Abergavenny Castle (Welsh: Castell y Fenni) is a ruined castle in the market town of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales, established by the Norman lord Hamelin de Balun in about 1087. It was the site of a massacre of Welsh noblemen in 1175, and was attacked during the early 15th century Glyndŵr Rising. William Camden, the 16th century antiquary, said that the castle "has been oftner stain'd with the infamy of treachery, than any other castle in Wales." It has been a Grade I listed building since 1952.
The castle is located immediately to the south of the town centre. It was built by the Normans to overlook the River Usk and its valley, and so guard against incursions into the lowland areas south and east of the town by the Welsh from the hills to the north and west.
Hamelin de Balun, a Norman lord, had the castle built about 1087. Protected by a ditch and palisade, the motte was surmounted by a wooden keep. Soon after 1100, a stone keep was built to replace the wooden structure, and a wooden hall was built on its western side. In the 1160s, Henry Fitzmiles, the son of Miles de Gloucester, 1st Earl of Hereford and lord of Abergavenny, was killed, reputedly by Seisyll ap Dyfnwal of Castell Arnallt. Without a male heir, Henry Fitzmiles' estate and the lordship, which included lands in upper Gwent and Brecknockshire, as well as the Castle, passed to his daughter Bertha's husband, William de Braose. De Braose rebuilt parts of the castle and constructed the curtain wall, parts of which still remain.
The castle was then the scene of an infamous massacre. Over Christmas 1175 De Braose called Seisyll and his son Geoffrey to his castle, together with other leaders from Gwent, supposedly as an act of reconciliation. De Braose then had the men killed in the castle's great hall, in retribution for the death of Henry Fitzmiles. His action, including taking the men's land, resulted in sanctions; William was "retired" from public life and the castle passed to his son, William. In 1182 Hywel ap Iorwerth, lord of Caerleon, ordered the destruction of Dingestow Castle and had Abergavenny Castle set afire in retribution for the murder of Seisyll. The attacks were made by Seisyll's relatives. De Braose was not at the castle when it was burnt, but "most of his men" were taken hostage.
The castle was almost entirely rebuilt of local Old Red Sandstone, starting about 1190, to make it easier to defend. Five towers were built along the curtain walls, and a keep was built. The English and Welsh fought for control of the Welsh Marches and, during this time, possession of the castle alternated between the Welsh and English. In 1215, the castle was visited by John, King of England.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the castle was expanded by the Hastings family, including the addition of western towers which provided residential chambers. Two towers, one circular and one polygonal, were probably built between 1295 and 1314 by John Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings. This was the same time in which murage taxes were collected from local residents to fund the building of the town walls. Between the late 13th century and the early 14th century, a new wall was built.
In 1404, during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, the town of Abergavenny was sacked and burned by Welsh forces. The fortified, or barbican, gatehouse — described by architectural historian John Newman as "unimpressive" — may date from either just before, or just after, that date.
No lord took up residence at the castle after the 15th century. During the English Civil War, as the Roundheads neared the castle, Charles I ordered a slighting of the castle to prevent its useful occupation. Most of the castle buildings, including the stone keep, were destroyed. Raglan Castle was similarly damaged. Stone from the site was taken thereafter, to be used for other buildings.
By the late 18th century, the ruins were starting to attract visitors seeking "picturesque" views, and walks were laid out within the castle walls. In 1819, Henry Nevill, 2nd Earl of Abergavenny, had a hunting lodge constructed on top of the motte. Newman describes it "an unsympathetically utilitarian structure, enlivened only by thin polygonal shafts at the angles."
A formal public garden, now included on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, was created later in the 19th century by William Nevill, 5th Earl of Abergavenny. It had views overlooking the Usk valley, "picturesque" walks and gardens, and gazebos.
Abergavenny Museum is a museum situated in the grounds of Abergavenny Castle, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. The Motte was probably built by the Norman Lord Hamelin de Ballon in 1087 AD. The tower built at the top of the motte would have been wooden. Beneath the motte was the bailey - a courtyard containing the outbuildings and stables. The whole castle was destroyed in 1233 by Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and the Welsh princes. The keep was rebuilt in stone. The first Great Hall in the castle was probably a timber building. Within this Hall, on Christmas Day 1175, the Norman Lord of Abergavenny, William de Braose, murdered his long-standing Welsh rival Seisyll ap Dyfnwal. In 1182, the castle was attacked by relatives of the murdered Welshmen. Most of William's men were captured, but he was not at home. The walls you see today are the remains of a stone Hall built between 1233 and 1295.
The Tower Complex consisted of two towers, one polygonal and the other circular. Evidence suggests that these towers were built in 1295-1314 at the same time as the town walls, using murage grants - a form of tax raised by the local Lord. The Gatehouse is a typical barbican gatehouse. When the castle wall was first built, in the late 13th to early 14th century, the gate was a simple opening in the curtain wall. Unusual door features suggest that the Gatehouse was added early in the 15th Century. At this time the last Welsh War of Independence was being fought against Owain Glyn Dwr. The castle was surrounded by a dry ditch rather than a moat. The keep along with most of the other castle buildings, was destroyed in the Civil War, between 1645 - 1646. In 1818, the present building - now the Museum - was constructed on top of the motte as a hunting lodge for the Marquess of Abergavenny.
The museum possesses photographs of Abergavenny and the surrounding district. These include two important municipal collections of views of the medieval and Elizabethan areas of the town which were demolished under slum clearance schemes between 1957 and 1972. These represent the only record of many of the buildings demolished. The museums social history collections are mainly comprised of material reflecting the history and way of life of the town and surrounding district. There are particular emphases on rural life, agriculture and its associated industries and domestic and working life. Particularly significant collections include the contents of a complete Welsh kitchen c.1890, a saddler's shop c.1910-1930 and Basil Jones grocers shop c.1948-1950. The museum also houses the nationally important archive of the Father Ignatius Memorial Trust. In addition the museum maintains collections of books and documents which supplement and illustrate these themes
The museum houses extensive and very significant collections of archaeological material ranging from the Mesolithic to post-Medieval. The collections produced by excavations of the Roman fort of Gobannium are of particular importance. The museum holds many individual items of costume. These include an 18th century open robe and full Regency female wedding outfit. The collection is particularly strong in womens costume of the late 19th century (especially lingerie) and the 1920s. It is recommended that at least one able bodied person is available to assist the mobility impaired. The grounds of the Castle are uneven, but there is a ramp leading up to the museum, it is however quite steep. Once at the front door it is possible to access the Keep gallery where the changing exhibitions are held. Museum staff can assist with opening doors. Other areas of the museum are accessible to varying degrees via outer doors. A museum custodian will need to help so please be patient if the museum is busy. Guide Dogs are very welcome.
Location : Abergavenny Museum and Castle, Castle Street, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire NP7 5EE
Transport : Abergavenny (National Rail) then bus or 14 minutes. Bus Routes : 61, 94, X4 and X74 stop near by.
Opening Times : Monday to Saturday 11:00 -13:00 & 14:00 - 17:00; Sunday : 14:00 -17:00
Tickets : Free
Tel. : 01873854282