Caerphilly Castle

Link to Welsh translationCaerphilly Castle remains

This is the biggest of Wales’ many castles and features an extensive moat defence system. Drawbridges across the water would be raised during attack. The castle’s inner walls and towers are surrounded by the middle ward, beyond which stand the outer ring of defences.

Aerial view of Caerphilly Castle in 1947
Caerphilly Castle in 1947, courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

The castle was built from 1268 to 1271 by red-haired Gilbert de Clare. He was the Norman Lord of Glamorgan and was worried by the strength of support in this area for Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Wales’ last indigenous prince. The castle became the de Clare family’s administrative centre for Glamorgan. Gilbert’s son-in-law, Hugh Despenser, enlarged the castle’s Great Hall in the 1320s for entertainment on a grand scale.

The market town outside the castle controlled the area’s trade but wasn’t surrounded by the defensive walls common in other Welsh castle towns. The town was attacked and damaged more than once, and largely destroyed in 1316 by rebel leader Llywelyn Bren.

King Edward II took refuge in the castle in 1326, hiding from persecution by Queen Isabella, his wife! Edward and Hugh Despenser, his advisor, fled from Caerphilly Castle but were eventually caught and Edward was deposed.

The castle was disused by the Tudor era. It provided a handy source of dressed stone for local buildings, including the Van Mansion (east of town). The moats vanished after their dams became derelict. Nant y Gledyr, which had supplied the water, flowed past on the south side, where it powered a woollen mill.

Restoration was started by the Bute family of Cardiff Castle. In Victorian times the Great Hall was roofed again. Major works in the 1930s preserved or rebuilt the walls and towers but left untouched the iconic leaning tower, which gives us an insight into the castle’s original structure. The tower may have been built on unstable foundations or been deliberately damaged during the Civil War of the 17th century to prevent future defensive use of the castle. It leans at a more acute angle than the Tower of Pisa in Italy!

The Marquess of Bute also cleared shops and other buildings close to the castle. This paved the way for the moats to be re-flooded after the Second World War.

The aerial photo, courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales, shows the castle in 1947, with the northern moat reflooded and Nant y Gledyr near the bottom of the image. It is from the Aerofilms Collection of the National Monuments Record of Wales.

Today the castle is in the care of Cadw – follow the link below for visiting information.

Postcode: CF83 1JD    View Location Map

Caerphilly Castle visiting information – Cadw website

Copies of the old photo and other images are available from the RCAHMW. Contact: nmr.wales@rcahmw.gov.uk