Oxwich Castle

Has been described as a Certain Fortified Manor House

There are major building remains

NameOxwich Castle
Alternative NamesOxwick; Oxwnwich
Historic CountryGlamorgan
Modern AuthoritySwansea
1974 AuthorityWest Glamorgan
CommunityPenrice

Castle in existence in C13, but much of the surviving fabric is from the C16. After C17, the NE range and tower fell into disrepair, although the SE range was in use as a farmhouse. Entrance to courtyard through SE gateway of Sutton stone with four-centred arch. Square, partly paved courtyard. NE range, constructed of limestone rubble with sandstone dressings, is the most impressive section, surviving almost to the eaves in places. This part has the base of a staircase with a vaulted kitchen to the left, and two undercroft vaults to the right. To SE of courtyard is a two-storey range, although this was once probably three storeys. (CADW listed buildings database) This large, mainly ruinous courtyard house stands on a headland that forms the west side of Oxwich Bay, Gower. The existing buildings, not earlier than the sixteenth century (but almost certainly occupying an older site), include two virtually independent residential blocks of differing dates, a mock military gateway to the courtyard, and the remains of a dovecot (NPRN 37628). The house is of particular interest as the early seat of the Mansel family, reflecting its rise to a leading position among the Glamorgan gentry. When the castle of Oxwich is specifically named in 1459 it was already held by Philip Mauncell, having come to the family by marriage to an heiress of the Penrice family who in turn acquired the manor of Oxwich in the thirteenth century. Much of the house that survives was built by Rice Mansel (1487-1559) the first of the family to achieve more than local significance. (RCAHMW, Glamorgan Inventory, vol.3(i) 'Greater Houses', p.63). (Coflein)

On high ground 0.5km south of Oxwich village

Fragments of an earlier structure on this site, incorporated into the later north-eastern range, have been tentatively identified as a trace of the mediaeval castle but essentially the present building is of the Tudor period

Alternatively, a vestige of a tower 150m to the north-east (S.A.M. GM472(SWA)) may indicate the pre-Tudor castle site. The castle was in the ownership of the de la Mere family down to the C13. It came to the Penrice family and thence before 1459 to the Mansel family who rebuilt it. The Mansels have been described as belonging to a 'powerful gentry class whose lifestyle resembled that of past feudal magnates'. The castle was described by Merrick in 1578 as 'lately re-edified or repaired by Sr. Ed: Mansell, kt.' and the same writer identifies Sir Rice Mansel as builder of the earlier part. The interpretation placed on this by the Royal Commission was that the south-eastern range was built by Sir Rice Mansel in the 1520s or 1530s, and the north-eastern range (with great hall and long gallery, plus a tower to the east) was added by his son Sir Edward Mansel in the 1560s or 1570s. This has, however, been challenged, on the basis of structural evidence. The castle ceased to be occupied by the Mansel family in c1630 and the north-eastern range and east tower then fell into disrepair. The south-eastern range continued to be used as a farmhouse. Structural evidence also suggests the south-eastern range was formerly one storey higher than it is now. The castle is now in the care of Cadw. The south-eastern range is roofed and a modern staircase and custodian's office have been inserted. The other parts are consolidated ruins.

The north-east part has the base of a staircase in straight flights around a core of masonry to the left, with a vaulted kitchen adjacent. To the right of these are two undercroft vaults, with a mural staircase to the entrance passage above. In the inner face of the south-west wall at second storey level is a fireplace with stone-frame cupboards each side. In the south-east part there is a kitchen at the left, now the custodian's room with visitors' stairs, a middle room, and two inner rooms to the right; lateral fireplaces to middle room and kitchen. The doors from the middle room to the inner unit indicate the latter was subdivided two rooms. One has a chamfered stone frame with diagonal stops. The upper storey is reached by a newel stair in the round tower, entered in the south corner of the yard. There are fireplaces also at first floor level. Timber-framed partition.

