Conwy Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle, and also as a Certain Palace (Royal)

There are major building remains

NameConwy Castle
Alternative NamesConway; Aberconwy
Historic CountryCaernarfonshire
Modern AuthorityConwy
1974 AuthorityGwynedd
CommunityConwy

Conwy Castle, set against the mountains of Snowdonia is as impressive today as it was 700 years ago. Construction of the castle was finished in 1287, having taken a little over four years to complete. The town and castle of Conwy were built as a single entity. Conwy castle was one of a series of castles established in north Wales by King Edward I to secure North Wales following the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282. In 1283, the castle was raised in one main building phase and was adapted to the restricted space of the rocky outcrop at which it stands. The castle was designed as two adjoining wards that could be defended separately, with eight lofty towers. Four of the towers were designed to carry turrets and surrounded the inner ward which housed the royal apartments. These medieval chambers are still in excellent condition today and remain largely unaltered from their thirteenth century form. By 1332, the castle was deemed unfit to accommodate the King and as a consequence major repair works were put in place by 1347 with a remodelled great hall range and royal apartments. King Richard II later took refuge in the castle in 1399 and in 1401 the castle was captured by supporters of Owain Glyndwr. Conway again saw military action during the Civil War and Archbishop John Williams held the castle for King Charles I. The castle and town walls remained virtually intact and from the eighteenth century began to attract the interests of topographical artists such as Paul Sanby. The constructions of Thomas Telford’s road bridge and the Chester to Holyhead railway in the nineteenth century lead to an increasing number of visitors to Conway and a greater impetus to preserve and restore the castle and town walls. (Coflein Ref.– Taylor, A. 2003. Conway Castle: CADW)

The castle itself consists of an outer and inner ward separated by a massive cross-wall, in effect two seperate fortifications

The outer ward housed the great hall, kitchens, stables and prison while the inner ward provided private apartments for the King as well as a chapel. Both inner and outer ward could be entered independently via the west and east barbicans. The east barbican is thought to have been used as a garden. (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust HER)

On the E side of the town overlooking the Conwy estuary.

Conwy Castle was begun in 1283 following the successful conquest of Snowdonia by the armies of Edward I of England. It was one of a defensive ring of castles erected around the North Wales coast from Aberystwyth to Flint, and in addition protected a walled town that was the largest of the medieval boroughs of North Wales. Work began with digging the rock-cut ditches, under the direction of Richard of Chester, master engineer. The design of the castle and supervision of building was under the control of James of St George, Master of the King's Works in Wales and the foremost secular architect of his age. Other subordinate master craftsmen included Henry of Oxford and Laurence of Canterbury, both master carpenters, and John Francis who, like James of St George, was from Savoy. The castle and town wall were substantially complete by 1287. Modifications were made to the buildings in 1346-7 by Henry de Snelleston, mason to Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince). This included replacing original roof trusses and strengthening the roofs by adding masonry arches. By the end of the C15 its military importance was diminishing and the castle slowly decayed. It was described as in poor condition in 1627, and in 1631 it was sold to Charles I's secretary of state, who assumed the title Viscount Conway of Conway Castle. During the Civil War the castle was repaired and fortified for the Royalists under the leadership of John Williams, exiled archbishop of York and a native of Conwy. The castle surrendered in 1646 and in 1655 the castle was 'disabled' by blowing up a portion of the bakehouse tower, making a substantial breach. The castle was restored to the Conway family after the Restoration, when some of the buildings, and the lead roofs, were taken down. Ownership passed to the Seymour family until, in 1865, it was given to the town. During this period there was some restoration and the bakehouse tower was rebuilt by the LNWR, whose railway line passed the foot of the castle. Since 1953, when more substantial conservation work began, the castle has been a guardianship monument in the care of the state.

