Castell Coch

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Other/Unknown), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameCastell Coch
Alternative NamesRubeum Castrum; Rubeocastro
Historic CountryGlamorgan
Modern AuthorityCardiff
1974 AuthoritySouth Glamorgan
CommunityTongwynlais

Castell Coch, located on a prominent wooded hillside overlooking the Taff Valley and the northern part of Cardiff, is a remarkable blend of solid medieval masonry and High Victorian Gothic fantasy. The original defensive structure of earth and timber was built in the late eleventh or early twelfth century during the conflict between the Anglo-Normans and native Welsh for the control of the rich lands of south-east Wales. By the middle of the thirteenth century the castle was in the hands of the powerful Clare family and by the end of that century the three great towers - the Well Tower, Kitchen Tower and Keep Tower- had been constructed. Severely damaged during Welsh rebellions of the early fourteenth century, the castle fell out of use and by the 1530s John Leland noted that the site had become a ruin. (Coflein)

Situated on the wooded hillside overlooking the Taff Valley N of Tongwynlais.

Masonry castle of C12 and C13 origin, restored and almost entirely rebuilt in 1875-91 to the designs of the architect William Burges for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. Castle originally built by de Clares, Lords of Glamorgan, constructed in two phases: first phase encased the C11 motte in stone and added curved shell walls; the second phase added the hall range with undercroft and 2 drum towers rising via spurs from a square base and a 3rd (drum) tower; slightly later again the shell wall was raised and an entrance tower created; castle was probably partly destroyed in Welsh rebellion in Glamorgan of 1316. Leland in 1530s described it as 'all in ruin..but high'. The very wealthy 3rd Marquess had developed a passion for building, archaeology and antiquarian pursuits and with William Burges created a Victorian vision of the medieval world in the restoration of Cardiff Castle, before embarking on Castell Coch following an archaeological assessment by G T Clark and partial excavation by Burges in 1872

Burges' reconstruction was based on this evidence and also used medieval illuminated manuscripts and current antiquarian research. The building was designed for 'occasional occupation in the summer'. Burges died 1881 but team of craftsmen headed by J S Chapple - Burges' assistant - and William Frame continued work for another 10 years to complete the project, though the building was little used. Burges' stone tiles replaced in 1972 by slates. As well as work by Chapple and Frame, polychrome statuary was designed by Ceccardo Fucigna (the Virgin) and Thomas Nicholls (St Lucius and overmantels); stencilled painting designed by H W Lonsdale and executed by Campbell Smith.

Interior comprises a suite of highly decorated and richly furnished rooms, most of which are open to the public (some rooms not accessible). Glazing is mostly of small panes in patterned leading or with iron armatures; doors are boarded with heavy battens sometimes forming a grid, painted; most floors are of red and black quarry tiles, some are boarded. Well Tower has ground floor chamber with very deep splays to windows, heavy wood ceiling supported on massive corbels and struts; first floor chamber, housing exhibition, has similar roof, plain fireplace with mantelpiece and deep kerb; access to balcony with stone seating. Kitchen Tower has similar wooden ceiling, plain painted walls, large range in outer wall, wall cupboards and hatches; adjacent stairs to room above. Hall has stencilled boarded roof with two moulded painted cross beams and long octagonal king posts; elaborate decorative masonry pattern to walls and round pointed-arched openings in earth colours with crimson dado; portraits and crests of Bute family; at each end are tiered polychrome scenes from saints' or martyrs' lives in ecclesiastical wallpainting style; painted fireplace with deep hood and tall polychrome figure of St Lucius under a canopy; enriched fire basket and tile backing; seats in window embrasures. Keep Tower has at first floor level the main reception room, the octagonal Drawing Room, immensely richly and intricately decorated in a wide range of colours enhanced by gilding; dominating the room is an elaborate chimneypiece with the figures of Three Fates in a deep trefoil-headed arcade above a cambered-headed fireplace deeply moulded with open trefoils and gilded leaves, fireback and dogs surrounded by elaborate tiles including a Zodiac series; the walls are painted with flora and fauna; the dark green dado has panels painted with similar motifs; above is a vaulted roof with sky-blue panels painted with birds and stars, the ribs with butterfiles, and at gallery level is a triforium-style arcade with cusped pointed arches, all richly painted and moulded, with a gallery front of pierced quatrefoils with foliage soffit below; intricately carved wooden candleabra suspended from sunburst at apex; on opposite wall above door are 3 shields in a rectangular frame; door surrounds are embossed with more nature motifs; seats are set in the deep window embrasures; simple painted furniture. Entrance Tower first floor chamber, the Windlass Room, has portcullis gear in place; simple fireplace, walls of tooled stone. Spiral stone staircase leads to second floor which houses Lord Bute's bedroom, again elaborately decorated with windows on 3 sides; fireplace with deep moulded inhabited vinescroll and huge tapering chimney breast extending to roof like a stovepipe with stencilled decoration which extends over walls; painted stencilled boarded ceiling has a barrel vault with side pitches similar to an aisled nave, with 2 huge painted cross beams each with 3 carved posts; windows have gilded leading, the large quadripartitite window incorporating a door giving access to courtyard balcony; somewhat austere painted bedroom furniture. Spiral stone staircase leads to third floor of Keep Tower, Lady Bute's Bedroom. This is an entirely circular room similar to a chapter house; pointed arched arcade of 14 bays, richly painted and decorated, with gilded capitals, stencilled and papered walls and darker dado; windows in alcoves provide panoramic views; richly decorated and heavily gilded chimneypiece with deep hood incorporating figure of Psyche bearing Bute shield; spectacular vault rising in 5 tiers of panels each decorated with flora and fauna motifs and surmounted by a coffered dome with 4 tiers of panels incorporating mirrors in the 2 upper tiers, similar motifs; shouldered doorways; central tiered painted metal candleabra; furnished with elaborately wrought bedroom items.