The castle courtyard is entered at the south-west side by a small gateway between blind rounded piers across which a high arch spans. The gateway contains a four-centred arch with sunk spandrels in local Sutton stone and above that a square sunken armorial panel (Mansel quartered with Penrice and Scurlage) including the initials of Rice Mansel, in oolitic limestone. The high arch is slightly chamfered at the front and there is a machicolation-slot at its rear and a parapet walk as if for defence of the gate. To the right of the entrance is a semicircular tower, with two small Tudor windows; a similar tower probably existed originally to the left of the gate to complete the symmetry. The masonry apart from the carved work is local rubble or axe-dressed work, with many surviving putlog holes. The courtyard is square, with a low modern wall to the north-west side returning to the south-west side up to the entrance. Only part of the courtyard is paved. The more impressive part is the north-east range, surviving to almost eaves height on the side facing the courtyard but reduced to the level of the undercroft vaults on the outer side and internally. Local limestone rubble with sandstone stone dressings to openings. In front is the exposed foundation of the staircase building which gave access to the Great Hall. Five windows of the Long Gallery survive partially at the top, occupying the full length of the range. One window of the hall remains, its rear walled up; it consists of three tiers of diminishing lights, with thicker and thinner mullions dividing it horizontally into three groups of two lights. Above it is a relieving arch in the common masonry. To the right of this is an area of walling with a similar relieving arch, and the surviving jamb of a similar window but of four tiers in height, the latter window fully walled up. Beneath these to left is the hall doorway, now walled up, with a segmental arch. To the left is an area of four common storeys (not counting the Long Gallery) with three surviving two-light Tudor windows on the front elevation (one walled up). Ten small windows in what remains of the return north-west elevation, vertically staggered as some were lights to staircase landings. There is a Tudor arched undercroft entrance to the left of the site of the stairs block in the yard elevation, and two segmental-headed undercroft windows to the right, one walled up; square-headed doorway adjacent to the south block, slightly angled. There were three tower-like projections on the north-east side. To the south-east side of the courtyard is the lower range, consisting now of a two-storey four-window range, slate roofed. Restored Tudor windows above, three of four lights and one of two; label moulds with saltire terminations. One similar two-light Tudor window to the ground storey, but with no label, at the right; four-centred door arch beside this; three sash windows and a modern entrance with porch. The sash windows are in old openings, over which there are label moulds with saltire terminations. This block has a gable elevation to the south-west showing a two-light Tudor window with label in the attic, and a sash window below at first storey. Lateral chimneys and small rear wing (formerly a bakehouse) with end-chimney. The south-east elevation of the east tower has six storeys of Tudor windows with label moulds, of one or two lights with mullions and in some cases transoms. The architectural dress of this sun-lit elevation shows that it was to be seen to good effect from Oxwich Bay. The north-east elevation of the latter block has similar windows but without labels. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Possibly site of earlier stronghold, but see also Oxwich Tower which may be a precursor.

- 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 ReferenceSS498862
Latitude51.5554389953613
Longitude-4.16827011108398
Eastings249800
Northings186290
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Books

  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 147 (brief)
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 112
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 114
  • Davis, Paul, 1997, Historic Gower (Swansea: Christopher Davies) p. 55-56
  • Salter, Mike, 1991, The Castles of Gwent, Glamorgan and Gower (Malvern) p. 65
  • Williams, G.,1987, ‘The Herberts, the Mansells and Oxwich Castle’, in Kenyon, John R. and R Avent (eds), Castles in Wales and Marches: essays in honour of D J Cathcart King (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) p. 173–83
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 167
  • Davis, Paul R., 1983, Castles of Glamorgan (Alun Books) p. 46
  • RCAHMW, 1981, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan Vol. 4 Part 1: The Greater Houses (London: HMSO) no. 2 p. 63-76
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 370
  • Jones, D., 1977, ‘Oxwich Castle’ in_ Archaeological Excavations 1976_ (HMSO) p. 169
  • Hague, D.B., 1971, in Pugh, T.B. (ed), Glamorgan County History Vol. 3 The Middle Ages (Cardiff) p. 210, 444
  • Grenfell, Harold E. and Morris, Bernard, 1970 (Revised 1985) The Castles of Gower (Merthyr Tydfil) p. 11, 15
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 381-2 online copy
  • Lewis, Samual, 1849, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales online copy

Journals

  • Blockley, K., 1997, 'Oxwich Castle, Gower: excavations by Dilwyn Jones 1974-76' Post Medieval Archaeology Vol. 31 p. 121-37
  • Morris, B., 1992, 'Oxwich Castle: which comes first, the farmhouse or the hall?' Gower Vol. 43 p. 42-7 online copy
  • Lewis, J.M., 1982, ‘A medieval ring-brooch from Oxwich Castle, West Glamorgan’ Antiquaries Journal Vol. 62 p. 126–31
  • Morris, B. and Smith, P., 1980, ‘Oxwich Castle’ Programme of the 127th Annual Meeting, 1980, CAA p. 39-40
  • Jones, D., 1976, ‘Oxwich Castle’, Archaeology in Wales Vol. 16 p. 41
  • Jones, D., 1975 ‘Archaeological notes: Oxwich Castle, Gower’ Morgannwg Vol. 19 p. 76-8 online copy
  • Morris, B., 1974, ‘Oxwich Castle’ Gower Vol. 25 p. 12-27 online copy
  • 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
  • 1920, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 75 p. 302-4

Guide Books

  • Williams, Diane M., 1998, Gower: A guide to ancient and historic monuments on the Gower peninsule (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Williams, Diane M., 1995 (rev edn), Oxwich Castle (Cardiff: CADW)

Primary Sources

  • Clark, G.T., 1910, Cartae et alia munimenta quae ad dominium de Glamorgancia pertinent Vol. 4 p. 1391 online copy