St Fagans Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Ringwork), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameSt Fagans Castle
Alternative NamesCastell Sain Ffagan
Historic CountryGlamorgan
Modern AuthorityCardiff
1974 AuthoritySouth Glamorgan
CommunitySt Fagans

The remains of the medieval castle at St Fagans include the southern part of a stone curtain wall, thought to have originally encompassed a sub-circular, or oval enclosure, c.45-50m in diameter. The enclosure is currently overlain by an Elizabethan mansion (Nprn 19909), with part of the surviving curtain serving to define its forecourt. The medieval work is thought to be a thirteenth century remodelling of an earlier ringwork. The medieval castle was derelict by around 1530. (Coflein)

In the centre of St Fagans village opposite the Church of St Mary the Blessed Virgin.

It seems likely that the main structure of the house was built by John Gibbon in c1580-86. The shell was certainly there in 1596 when it belonged to the Herberts, but it does not appear to have been fitted out with panelling etc. until after it was purchased by the Lewises in 1616, and there are a number of dated items in the house associated with this period. It remained their property until 1730 when the 3rd Earl of Plymouth married Elizabeth Lewis. From 1850s onwards, from the time that the Honourable Robert Henry and Lady Harriet Windsor Clive came to live in the Castle, various structural additions were made on the west side between the medieval castle wall and the C16 portion, mostly in 1868-9. These comprised the two-storey stone wing with gables and circular turret which contained the servants' hall and, to the south, the laundry and steward's room; all these units are shown on a plan by W P James, Cardiff architect, dateable to about that time. The present exhibition and dining room were added in the 1890s. From the 1880s onward the house was largely used as a summer residence by the Plymouths, whose main home was at Hewell Grange in Worcestershire. In 1946 St. Fagans Castle was given to the National Museum of Wales in response to their appeal for a home for a new Welsh Folk Museum. The gardens were opened in 1947 and the house on 1st July 1948

It was redecorated at that time, reroofed in 1982 and refurbished in 1988 and again in 2002. St. Fagans Castle is now shown as a Welsh aristocratic house, as part of the Museum of Welsh Life, an out-station of the National Museum of Wales.

Within the plan of the house still retains much of the probable Elizabethan original but with changes developed through to those of the 1860s. The entry goes into a cross passage with the Hall and family rooms on the right and the service rooms on the left. As in most houses of this type the main reception rooms and Great Chamber are on the first floor reached by the main staircase in the north-west corner. There are old stone doorways at the entrances to pantry, kitchen and back stairs; the kitchen retains old fireplaces and a stone flagged floor; in the hall there is a finely carved over-mantel with the arms of the Windsor family, this dates it to post 1736. The withdrawing room retains an oak floor and the coat-of-arms of Lewis of St Fagans Castle on the overmantel. Fine C19 staircase leading to first floor. The Long Gallery originally ran along the rear of the house on the first floor giving access to the rooms. One bedroom has a carved frieze of early C17 date, an over-mantel dated 1635 and oak panelling painted at a later date. Another bedroom has painted fielded panelling of early C18 date and a finely carved frieze of about 1620; in the parlour there is a carved frieze inscribed EBL/1624 and an iron fireback inscribed EL/1620 and bearing the Lewis arms. The rooms are furnished appropriately by the Museum to represent life in a Welsh aristocratic house. Some of the furniture is indigeneous, while many pieces have come from other houses throughout Wales.