A medieval castle rebuilt in High Victorian Gothic Revival French-influenced style. The two periods can be roughly identified by different masonry: coursed or random rubble to the early work and coursed, dressed, snecked, sometimes tooled stone to the rebuild. Main roofs of small slates with plentiful lead flashings, stone tiles to roof of shell or curtain wall, overhanging sprocketted eaves and weather vanes with monograms; circular chimneys some clustered. Many wooden fittings and some structural elements of wood. Ground floor plan of central, near circular courtyard, round which are ranged 3 circular towers linked by a shell wall: Well Tower at NE, Kitchen Tower at SW linked by Hall Block to Keep Tower at SE with Drawbridge Entrance adjacent at E. Masonry has tiers of putlogs, very long arrow loops, generally small outward facing windows often with trefoil heads and metal armatures, some divided by transoms, tiered wooden shutters to embrasures with decorative metal fittings. Anti-clockwise from NE, Well Tower has very deep lead-covered parapet with wide-spaced shuttered embrasures and at base water chutes. Above rises a steeply pointed turret roof incorporating small steeply pointed wooden dormers; courtyard-facing elevation has an attached but separate roof. In the angle with courtyard wall is a garde-robe tower. An exceptionally deep battered plinth, in the form of stone cladding to the motte wall above the moat, is equal in height to the shell wall which it supports; this has 2 tiers of arrow loops, a line of chutes and boarded embrasures overhung by the deep eaves of the pitched roof. Kitchen Tower comprises a round tower broached to a rectangle at base by one of the massive spur buttresses supporting the side of the castle; conical roof with single pitched swept roof dormers; windows at 2 levels, the top shuttered; attached to N side is a rectangular tower with boarded embrasures and arched culvert at base. Hall range along S side between towers has a deep part-battered plinth rising from rocky outcrop and 3 trefoil-headed undercroft lights with transom; above is a similar range of double lights. Keep Tower has conical roof, rectangular fireplace tower with clustered chimneys at angle with hall and separate circular chimney facing front; small lights on 3 storeys, at lower level with transom. Deep spur buttresses at base plunge lower to S as ground falls steeply, with further drainage culvert in angle. Attached at front is the 2-storey rectangular Entrance Tower with pitched roof, the overhang at gable end supported by brackets; double round stack at rear; at front a wooden guard chamber; all this on the top floor which is slightly corbelled out. Below is a polychrome statue of Virgin and Child in a shallow pointed arched niche and at ground floor is the wide double ordered segmental pointed main entrance with wooden drawbridge access. Portcullis section has 2 chamfered orders of outer arches, the chamfered machinery slot, then 2 lower inner arches also chamfered with gap for missile; portcullis in slot with arch behind and then a further two ordered arch with massive boarded doors with iron bands and studs. To right a small section of shell wall with stone cladding at base links with the Well Tower. Inside the shell wall, the courtyard has a modern surface of end-on narrow stones in panels; shell wall has a ground floor arcade of pointed arches with voussoirs. At first floor level is an open inward-facing balcony, the bays created by king-posts supporting the pitched roof. Balcony extends in front of the Kitchen Tower and Hall providing main access to these rooms and links with roofed stairs to courtyard; the arched recesses below asymmetrically continuing the ground floor arcade which also incorporates a flight of stone stairs down to lower chamber. Roofs of Kitchen Tower, stairs, and Hall all adjoin, incorporating swept eaves and dormer and tall lateral stacks; hall roof and coping runs out into the Keep Tower with below a small 2-storey polygonal tower with pyramidal roof by steps; above is a flat roofed wing crossing the angle with 3-light trefoil-headed mullioned window and staircase tower behind; to left is the wooden framed braced and gated balcony to the bedroom with twin waterchutes below and pitched roofed hoist above. Below, the balcony continues with pitched roof in front of the Entrance Tower with the 3-ordered segmental-pointed arched inner face of the main gateway below; it continues at a slightly different level in front of the Well Tower which has inward-facing circular corner turret with conical roof adjoining the main tower and a short corble table site of former chapel; below at ground floor level is a pointed-arched entrance set in the battered plinth; further flights of steps down to lower chambers either side of gateway. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Late C19 fairytale-style castle built on medieval remains, designed for the third marquess of Bute by William Burges. Lavishly decorated and furnished in the Victorian Gothic style; a romantic vision of the Middle Ages. The original castle was a new build by Gilbert de Clare sometime between 1268 and 1289. A castle that frequently features in film and television (IMDb) and is important for the effect this Victorian Gothic view of the medieval world has had on modern perceptions of the medieval world, although the highly decorated and colourful interiors are arguably rather closer to the medieval reality than the gloomy damp bare stone walls, torches in sconces and decoration of crossed swords that was the mainstay of presentations of medieval castles in cinema.

