Caernarfon Town Walls

Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence

There are major building remains

NameCaernarfon Town Walls
Alternative NamesCaernarvon; Kairarvon
Historic CountryCaernarfonshire
Modern AuthorityGwynedd
1974 AuthorityGwynedd
CommunityCaernarfon

Well preserved and almost complete C13 stone walls. Eight round towers and two twin-tower gates.

Construction began in 1283, along with the castle. First phase completed by 1285. Of coursed rubble-stone construction. Wall comprises 2 gatehouses (Porth Yr Aut, NPRN 302418 and East Gate NPRN 302416) and eight round towers and has survived almost to its original full extent. (Coflein)

Caernarfon town walls, together with the castle, enclose the medieval borough. Although contemporary with the castle they are on a smaller scale and more simply designed. The curtains are flanked at a average interval of about 75yds by eight round towers, all but one open at the gorge, and by two gate houses consisting of pairs of similar towers with closed backs projecting inwards. These main gates lie at the E and W end of the high street, the one largely rebuilt, the other altered. E gate, or Porth Mawr, is approached by a stone bridge much of which remains though hidden beneath the roadway and the buildings along side it. Other medieval entrances were a postern at the SE green gate and another at the SW, water gate, now replaced by a modern archway. Possibly there was a third postern at the NW which was embodied in St. Mary's church. Other openings in the N section are modern. The line of the ditch projecting the landward front is followed by Greengate Street and Bank Quay. It was linked with the ditch of the castle at its NE angle. (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust HER)

Enclosing the old town on the N side of Caernarfon Castle.

The borough of Caernarfon was established by Edward I of England under the Statute of Wales in 1284. It was the centre of government for N Wales and was protected by the erection of the Town Wall, with Caernarfon Castle at its S end

The construction of the Town Wall had begun in 1283 in conjunction with the building of Caernarfon Castle, probably under the direction of James of St George who was architect of the castle. Masonry work on the first phase of the Town Wall was completed by 1285, re-using some stone from Segontium Roman fort. The Town Wall was badly damaged in the native uprising of 1294 and were restored and improved in 1295 at a cost of £1195. The wall walk and towers were further repaired in 1309-12. Of other entrances, only a single postern gate has survived intact, the Greengate to the SE. Former posterns on the W side are infilled and can be seen in the W wall of the church of St Mary and gable end of the police station. Another postern, the Water Gate at the end of Castle Ditch, has been altered. Further openings facing Bank Quay, from Church Street, Market Street and Northgate Street, are later insertions. The bell tower at the NW corner was converted for ecclesiastical use as accommodation for the chaplain of the church of St Mary, built 1307-16. The Bath Tower facing the Promenade was converted in 1823 when the Earl of Uxbridge created public baths on the site of the present 11-17 Church Street, part of a scheme to attract visitors to the town, when the upper stage of the Bath Tower became a reading room. The main E and W entrances survive substantially intact (are listed as separate items).

High coursed rubble-stone wall in several straight sections forming an irregular plan and a circuit approximately 730m long, with 2 gate houses (listed as separate items) and eight 2-stage round towers contrasting with the polygonal towers of the castle. The quality of masonry in the wall is variable, accounted for by various repairs and restorations. The towers have mainly open gorges and were originally crossed by timber bridges, one of which has been repaired on the NE side. The upper stages of the towers have arrow loops, while the embattled parapet, where it survives, has similar loops to the merlons. The walls have regular brattice slots. At the SE end the wall has been demolished across Castle Ditch and begins on its N side, where on the inner side facing Hole-in-the-Wall Street stone steps to the wall walk survive at high level, and where there is a postern gate, known as the Greengate, under a 2-centred arch with portcullis slot. The adjacent tower has a shouldered lintel to a fireplace in the upper stage. The wall, with 2 towers and the East Gate to High Street, continues on a high bank, around to the N side facing Bank Quay. The NE tower survives to the full height of its battlements and has stone steps on the inner side. A skewed archway has been inserted leading to Northgate Street. Further W, an inserted segmental arch spans a double-carriageway entrance to Market Street, while the tower on its W side also retains stone steps. A lower segmental arch leads to Church Street immediately to the E of the church. On the NW side the church of St Mary is integral with the Town Wall and its NW, or Bell Tower, houses the vestry, while its upper storey served as a priest's dwelling. Facing N it has a 2-light Tudor window under a hoodmould, with sunk spandrels, while the W face has a plainer 2-light window in the upper stage. On the parapet is a gabled bellcote. A blocked former postern gate is on the return facing the promenade, incorporated into the church. The next tower facing the promenade is the Bath Tower, which has early C19 detail in connection with the baths established in 1823. It has its doorway in the S side facing the Promenade, which has a pointed arch with studded boarded door and Y-tracery overlight. In the N and S faces the upper stage has restored 3-light mullioned and transomed windows incorporating iron-frame casements, and restored embattled parapet. A 2-storey projection with parapet is built behind. At the W end of the High Street is the former gatehouse known as Porth-yr-Aur, beyond which there is a single tower behind the former jail. The tower is enclosed at the rear by a late C19 wall with segmental arch flanked by small-pane windows under lintels. Further S is a segmental arch across Castle Ditch, on the S side of which the reveal and part of the keyed arch of an earlier gateway is visible, while the wall abutting the castle is an addition of 1326. (Listed Building Report)

