had a portcullis and a drawbridge. It would originally have been used by the castle's constable or steward.

Stretching eastwards from the gatehouse are the castle's hall, the constable's living quarters, the chapel - partially contained in one of the towers- the remains of the earlier keep, service buildings and the kitchen block. Only the foundations of these buildings survive. A postern gate in the inner ward leads through to the southern hornwork, which would originally have been linked by a wooden bridge, protected by timber defences and towers, with later stone additions, of which only traces remain.

White Castle has unusual arrow loops, with the two arms of a conventional cross-shaped loop offset vertically, so that one side is higher than the other. Historians have contrasting views of the effectiveness of this design; they might have been a sensible way to ensure that the defenders could fire down the slopes around the castle, or to give better protection from incoming fire, although tests in 1980 showed them to have been extremely vulnerable to incoming fire.

The White Castle is the best preserved of the Three Castles, namely, White, Skenfrith and Grosmont. The heart of this castle is surrounded by powerful round towers. Access is via a short gravelled path from a limited parking area. The main of the castle is accessed via a bridge, crossing the water filled moat from the larger outer ward, which itself is reached via a small bridge, crossing a dry moat. Mobility access is good to most areas. Parking for approximately 4 vehicles available. There is no dedicated disabled parking. Assistance dogs are welcome.

 

Location : White Castle, Abergavenny NP7 8UD

Transport : Abergavenny (National Rail) 8 miles. Bus Routes : No buses, Taxi in Abergavenny.

Opening Times : Daily, 10:00 to 16:00

Tickets : Free

Tel : 01600 780380