- Philip Davis

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 ReferenceST130826
Latitude51.5357894897461
Longitude-3.25481009483337
Eastings313060
Northings182630
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
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Books

  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. xv, 203
  • Kenyon, John, 2010, The Medieval Castles of Wales (University of Wales Press) p. 111-112
  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 139-41
  • < >RCAHMW, 2000, An Inventory of Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan Vol. 3 Part 1b: The Later Castles (London: HMSO) < > p. 105-24
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 91-2
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 49-50
  • Newman, J., 1995, Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan (Yale University Press) p. 314-8
  • Salter, Mike, 1991, The Castles of Gwent, Glamorgan and Gower (Malvern) p. 46
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 162
  • Brown, R.L., 1983, ‘Castell Coch before Burges and Bute’, in Brown, R.L. (ed), More about Ton (Tongwynlais: Tair Eglwys Press) p. 1–15
  • Davis, Paul R., 1983, Castles of Glamorgan (Alun Books) p. 20
  • Hague, D.B., 1971, in Pugh, T.B. (ed), Glamorgan County History Vol. 3 The Middle Ages (Cardiff) p. 429-30 plates XIX, XXX
  • Randall, Henry John, 1961, The Vale of Glamorgan, Studies in Landscape and History (Newport: R.H.Johns Ltd) p. 77
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England  (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 358-64 online copy
  • Drane, c.1859, Castell Coch, a Gossiping Companion i-ii and plates (King writes 'rest worthless')
  • Clark, G.T., 1852, A description and history of the Castles of Kidwelly and Caerphilly, and of Castell Coch (London) online copy
  • Lewis, Samual, 1849, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales online copy
  • King, Edward, 1804, Munimenta antiqua or Observations on antient castles (W.Bulmer and Co) Vol. 3 p. 126-30 online copy

Antiquarian

  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1906, Leland's Itinerary in Wales  (Bell and Sons; London) p. 18 online copy

Journals

  • Spurgeon, Jack, 1987, 'The Castles of Glamorgan' Château Gaillard Vol. 13 p. 215
  • 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
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1963, 'Early castles in Wales and the Marches: a preliminary list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 112 p. 77-124
  • Girouard, 1962, Country Life Vol. 131 p. 1092-5, 1174-7
  • Renn, D.F., 1961, 'The round keeps of the Brecon region' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 110 p. 140
  • Howell, 1951, Architectural Review Vol. 109 p. 39-46
  • 1913, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 68 p. 128-31 and plates
  • 1901, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 56 p. 64
  • Clark, G.T., 1850, 'Castell Coch, Glamorgan. Topographical Notes' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 5 p. 241-50 online copy

Guide Books

  • McLees, David, 2005 (rev edn), Castell Coch (Cardiff: CADW)
  • McLees, David, 1998, Castell Coch (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Rousham, S., 1987 (Revised edn), Castell Coch (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Rousham, S., 1985, Castell Coch (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Floud, P., 1954, Castell Coch, Glamorgan (HMSO)

Primary Sources

  • Lyte, H.C. Maxwell (ed), 1913, Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward I Vol. 4 p. 324 no. 435 (1 May 1307 Joan, Widow of Gibert de Clare) online copy

Other

  • William Tregaskes, Feb 2017, 'A View into Medieval Cardiff' The Visual Past (online blog essay) online copy