Conwy Town Walls
Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence
There are major building remains
|Name||Conwy Town Walls
|Alternative Names||Conway; Aberconwy
The medieval town walls of Conway survive largely intact, forming a unified architectural composition with the magnificent castle (NPRN 121). The borough (NPRN 33013) was founded with the castle in 1283, following the English conquest, and its walls were largely completed by 1286. They seem to have been maintained into the seventeenth century, when they were put in a state of defence during the Great Revolutionary Wars. The walls run for some 1.2km enclosing a roughly triangular 9.0ha area. The wall is generally 1.8m thick and rises 7.8m to the corbelled out wall walk. On the north-east the wall fronted onto the foreshore and to the south the Gyffin stream was damned as a millpond. Elsewhere the wall was fronted by a great ditch. It is punctuated by twenty-one taller open-backed D-shaped towers and has three twin-towered gatehouses; the Lower, on the quay (NPRN 303132), the Upper (NPRN 303123) and the Mill or Exchequer Gate (NPRN 303131). There was also a small postern opening onto the foreshore (NPRN 303130), which was guarded by a great spur wall leading to a half-tide tower, now gone. The Mill Gate housed the Wardrobe, later the Exchequer and the unique run of twelve corbelled-out privies was intended for the easement of the Wardrobe clerks as well as those serving the Master of the King's works in Wales, who were accommodated nearby. Further to the west was Llewelyn's Hall where three fine windows can be seen in the wall next to a modified tower (see NPRN 303129). (Coflein–ref. Toy, 1936)
Enclosing the old town on the W side of the castle.
Conwy Castle and town walls were begun in 1283 after Edward I had gained control of the Conwy valley. The town wall protected the borough, founded in 1284, and also provided a forward defence of the castle on the landward side
The town wall and castle were built mainly in the period 1283-6, under the direction of James of St George, Master of the King's Works in Wales and the foremost secular architect of his day. Seven subordinate building masters involved in the construction of the town wall are also known by name. Four were from the area of modern France: John Francis from Savoy, Jules of Chalons, William of Seyssel and Peter of Boulogne. The other 3 were Englishmen: Roger of Cockersand, John Sherwood of Nottingham and Robert of Frankby. The wall was constructed with regularly spaced turrets which had open gorges, and over which plank bridges were built to maintain a continuous wall walk. These bridges could be removed if necessary at time of attack. Only one of the towers, the Llywelyn Tower, was roofed. There were 2 gates on the landward side, Porth y Felin and Porth Uchaf, and one on the seaward side, Porth Isaf. The wall was maintained as a defensive structure until the C16. Subsequently there have been several breaches, mainly in the C19. In 1826 the Chester-Holyhead road was built through Conwy, engineered by Thomas Telford. This entailed building a toll house in the town wall immediately on the N side of the castle and adjacent to Conwy Suspension Bridge, which opened in 1826. The toll house was demolished in 1958 when Conway Bridge opened and a wider breach was made in the town wall for the new road. In 1827 Telford built a castellated portal in front of a turret on Bangor Road on the NW side of the town, where the new road was driven through. In 1846 the Chester-Holyhead Railway was cut through the wall, and a skew arch rebuilt in its place. Chief engineer of the railway was Robert Stephenson, although the arch was probably designed by the railway architect Francis Thompson. Further breaches were made to Berry Street, Llanrwst Road and adjacent to the railway station in the C19.