A castle whose compact design is dictated by the rocky outcrop on which its stands. Roughly rectangular in plan, it has a curtain wall with 8 higher round towers enclosing an outer ward on the W side, and smaller near-square inner ward to the E overlooking the river. Additional defence was provided by barbicans at E and W entrances. Walls are coursed rubble, with freestone dressings of pink sandstone. They are embattled with saddleback copings to the merlons, which also have arrow loops on the towers. The round towers have loops and openings of 2-light mullioned windows, although few of the mullions have survived, and higher round stair turrets. Many features are consistent throughout the building, including freestone fireplaces with raked stone hoods, and window seats. The main entrance from the town is on the W side. It retains part of a ramp on the N side from the modern Castle Square. The gap over which the drawbridge was lowered has been covered by a timber platform. The entrance arch to the W barbican has a pointed arch with portcullis slots, flanked by round turrets with corbel tables. Inside the gateway are later stone steps to a gate passage, where there is a modern breach in the wall for visitor access, and the springers and draw-bar sockets of another gateway. The W barbican has an almost straight wall with 3 turrets. The town wall is attached to the southernmost turret. Entrance to the E barbican was from the Water Gate. The outer steps have disappeared, probably lost when Thomas Telford built the suspension bridge in 1822-6, but they are shown on the Buck brothers' 1742 engraving of the castle. Steps inside the barbican have survived, but of the doorway in the barbican wall only the draw-bar sockets have survived. The faceted E barbican wall has 3 turrets similar to the W side. The castle has 8 towers, of which 6 enclose the outer ward, one at the corners and one half way along each of the N and S walls, and 4 enclose the inner ward, of which 2 (stockhouse and bakehouse towers) are common to both inner and outer wards. In the outer ward the S wall is faceted and the W wall is narrower than the E. Otherwise the whole castle is rectangular in plan. The W wall of the outer ward has a pointed arch, below deep corbels of former machicolations. On the N side of the outer ward, both sections of wall have 2 loops and 2 latrine shafts, including one on the W side contained within a shallow projection and low round turret. Attached to the stockhouse tower, between inner and outer wards, is the town wall. The inner ward N wall has 2 loops and 2 low-level outlets of latrine shafts. On the S side each section of the outer ward has 3 windows, 2 loops to the cellar and latrine shaft at wall-walk level. The bakehouse tower between inner and outer wards is partly rebuilt in snecked stone, with a battered plinth of rock-faced stone, repairs carried out by LNWR in the 1870s of the deliberate breach made in 1655. The inner ward S wall has a doorway at ground-floor level above a battered rubble plinth (the only section not built directly on bedrock). At 1st-floor level are 2 loops, a larger opening centre-R, and a former doorway at the R end. Above 1st-floor level are 3 latrine shafts. The E wall, from the E barbican, has a shoulder-headed doorway, 4 1st-floor windows with stepped lintels, and deep corbelled machicolations, although the embattled parapet has not survived. In the outer ward, the gate passage has portcullis slots and draw-bar sockets, and a high-level door on the S side, to stone steps up to the wall walk. The inner side of the wall is corbelled out at parapet level. The NW and SW towers form a pair. They each have 2 superimposed newel stairs restored in concrete. Both have fireplaces to 1st and 2nd floors. In addition the SW tower has a domed bread oven at ground floor, and latrine to the 1st floor. The kitchen tower in the centre of the N side of the outer ward has a ruined newel stair. The wall walk is corbelled out around its faceted inner side. The prison tower on the corresponding S side has a dungeon, but otherwise similar details to the other towers, including restored newel stairs and ruined fireplaces, except for a 2nd-floor fireplace with flat stone arch instead of a corbelled lintel. Remains of buildings can be seen against each of the outer ward walls. Of the guard rooms to the W, flanking the gate passage, and kitchen and stables on the N, only footings have survived. Against the S wall is a long faceted range housing lesser hall and a small chamber in the W facet, great hall in the central facet, passage and chapel in the E facet. At the W end are stone steps leading down to a pointed