World Heritage Site 374

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic Wales CADW listed database record number
The National Monument Record (Coflein) number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSH477626
Latitude53.1399803161621
Longitude-4.27837991714478
Eastings247700
Northings362600
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Books

  • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 161-2
  • Kenyon, John, 2010, The Medieval Castles of Wales (University of Wales Press) p. 18
  • Lilley, K.D., 2009, 'The Landscapes of Edward's New Towns: Their Planning and Design' in Willams, D. and Kenyon, J. (eds), The Impact of the Edwardian Castles in Wales (Oxbow) p. 99-113
  • Lilley, K, Lloyd, C. and Trick, S., 2005, Mapping Medieval Townscapes: a digital atlas of the new towns of Edward I online copy
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) passim
  • Nichol, D., 2005, 'Geological provenance of Caernarfon Castle and town walls' in Bassett, M.G., Deisler, V.K. and Nichol, D. (eds), Urban geology in Wales Vol. 2 (Cardiff: National Museum of Wales) p. 204-8
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 23-24
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles of North Wales (Malvern) p. 24-5
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds), Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • Soulsby, Ian, 1983, The Towns of Medieval Wales (Phillimore; Chichester) p. 88-92 (plan)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 35
  • Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 plan p. 61 online copy
  • Turner, H.L., 1971, Town Defences in England and Wales (London) p. 211
  • Carter, H., 1969, 'Caernarvon' in Lobel, M.D. (ed), Historic Towns: Maps and Plans of Towns and Cities in the British Isles, with Historical Commentaries, from Earliest Times to 1800 Vol. 1 (London: Lovell Johns-Cook, Hammond and Kell Organization) p. 1-8 online copy
  • RCAHMW, 1964, A Survey and Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Caernarvonshire Vol. 3: West (HMSO) p. 121 (additions) online copy
  • Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works, Vol. 1: the Middle Ages (London) p. 369-95
  • RCAHMW, 1960, A Survey and Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Caernarvonshire Vol. 2: Central (HMSO) p. 150-6 online copy
  • Toy, S., 1955, A History of Fortifications from 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1700 (London) p. 178-80
  • Lewis, Samual, 1849, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales online copy
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathenial, 1774, Buck’s Antiquities (London) Vol. 367-8

Antiquarian

Journals

  • Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Château Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86
  • Taylor, Arnold J., 1976, 'Caernarvon Castle and town walls (SH 478627)' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 132 p. 287-289
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1967, 'Masonry castles in Wales and the Marches: a list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 116 p. 71-132
  • 1964, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 8 p. 269 download copy
  • Johns, 1962, Archaeology in Wales Vol. 2 p. 12
  • Kenrick Evans, 1945, 'Porth Mawr, Caernarvon' Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society Vol. 6 p. 64-7
  • Kenrick Evans, 1944, 'Porth Mawr, Caernarvon' Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society Vol. 6 p. 1-11
  • Kenrick Evans, 1941, 'Porth Mawr, Caernarvon' Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society Vol. 6 p. 33-42

Guide Books

  • Taylor, A. J., 2004 (6edn), Caernarfon Castle including Caernarfon town walls (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Taylor, A. J., 2001, Caernarfon Castle including Caernarfon town walls (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Taylor, A. J., 1964 (Reprint of 1953 edn with amendments), Caernarvon Castle and Town Walls (London, HMSO) p. 33-7
  • Taylor, A. J., 1953, Caernarvon Castle and town walls (London, HMSO) p. 33-7

Primary Sources

  • < >See the Gatehouse murage pages for full details of murage [grants > http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/murage/murindex.html], [petitions > http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/murage/mupindex.html ] and [other such > http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/murage/muaindex.html]. < >