Usk Castle

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

There are major building remains

NameUsk Castle
Alternative NamesBrynbuga; Brunebegy; Burenbegie; Huske; Uske; Oscae
Historic CountryMonmouthshire
Modern AuthorityMonmouthshire
1974 AuthorityGwent
CommunityUsk

Usk Castle is a substantial masonry castle dating from around 1138 and now generally ruinous. It is first recorded in the possession of Richard de Clare in 1262, but probably held by the de Clare family from the conquest of South Wales. It subsequently passed through several hands in the fourteenth century and for a time was controlled by Edmund Mortimer, Earl of the Marches. After the death of his nephew Richard, the Duke of York, it passed to Edward VI, subsequently staying in the hands of the crown until the death of Henry VII. It then passed to the Earls of Pembroke.

The castle stands on a spur overlooking the Usk and consists of a rectangular area surrounded by curtain walls with towers at intervals and a large gatehouse on the east side. To the south-east is an outer bailey with walls on its south-east side, a corner tower on the south, and a gatehouse at the north end of the south-east wall.

The gatehouse is square in plan, a three storey structure with a doorway reached by stone steps on the east side and round headed windows on the south side. Internally there is a fireplace on the north-west side, and a number of doorways at different levels.

The north tower is D-shaped with a large square-headed doorway with a square mullioned window above on the inside wall, and external doorways in the north and south walls, that to the south leading to a small platform. On the first floor is a fireplace.

The banqueting hall is 14th century in date, being altered around 1500. It stands against the curtain wall on the north side. Along its south side is a buttressed wall with two windows and a doorway, with a third window above. The west wall has a further, large window and there is a fireplace in the north wall at first floor level.

The Garrison Tower is circular and located midway along the south-west curtain wall. It stands to its full height with a crenallated parapet, and there are doors into it on either side of the curtain wall

At a level corresponding to the top of the curtain wall is a small passageway leading to a garderobe on the north side and a spiral staircase on the south side, and there are small slit windows on four levels.

The Round Tower in the south corner, stands to the same height as the curtain wall, with a doorway surviving on the north side.

Curtain walls survive to various heights. On the north-east side there is a large gateway with a pointed arch, to the west of which is a low grass bank. Above this are three supports in the wall for the first floor of the building that was there. There is also a tapering fireplace in the middle. To the north of the gateway is another fireplace and grass covered low remains of rooms, and to the north of this is a small projection with a rounded niche. The north side has St Georges chapel, an area of garden made into an open air chapel. At the west end a small tower projects to the outside of the curtain wall, internally having a fireplace and the remains of a spiral staircase. The south-west curtain wall retains its wall walk, and there are three openings, one of which has a pillar and appears more recent. The south-east wall has a small 'room' inside the wall at an upper level.

The Dovecot tower is at the south end of the outer bailey wall; it is round in plan and stands to its full height. The internal north-west wall has niches for use as dove boxes.(Source SAM description). (Coflein)

On a spur on the hillside a short distance NE of the town.

First record of castle at Usk in 1138 when it was temporarily seized by the Welsh from the de Clare family of Netherwent but first stone structure, the keep, probably built c 1174 by Richard 'Strongbow' de Clare. William Marshal 1189- c1212 who inherited the castle through marriage undertook extensive additional fortification, adding the towers and creating the rectangular walled inner ward below the mound. Keep was remodelled by one of Marshal's sons as a residence in mid C13. By 1289 Gilbert de Clare had built N tower to serve as treasury and a chamber at top of Garrison Tower. In early C14 Elizabeth de Burgh, sister of the last de Clare, built large hall and chapel against N curtain wall and chamber block outside and remodelled keep to provide 3 storeys of living accommodation. In late C14/early C15 when lordship passed to the Mortimers of Wigmore, Earls of March, the lower ward fortifications to S were strengthened by building a gatehouse, wall and circular mural tower at SW. In 1431 William ap Thomas of Raglan was steward of the lordship and his son Sir William Herbert remodelled the keep as a steward's lodging. By early C16 the steward was living in the gatehouse and the castle was beginning to decay, the process hastened by demolition of great hall and barn by Roger Williams of Usk in 1556. From mid C18- late C19 it was part of the Beaufort estate. Family of current owners have been in residence since 1920s and created a notable garden, whose development is closely recorded.