cellar doorway with continuous chamfer. To its L is a pointed window, its tracery missing but originally 2-light. Further L is a similar former 2-light window to the great hall that retains fragments of bar tracery. In the E facet are the passage doorway, the dressings of which are mostly missing and with modern stone steps, and 2-light chapel window, also with fragments of bar tracery. The chapel has a similar former 3-light E window. Inside, this range has one transverse arch and the springers and haunches of 7 others, all inserted in the mid C14 to support the roof. The lesser hall has a fireplace in its W end wall; the small chamber between halls has a N fireplace; the great hall has a fireplace against the prison tower. Access to the prison tower is from the embrasure of one the S windows of the great hall. The cellar has a dividing wall below the chapel with doorway. On the E side of the outer ward is a stone-lined well, approximately 91 feet deep. Behind the well was a drawbridge to a small gatehouse at the middle gate between inner and outer wards. The gatehouse is square in plan with narrow loop in the W wall. The middle gate has a doorway with shouldered lintel to each end of its passage, and draw-bar socket. The other entrance to the inner ward, the E gate, has draw-bar sockets, and a passage giving access to mural stairs to the king's tower and chapel tower. The stockhouse and bakehouse towers are similar to the towers in the outer wards. The bakehouse tower has a domed oven behind the ground-floor fireplace, and restored newel stairs. The stockhouse tower has ruined newel stairs. The NE chapel tower has a restored conical slate roof. From the inner ward is a C19 restored doorway with red sandstone jamb to the ground floor. It also has a passage and doorway above the water gate on the outer (E) side. A mural stair leads to the 1st-floor chapel, where there is also a separate latrine. The rib-vaulted chapel is round with an apsidal sanctuary. The sanctuary has wall shafts and cusped arcading, incorporating sedilia on the S side, below 3 pointed windows with leaded glazing. On the S side is a squint from a small cell. On the N side of the chapel is a deep window seat, which also features a squint to the sanctuary. A restored mural stair leads to the upper chamber. The SW king's tower has a restored newel stair. At 1st-floor level is a small keeled tunnel-vaulted chamber. Buildings are ranged against the walls of the inner ward, including the king's private apartments. Against the S wall are the 1st-floor king's chamber on the E and king's hall on the W (known as presence chamber and privy chamber respectively in a survey of 1627), with a passage to the bakehouse tower at the W end. This passage has a segmental-pointed arch. Two windows to its L have dressings mostly missing, and further L is a segmental-headed ground-floor doorway and another window. Entrance to the 1st-floor hall is by a doorway above the passage, which has a 2-light cusped square-headed window immediately to its L. Further L are 2 hall windows and a 3rd to the king's chamber, all square-headed with relieving arches, bar-tracery fragments and fragments of sunk spandrels. Next L is the wall over the passage to the E gate (later used as a buttery). From inside the passage the range has a ground-floor doorway with chamfered dressings and springers of a possible cambered arch, and at the L end a 1st-floor doorway with segmental head. The W wall of the hall has 2 1st-floor doorways with segmental heads. Inside, beneath the hall is a ground-floor fireplace to the W wall, and larger former corbelled 1st-floor fireplace in the S wall. One floor-length window reveal in the S wall has a short passage to a latrine. Hall and chamber have one complete and the springers of 3 other C14 stone transverse arches supporting the former roof. In the king's chamber the 1st-floor has floor-length S and E window reveals opening to mural passages to a latrine and the king's tower. Against the E wall of the inner ward are the passage to the E gate, and what was known in 1627 as the 1st-floor great chamber. The passage on the R has a pointed segmental arch, to the L of which the ground floor has a segmental-headed window and a small window further L. The 1st-floor great chamber was entered by a doorway at the R end over the passage, which has a cambered head. The chamber has one large square-headed W window under a relieving arch. Inside, fireplaces were built into the W walls, with tripartite lintel in the ground floor. The springers and haunches survive of 2 former transverse arches added in the mid C14 to support the roof. (Listed Building Report)