Rubble-stone town wall with wall walk, corbelled on the inner side, and retaining traces of an embattled parapet with arrow loops. On the inner side are remains of several stone steps to the wall walk. There are 3 main entrances, the inland Porth Uchaf and Porth y Felin, and Porth Isaf facing the quayside. Other openings are later, with only one complete breach, on the NE side adjacent to the castle. In addition there are 19 subsidiary 2-stage turrets and 2 larger towers, the Llywelyn Tower and a round tower at the uppermost and westernmost extent. The turrets are rounded on the outer side with a slight batter at the base, and have open gorges. Each of them retains traces of external curving stone steps to the former parapet. The wall is attached to the castle on the E side. The first section, on the N side of the castle and attached to its stockhouse tower, is breached to the first turret, which was much altered by Telford as the entrance into the walled town of the Chester-Holyhead Road, and altered again when the wall and a toll house were removed when Conway Bridge opened in 1958. The turret is overgrown and all windows are boarded up. The SE front is of coursed freestone and has outer square plain turrets. There are 2 windows in the lower storey, 3 in the upper storey below battlements, all blocked. The faceted SW, facing Castle Square, has a lancet in the lower stage. On the NW side, facing the side of Custom House Terrace, is an inserted lintelled doorway, with studded boarded door and strap hinges, and lancet window to its R. Further R is a lancet in the 2nd stage. On the outer NE side, facing Conway Bridge, is a pointed doorway in a chamfered rock-faced surround, with studded boarded door and strap hinges. A pointed window on its L side has tooled surround in different colour stone. The adjacent section of wall, behind Custom House Terrace, has a skewed tooled-stone arch to a footpath. Beside the next turret the wall has an original postern gate with pointed arch. The turret is abutted by the Harbour Master's Office on the outer side, and by the Towers Restaurant on the inner side. Two enlarged windows in the upper stage belong to the restaurant. The next section, further NW, faces the quayside and has 2 turrets, with Porth Isaf at the end. Both turrets have enlarged windows in the upper stage and have 2-storey lean-tos added inside the turrets. The parapet is missing in this section. Porth Isaf has rounded 2-stage towers. The R-hand (W) of these has glazing to narrow upper storey openings, and has lean-tos against the front, and inside the shell of the building, belonging to the Liverpool Arms. The L-hand (W) tower has an inserted round-headed doorway in the lower storey to public conveniences. Above it the 2nd stage has a pointed sash window with Gothic small-pane glazing, belonging to the library which abuts the rear of the tower and which is built partly on the town wall. In the centre the entrance has pointed arches to the front and rear of the passage, of which the latter has associated portcullis slots. On the inner side is a later cambered arch to High Street. The wall continues along the quayside to Porth yr Aden (or Wing Gate), with one intermediate turret, and parapet poorly preserved. The Liverpool Arms has been cut through the wall, next to Porth Isaf. Further NW are houses, Nos 10-18 Lower Gate Street, abutting the outer side of the wall. At the NW corner a separate spur wall continues on to the shore line, where there was originally an end turret of which no trace is now visible. The wall was probably as much a breakwater as a component of military defence, as it provides some protection for the quayside. It has an arch over Lower Gate Street known as Porth yr Aden. This has 2 stone segmental arches and, although much rebuilt, retains draw-bar sockets on the S reveal and portcullis slots to the inner arch. The wall then turns back in a NE-SW direction, facing Town Ditch Road and Mount Pleasant, for approximately 340m, a section with 7 subsidiary turrets. The first, steep section of wall has an entrance to Berry Street, a C19 pointed arch and a lower pedestrian pointed arch on the N side. The 5th turret is Porth Ffordd Bangor, altered by Thomas Telford for his Chester-Holyhead Road. A castellated entrance portal on the outer side of the turret is of coursed freestone. It has outer small square turrets with loops. A central round arch, with continuous chamfer, is beneath imitation corbelled machicolations. On the N side is a round-headed pedestrian arch, and just on the S side is an irregular opening to Pool Lane. The 6th turret, directly over Conwy railway tunnel, has large cracks. At the SW end, at the highest and westernmost point of the circuit, is a round tower, larger than the turrets. It has a cantilevered stair to the parapet. The wall then turns back in a SE-NW direction and descends to Porth Uchaf. Porth Uchaf has outer drum towers, recessed between which is a later basket arch. The passage itself has pointed arches, the rear of which has associated portcullis slots and draw-bar sockets. The passage also has spy holes on either side. At the