Ruined Norman and later castle. Constructed of sandstone rubble; putlogs visible throughout. Anti-clockwise description. The roughly rectangular C12 keep built into the hillside and facing E rises from the outcrop with deep battered buttresses; large later rectangular openings at 3 levels including one with hoodmould at upper level with small chamfered light adjacent; corbel table. A section of curtain wall links with main entrance gate to inner ward/bailey, the C13 Castle Gate, facing NE, a pointed arch, chamfered inside, with remains of portcullis groove. Foundations of added D-shaped stone guard tower adjacent. Length of curtain wall with arched recesses extends to North Tower, the C13 treasury, with very thick walls, round outer (not inner) wall. Wide shouldered ground floor doorway with chamfered jambs and imposts support a semi-circular thick stone overlight with grille; arrow loop to right in curtain wall and rectangular recess. Part reconstructed steps lead to wall top with remains of corbelling; upper round-arched doorway adjacent to stairs and 2-light square-headed window of leaded quarries under a relieving arch. Adjoining is the C14 Chapel retaining some plaster; the S wall footings show its original width. Extending W along this range is the C14 Hall altered in 1500; it is divided into 3 bays by thick projecting buttresses. Chamfered-arched doorway in W bay with window above; window seats in the deep splays, later fireplace in E bay; screens passage was in W bay with doorway at W gable end into former service rooms. Chamber block of C14 is an almost square external projection outside the curtain wall at the junction between hall and chapel; mural stair on inner side gave access to upper end of the hall; fireplace in each chamber and vestigial window mouldings; doorways E and W to outer curtain wall; remains of a springing arch and joist holes for the former floors. At NW angle the foundations of the Solar Tower of 1330. From NW corner a stretch of wide curtain wall with wall-walk and recesses in inner face; part of the area was used as the Town Gaol with arched openings at 2 levels and inscription 1825. This leads to the massive almost intact circular C13 Garrison Tower; 4 storeys with openings at all levels; battered with corbelled battlements, blocked arrow slits, small lancets to top storey, slots for a timber gallery below; wallwalk doorways at 2nd floor, inward-facing arrow slit adjacent to first floor opening; the low-set doorway from inner ward has bull-nose jambs; inside a spiral mural stair with newel links all levels; wide round internal arches to the narrow external openings through the thick wall. Curtain wall extends from first floor level to remains of C13 South Tower, a round tower at S angle with adjacent building foundations, one area labelled blacksmith. There is a gap in the curtain wall here though footings and retaining wall survive, then a short length of curtain wall joins the inner face of the Keep; visible here are further square headed openings with hoodmoulds, a steeply gabled roofline, and a chamfered arched ground floor doorway. Extending downhill ie SE from the South Tower is a section of wall enclosing the later outer ward and terminating in the C14 lower south tower; this has two storeys and basement, now topped by the corbel table; facing inwards are round-headed chamfered doorways at both levels; slit windows facing outwards; later converted to columbarium. A length of curtain wall with another arched recess and corbel table above connects with the Castle Gate. (Listed Building Report)

First mentioned in 1138 when captured. Lies on a hill in northernmost sector of Roman fort. The bailey had a masonry wall with round towers added c1212-19 by William Marshall. Gilbert IV de Clare is said to have added the NE tower in the 1260's. When Gilbert V de Clare was killed at Bannockburn in 1314, Usk passed to Elizabeth de Burgh who erected the hall block, chapel and solar on the northeast side. The castle later passed to the Mortimers, who walled in the outer bailey on the south with one round SW tower and a rectangular gatehouse. Owain Glyndwr burnt the town in 1402 and 1405, but the castle may have held out. Castle said to be 'worth nothing' in 1550. Now generally ruinous. The gatehouse has been incorporated into a later house and a barn is incorporated in part of the curtain wall. The principal enclosure, with a largely C13 towered encience, is subrectangular, c.80m by 54m, whilst with all possible ramifications the castle may have occupied an area c.210m by 150m, integrated with the town defences.

Gatehouse Comments

Possibly dating from late C11 (although this has been questioned by Spurgeon and Phillips who suggest new built masonry castle of mid C12).

- 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 ReferenceSO379004
Latitude51.705020904541
Longitude-2.90328001976013
Eastings337980
Northings200460
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Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved

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Books

  • Davis, Paul, R., 2011, The Forgotten Castles of Wales (Almeley: Logaston Press) p. 176
  • Purton, P.F., 2010, A History of the Late Medieval Siege: 1200-1500 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 43 (1233 siege), 220-1 (1405 siege)
  • Kenyon, John, 2010, The Medieval Castles of Wales (University of Wales Press) p. 149-151
  • Knight, J. K. and Johnson, A. (eds), 2008, Usk Castle, Priory and Town (Logaston Press) (major text) esp. p. 55-78
  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 186-9
  • Griffiths, R.A., 2008, 'Lordship and Society in the Fifteenth Century' in R. Griffiths, T. Hopkins and R. Howell (eds), The Gwent County History (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) Vol. 2 The Age of the Marcher Lords, c. 1070-1536 p. 241-79
  • Kenyon, J.R., 2008, 'Masonry Castles and Castle-building' in R. Griffiths, T. Hopkins and R. Howell (eds), The Gwent County History (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) Vol. 2 The Age of the Marcher Lords, c. 1070-1536 p. 89-114
  • Courtney, P., 2008, 'The Marcher Lordships' in R. Griffiths, T. Hopkins and R. Howell (eds), The Gwent County History (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) Vol. 2 The Age of the Marcher Lords, c. 1070-1536 p. 47-9 (tenurial history)
  • Phillips, Neil, 2006, Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250 (British Archaeological Reports) p. 347-8
  • McNeill, T., 2003, 'Squaring circles: flooring round towers in Wales and Ireland' 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. 96-106
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 142
  • Newman, John, 2000, The Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire (Yale University Press) p. 588-93
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 135
  • Whittle, E., 1992, A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales, Glamorgan and Gwent (London: Cadw HMSO) p. 106
  • Salter, Mike, 1991, The Castles of Gwent, Glamorgan and Gower (Malvern) p. 34-5
  • Knight, J.K., 1987, 'The Road to Harlech' in Kenyon, J.R., and R., Avent, (eds.), Castles in Wales and the Marches, Essays in honour of D.J. Cathcart King (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) p. 76-8
  • Spurgeon, C.J., 1987, 'Mottes and Castle Ringworks in Wales' in Kenyon, J.R., and R., Avent, (eds.), Castles in Wales and the Marches, Essays in honour of D.J. Cathcart King (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) p. 26
  • Mein, A.G., 1986, Norman Usk; the birth of a town (privately published)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus)
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 382
  • Knight, J.K.., 1977, 'Usk Castle and its Affinities' in Apted et al, Ancient Monuments and their Interpretation: Essays Presented to Taylor, A.J. (Phillimore) p. 139-54
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 336
  • Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 650-1
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 157-8
  • Bradney, J.A., 1904-33, History of Monmouthshire Vol. 3 p. 10-11 (slight)
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1897, Castles of England (Heinemann) Vol. 2 p. 92 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 376 online copy
  • Coxe, W., 1801, An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire (London) Vol. 1 p. 127-32 plan facing p. 49
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathenial, 1774, Buck’s Antiquities (London) Vol. 1 p. 193
  • Grose, Francis, 1787, Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 8 p. 116 online copy

Antiquarian

Journals

  • Guy, Neil et al, 2008/9, 'Usk Castle' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 22 p. 62-72 (photo and plan only)
  • 2004-5, 'Usk Castle's future looking more assured' Castle Studies Group Bulletin Vol. 18 p. 106-12 (news report)
  • Priestly, S.G. and Turner, R.C., 2003, 'Three castles of the Clare family in Monmouthshire during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries' Archaeological Cambrensis Vol. 152 p. 9-52
  • Coldstream, N., 2003 'Architects, Advisers and Design at Edward I’s Castles in Wales' Architectural History Vol. 46 p. 19-36
  • Ward, J.C., 2002, 'Elizabeth de Burgh and Usk Castle' Monmouthshire Antiquarian Vol. 18 p. 13-22
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1984, ‘Castle gates and garden gates’ Architectural History Vol. 27 443-5 (slight)
  • 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
  • Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • Taylor, A.J., 1947, 'Usk Castle and the Pipe Roll of 1185 with a note on an expenses account of 1289' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 99 p. 249-55
  • Lloyd and O'Neil, 1936, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 91 p. 375-8
  • Davies, J., 1894, 'The Roman Station of Burrium and Usk Castle' Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club p. 242-4

Guide Books

  • Anon, 2004, Usk Castle (Usk: Usk Castle 2001 Ltd)
  • O'Neil, n.d., Usk Castle (Usk)

Primary Sources

  • le Prevost, A. (ed), 1855, Ordericus Vitalis, Historica Ecclesiastica Vol. 5 p. 110 online copy (see Chibnall, M. (ed), 1968-80, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis Vol. 4 (Book8 Chapter26))
  • The Great Roll of the Pipe for the thirty-first year of the reign of King Henry II A.D. 1184-1185 (Pipe Roll Society 34) p. 10
  • Giraldus Cambrensis, c.1188, Journey Through Wales view online transcription
  • Giraldus Cambrensis, c.1183, Description of Wales view online transcription
  • Hewlett, H.G. (ed), 1889, Rogeri de Wendover liber qui dicitur flores historarum (Rolls Series 84) Vol. 3 p. 55-6 57-8
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1905, Calendar of Close Rolls Henry III (1231-34) Vol. 2 p. 259, 323 view online copy (subscription required)
  • 'Annales de Theokesberia' in Luard, H.R (ed), 1857, Annales Monastici (Rolls Series 36) Vol. 1 p. 90-1 online copy
  • 1906, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry III (1232-47) Vol. 3 p. 25, 254, 468, 484 online copy
  • Williams (ab Ithel), John, (ed), 1860, Annales Cambriae (444 – 1288) (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts)1265 online copy
  • Roberts, C. (ed), 1835, Excerpta e Rotulis Finium in Turro Londinensi Asservatis, Henrico Tertio Rege, A.D. 1216-1271 (Record Commission) Vol. 1 p. 347 online copy
  • Thompson, E.M. (ed), 1904 (2edn), Chronicon Adae de Usk (London) p. 78 (a poor authority) online copy
  • Stamp, A.E. (ed), 1929, Calendar of Close Rolls Henry IV (1402-1405) Vol. 2 p. 111 view online copy (subscription required)
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 317-8

Other

  • Monmouth Archaeology, 2001, Usk Castle
  • Phillips, Neil, 2005, Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250 (PhD Thesis University of Sheffield) Download