Built for King Edward I between 1283-87, Master James of St George's design at Conwy remains one of the most outstanding achievements of medieval military architecture. The distinctive elongated shape, with its two barbicans, eight massive towers and great bow-shaped hall, was dictated by the narrow rocky outcrop on which the castle stands. 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 ReferenceSH783774
Latitude53.280101776123
Longitude-3.82524991035461
Eastings278360
Northings377440
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photograph by Andrew Herrett. All rights reserved
Photo by Andrew Herrett All Rights Reserved
Photo by Andrew Herrett All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved

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Books

  • Fox, John, forthcoming 2012, Conwy Castle (Loyalty Binds Me Studios) DVD Film preview
  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) passim
  • Kenyon, John, 2010, The Medieval Castles of Wales (University of Wales Press) p. 21-26
  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Late Medieval Siege: 1200-1500 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 83, 85, 219
  • Lott, G., 2009, 'The Building Stones of the Edwardian Castles' in Willams, D. and Kenyon, J. (eds), The Impact of the Edwardian Castles in Wales (Oxbow) p. 114-120
  • Brears, P., 2009, 'Food Supply and Preparation at the Edwardian Castles' in Willams, D. and Kenyon, J. (eds), The Impact of the Edwardian Castles in Wales (Oxbow) p. 85-98
  • Ashbee, J., 2009, 'The King's Accommodation at his Castles' in Willams, D. and Kenyon, J. (eds), The Impact of the Edwardian Castles in Wales (Oxbow) p. 72-84
  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 63-7
  • Gravett, Christopher, 2007, The Castles of Edward I in Wales 1277-1307 (Osprey Fortress series 64)
  • Ashbee, J., 2006, ' 'Changing rooms': interpreting form and function in the inner ward at Conwy Castle' in Draper, P, (ed), Current work in architectural history: papers read at the annual symposium of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 2004 (London: SAHGB) p. 6-10
  • Renn, Derek, 2003, 'Two views from the roof:design and defence at Conwy and Stokesay' in Kenyon, J.R. and O'Conor, K. (eds), The medieval castle in Ireland and Wales: essays in honour of Jeremy Knight (Dublin: Four Courts Press) p. 163-175
  • Emery, Anthony, 2000, Greater Medieval Houses Vol. 2 (Cambridge) p. 614-5
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 25-30
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 66-70
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles of North Wales (Malvern) p. 30-33
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 97-100
  • Taylor, A.J., 1986, ‘The Conwy particulars accounts for Nov 1285-Sept 1286’, in Taylor, A.J., Studies in castles and castle-building (London: Hambledon Press) p. 145-54
  • Taylor, A.J., 1986, ‘The dismantling of Conwy Castle’, in Taylor, A.J., Studies in castles and castle-building (London: Hambledon Press) p. 155-64
  • Taylor, A.J., 1986, The Welsh Castles of Edward I (London, Hambledon) p. 45-62
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 33
  • Humphries, P. H., 1983, Castles of Edward the First in Wales (London, HMSO)
  • Taylor, A.J., 1983, Four Great Castles: Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech, Beaumaris (Newton: Gwasg Gregynog Ltd)
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 342-4
  • 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. 337-54
  • RCAHMW, 1956, A Survey and Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Caernarvonshire Vol. 1: East (HMSO) p. 46-55 online copy
  • Toy, Sidney, 1953, The Castles of Great Britain (London) p. 167-9
  • Neaverson, E., 1947, Mediaeval Castles in North Wales: A study of Sites, Water Supply, and Building Stones (London) p. 43-6
  • Toy, Sidney, 1939, Castles: A short History of Fortifications from 1600 BC to AD 1600 (London) p. 156-7
  • Evans, Herbert A., 1912, Castles of England and Wales (London) p. 342-4, 347-9
  • Hamilton Thompson, A., 1912, Military Architecture in England during the Middle Ages (London) p. 252-62
  • Lowe, W.Bezant, 1912, The Heart of North Wales (Llanfairfechan)Vol1 p. 187-200, 256-63
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England  (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 453-60 online copy
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 3 (London) p. 435-7 online copy
  • Lewis, Samual, 1849, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales online copy
  • Grose, Francis, 1785, The Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 7 p. 14- online copy
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathenial, 1774, Buck’s Antiquities (London) Vol. 2 p. 371-2