end of the passage, facing Lower Gate Street, is another later cambered arch. The towers are square at the rear, and are of double-depth plan, but only the outer side remains standing to the 2nd stage. Both towers have shouldered-lintel doorways to the wall walk. On the downhill side the town wall has a later round pedestrian arch. On the outer side, the SE tower has abutting rubble-stone walls of a former college. The wall then descends further in a NW-SE direction. The upper part of this section has, on the inner side, mid C20 plaster panels of the Stations of the Cross (listed separately). On the outer side of this section is a blocked pointed doorway. The wall then turns approximately E-W towards Porth y Felin. This section includes the higher Llywelyn Tower, originally roofed and shown as such on the 1889 Ordnance Survey. The tower is square at the rear and retains a 1st-floor doorway with shouldered lintel. On the W side of the tower the ground level on the inner side of the wall is higher, and the reveals of the loops incorporate wall seats with segmental rere arches. Further E, at the end of the railway station platform, is a round C19 arch, with continuous chamfer to tooled red sandstone dressings. Next is a broad Tudor arch built across the Chester and Holyhead Railway. It has a broad double chamfer and continues in the spirit of the original wall with an embattled wall walk. Finally in this section, immediately to the W of Porth y Felin the wall retains a row of corbelled latrine shafts. Porth y Felin is set at an angle to the wall. It has 2-stage towers rounded on the outer sides. Between them is a recessed pointed arch, above which the wall has been rebuilt in snecked rock-faced stone. At the rear of the entrance passage is another pointed arch, with associated portcullis slots and draw-bar sockets. At the rear, both towers have doorways with shouldered lintels, and both towers have remains of 1st-floor fireplaces. The section between Porth y Felin and the castle was partly rebuilt in the late C19 where it faced a former railway yard. Further E a round arch of tooled-stone voussoirs crosses Llanrwst Road. (Listed Building Report)
The Walls: With the exception of some rhyolite occuring on the NE the walls and gates are built of roughly coarsed grit rubble as used in the castle and are generally about 5ft 9ins thick. About 17ft above the inner ground level the wall is corbelled out on the inner sie to form a wall-walk 5ft wide. This wall is continuous except where cut by 3 main gates and on the 2 stretches adjacent to the castle which are only 21 10" thick. The battlements are ruined but enough remains for restoration. The walls were strengthened by semi circular battlements. Open to the town these towers had floor or platforms at walk level to give access to 3 slits. At various points in the walls are the gates each consisting of a central passage 9ft 6ins wide, flanked by two towers having rounded ends projecting into the field with straight backs to the ground floors. The towers are continued up a stage higher than the wall walk, and each gate could be isolated and defended seperately.
The Gates. Porth Isaf - the smallest and poorest preserved gate. Originally defended by a portcullis. Unlike the other gates the tower's interiors are rectangular (now destroyed). Traces of original slits still in evidence. Door and large window in S tower are modern.
Porth Uchaf - on the W is the most important gate. W of the ditch was defended by a barbican, part of whose SE wall survives. The ditch, 17ft wide was spanned by a draw bridge, as described in RCAHM p.57.
Porth y Felin - the two adjacent sections of the town wall were aligned to enable the entrance passage to be made almost parallel with them, giving extra flanking cover.
Porth Bach - largely enlarged destroying original features. The N jamb up to the springer is unaltered and suggests the door had gates only.
Porth yr Adeu - in the spur wall N of the quay has been widened obliquely, but facets occur on the diagonal corners indicating the original width. This gate was defended by a portcullis, presumably operated from the wall walk above by inner doors. See PRN 1771. (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust HER)
The walls of Conwy are judged the finest in Britain. They are not only completely intact, but largely unencumbered by later building, and still give the impression of enclosing and protecting the town. Like the castle, their history is well documented, and they are sufficiently well-preserved in detail to demonstrate all the tactical features of their design. The circuit of the wall is 3/4 of a mile in length, with 21 towers at regular intervals of about 46m. The wall is 1.68m thick and 9m high, with towers rising to 15m. Built between 1283-1287. A murage for repairs had been granted sometime before 1322 but did not raise enough money and 'the Justices and chamberlain (were ordered) to supervise the repairs from the issues of the bailiwick, spending as much as is necessary according to the discretion of the constables.'
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 Reference||SH784774