The walls are faced externally with whitewashed roughcast cladding over rubble stone and have an ashlar plinth, stringcourses and characteristic stone-mullioned windows. The roof is Welsh slate with groups of red brick stacks set diagonally. These were an addition of the 1860s but are very much in character. The house is a three-storey gabled building with the characteristic E-plan and symmetrical elevation typical of the Elizabethan period. East (entrance) elevation of seven bays; the two end bays project forward, each with a 3-light attic window and a mullion-and-transom 4-light window on both first and ground floors. The central range has three gables to the attic storey, each with a 3-light attic window; against the centre bay there is a two-storey gabled projecting porch with a 3-light mullioned window both on the first floor and above the four-centred arch with dripstone at the entrance to the ground floor porch. The two bays to each side of the central porch projection both have 4-light mullion-and-transom windows on ground and first floors. The south elevation has three gables to the attic storey each with a 3-light attic window; there are two mullion-and-transom 3-light windows on both ground and first floors and an old stone doorway to the right hand on the ground floor. The north elevation is also gabled with 3-light attic windows to the centre and right hand gables only, below this a 3-light mullion-and-transom window in each bay on either floor. To the right of this is the single storey Dining Room of 1890 with a large 4-light mullion-and-two-transom window in a gable, and this is flanked by square headed doors. The west elevation of the Elizabethan house is partly covered by the C19 additions. Five gabled front with a 3-light window in each gable. The first floor has four irregularly spaced 3-light mullion-and-transom windows to the Long Gallery with another for the main staircase and a 2-light one for the secondary staircase. The ground floor is almost entirely covered by extensions. The outer face of this was largely hidden by scaffolding at the time of resurvey (July 2002) but there are two gables with a 3-light mullion-and-transom window on either floor to the Servants' Hall and a semi-circular turret which projects out over the garden stairway. To the right of this the Laundry is hidden behind the perimeter wall. (Listed Building Report)

St Fagans Castle lies 6km to the west of Cardiff, overlooking the valley of the River Ely to the south and a lesser tributary valley to the west. On these sides, steep falls provide its only natural defence, while level ground to the north and east is occupied by the village of St Fagans. Remains of the castle are limited to the much restored southern half of its faceted curtain-wall, its semi-circular course suggesting that a parital castle-ringwork may have constituted the primary castle of the le Sore family which appears to have been established here in the early 12th century. The northern circuit of the curtain wall and any suviving medieval buildings within were removed with the construction of a large Elizabethan country house, with formal gardens set to the north. The site now forms part of St Fagans: The Museum of Welsh Life. (Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust HER)

On a bluff above the Ely River is a D-shaped court which is surrounded by C13 curtain wall 2m thick. The moat on the east and north sides has been filled in, the parapets are rebuilt, and the only medieval feature is a narrow pointed postern doorway on the SW which was reopened in 1947 after being blocked for centuries. Peter le Sore raised a ringwork here after dispossessing the Welsh lord Meurig ap Hywell in 1091. In the early C14 the castle passed to the le Vele family by marriage, and in 1475 it passed to David Mathew when he married Alice le Vele. The descendants of their daughters sold the castle to Dr John Gibbon in c1560, who built a fine mansion in the court. (Salter, 1991)

Not scheduled

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 ReferenceST120771
Latitude51.4863891601563
Longitude-3.26876997947693
Eastings312000
Northings177140
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Books

  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 240 (listed)
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 108
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 131
  • Newman, J., 1995, Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan (Yale University Press) p. 558-62
  • Salter, Mike, 1991, The Castles of Gwent, Glamorgan and Gower (Malvern) p. 64
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1
  • Davis, Paul R., 1983, Castles of Glamorgan (Alun Books) p. 47
  • RCAHMW, 1981, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan Vol. 4 Part 1: The Greater Houses (London: HMSO) no. 28 p. 244-55 (mainly later house)
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 379
  • Hague, D.B., 1971, in Pugh, T.B. (ed), Glamorgan County History Vol. 3 The Middle Ages (Cardiff) p. 446
  • Randall, Henry John, 1961, The Vale of Glamorgan, Studies in Landscape and History (Newport: R.H.Johns Ltd) p. 77
  • Lewis, Samual, 1849, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales online copy

Antiquarian

  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1906, Leland's Itinerary in Wales  (Bell and Sons; London) p. 25 online copy

Journals

  • Redknap, M., Driver, T. and Davis, O., 2012, ‘The St Fagans Historic Landscape Project LiDAR survey’ Archaeology in Wales Vol. 51 p. 146-59
  • 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
  • David, 1877, Cardiff Naturalists' Society p. 73-9

Guide Books

  • Eurwyn Wiliam, 1988, St. Fagans Castle and its Inhabitants (National Museum of Wales)

Primary Sources

  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 213