Antiquarian

Journals

  • Richard Nevell, 2014-15, 'Castles as prisons' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 28 p. 203-224
  • Smith, J.B., 2011, ‘Llywelyn’s Hall at Conwy’ Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 160 p. 205-18
  • Anon, 2008-9, 'Conwy Castle-the south west tower' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 22 p. 165 (news report)
  • Ashbee, J., 2008, 'The Conwy baby' History Today Vol. 58.3 p. 58-9 (primary source from 1307 giving some detail of the castle's management)
  • Ashbee, J., 2007, 'Hearts of gold' Heritage in Wales Vol. 38 p. 13-15 (on domestic arrangements)
  • Ashbee, J., 2004 (published 2006), 'The royal apartments in the inner ward at Conwy Castle' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 153 p. 51-72
  • Coldstream, N., 2003 'Architects, Advisers and Design at Edward I’s Castles in Wales' Architectural History Vol. 46 p. 19-36
  • Mathieu, J.R., 1999, 'New Methods on Old Castles' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 43 p. 115-42 download copy
  • Butler, Lawrence, 1998, 'Masons' Marks in castles: a key to building practices' Château Gaillard Vol. 18 p. 23-26
  • Taylor, A.J., Nov 1996, 'Conwy Castle' Current Archaeology Vol. 150
  • Taylor, A.J., 1995, 'The town and castle of Conwy: preservation and interpretation' Antiquities Journal Vol. 75 p. 339-63
  • Taylor, A.J., 1985, ‘The dismantling of Conwy Castle’ Transaction of the Ancient Monuments Society Vol. 29 p. 81-9
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1984, ‘Castle gates and garden gates’ Architectural History Vol. 27 443-5 (slight)
  • Taylor, A.J., 1984, ‘Conway Castle and town walls’ 131st annual meeting, Anglesey, 1984, CAA p. 32-3
  • Taylor, A.J., 1982-3, ‘The Conwy particulars accounts for Nov 1285-Sept 1286’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 30 p. 134-43
  • Williams-Jones, K., 1978, ‘The taking of Conwy Castle, 1401’, Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society Vol. 39 p. 7-43
  • Taylor, Arnold J., 1976, 'Conway Castle and town walls (SH 784775)' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 132 p. 245-7
  • 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
  • Edwards, J. Goronwy, 1944, 'Edward I's Castle-Building in Wales' Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 32 esp p. 37-43, 70
  • Hemp, W.J., 1941, 'Conway Castle' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 96 p. 163-74
  • Hughes, H.Harold, 1938, 'The Edwardian castle and town defences at Conway' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 93 p. 75-8, 212-25
  • 1937, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 92 p. 365-7
  • Toy, S., 1936, 'The town and castle of Conway' Archaeologia Vol. 86 p. 163-71, 176-93
  • Henderson, 1934, The Builder Vol. 46 p. 6-7 (slight)
  • Humphreys, 1910-11, Llandudno Field Club Vol. 5 p. 21-37 (unimportant)
  • Hartshorne, C.H., 1854, 'Conway Castle' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 9 p. 1-12 (building accounts) online copy
  • J.A.P., 1847, The Builder Vol. 5 p. 443-4
  • Taylor, A. J., 'Conwy - Castle in the 20th Century' Current Archaeology Vol. 150 p. 222-

Guide Books

  • Ashbee, J. A., 2007, Conwy Castle and town walls (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Taylor, A. J., 2003 (5edn), Conwy Castle including Conwy Town Walls (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Taylor, A. J., 1990 (3edn), Conwy Castle and town walls (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Taylor, A. J., 1986 (rev edn), Conwy Castle and town walls (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Taylor, A. J., 1961 (rev edn), Conwy Castle and Town Walls, Caernarvonshire (HMSO)
  • Taylor, A. J., 1956, Conwy Castle and Town Walls, Caernarvonshire (HMSO)

Primary Sources

  • Williams (ab Ithel), John, (ed), 1860, Annales Cambriae (444 – 1288) (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts)1282 online copy
  • Thompson, E.M. (ed), 1904 (2edn), Chronicon Adae de Usk (London) p. 61 online copy
  • Williams, B. (ed), 1846, Chronique de la Traison et Mort de Richard II (English History Society) p. 284 online copy
  • Hingeston, F.C. (ed), 1860, Royal and Historical Letters Henry IV (Rolls Series 18) p. 69-72 online copy
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 110-1
  • Phillips, J.R., 1874, Memoirs of the Civil War in Wales and the Marches (London) Vol. 1 p. 375, 379 online copy Vol. 2 p. 325, 327, 329 [online copy > http://archive.org/stream/memoirsofcivilwa02philiala#page/325/mode/1up]
  • B.M. Add. Roll 7198 (survey 14 Edw II) (British Library reference)
  • SP14/49/82 (Survey of 1609) The National Archives reference
  • SP16/89/25 (Survey of 1627) The National Archives reference

Other

  • Ryder, Charles, 2011, The spiral stair or vice: Its origins, role and meaning in medieval stone castles (PhD Thesis University of Liverpool) p. 200-207 Download via