Remains of motte and bailey castle, Bala

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The earthen mound known as Tomen y Bala was created for a ‘motte and bailey’ castle – probably the first building in the area that became the town of Bala. Mount Street is named after it. The drawing shows the view from the top of the mound c.1799, the photo by John Thomas shows the mound with a tree growing on top. Both are shown here courtesy of the National Library of Wales.

View from Bala tomen c.1799The castle’s purpose was to defend the nearby ford across the river Tryweryn. There is no documentary evidence to indicate the date of its construction, but the large size of the mount (one of the largest in Wales) suggests it was a Norman construction. It may relate to the military expedition to North Wales in 1095 of King William II (William Rufus), or an incursion by King Henry I in 1114.

The castle soon fell into Welsh hands. By the end of the 12th century, it was in the possession of Elise ap Madog of Rhiwaedog. He was the lord of Penllyn, which was a part of Powys at the time. The only medieval written record of the castle in Bala is dated 1202, when Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great) of Gwynedd, in conflict with Gwenwynwyn of Powys, took possession of the castle from Elise and made Penllyn part of Gwynedd.

Photo of Tomen y Bala c.1875The town of Bala was established in 1310 by Roger Mortimer, lord of Chirk, for c.50 English settlers. Its original charter of 1311 was renewed by King Edward II in 1324, by which time Roger Mortimer was a prisoner in the Tower of London, where he died in 1326. The National Archives in Kew holds a later copy of the 1324 Bala Town Charter, which was based on the charters of Caernarfon and Hereford, which in turn were derived from the original Norman town charter granted by the Duke of Normandy to the town of Breteuil.

About the place-name:
The place-name Bala exists in several locations in Wales. It denotes an outlet from a lake or the land between two lakes, as in Baladeulyn in the Nantlle valley and Pont y Bala in Llanberis.

Postcode: LL23 7NG    View Location Map

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