Picton Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NamePicton Castle
Alternative NamesPilton; Picot
Historic CountryPembrokeshire
Modern AuthorityPembrokeshire
1974 AuthorityDyfed

C13 castle built as a replacement for the motte to the east. It has remained in continuous occupation and has been modernised. The castle was probably built by Sir John Wogan and it descended to the Philipps family of Cilsant in C15, with whom it has remained. Medieval interior features survive only in the undercroft in a rectangular block of undercroft, hall, gallery and attic storeys, which has 4 main half-round bastions at the N & S ends. C18 'gothic' work substantially altered the exterior details and all window openings have been enlarged. A new wing to the west of 4 storeys with a crenellated parapet was added by Lord Milford in 1800. Existing stables to the northwest of the Castle were remodelled or rebuilt in the same c. 1800 style. (after Cadw Listing and Garden Register Description April 2000. (Dyfed Archaeological Trust HER)

2 km S of the A40(T) road, in extensive private grounds overlooking the Daugleddau confluence.

The seat successively of the Wogan, Dwnn and Philipps families in a uniquely unbroken line, the descent to Dwnn in c.1420 and Philipps in c.1490 having occurred by marriage with heiresses. The castle is believed never to have been besieged until the Civil War. The castle replaced an earlier motte and bailey, at a site of strategic value to the English colony based on Pembroke. It is thought to have been built by Sir John Wogan, Judiciar of Ireland in the years 1295 to 1313. It was probably in existence in 1302, when Sir John was described as Dominus de Pyketon. No architectural detail survives to confirm this, but narrow trefoil-headed lights of appropriate apparent date are recorded in Buck's C18 engraving. The original building was of unusual design, but planned on the concentric principle. It consisted of a hall raised above an undercroft and fortified by five main semicircular turrets, plus (but without any intervening open space) two narrower bastions flanking a portcullised entrance on the E side

A surrounding curtain wall gave a first line of defence. The earliest illustration, a small E view by Dineley (1684), shows the original E entrance to the undercroft, from which a staircase led up to the great hall. The main bastions were semicircular projections, two on each side elevation and one centrally on the W end elevation. The two nearest to the E end were the largest. The hall corresponded with two storeys of the bastions, and its traceried high windows are recorded in the Buck brothers' engraving. The hall had an E gallery. In 1697 Sir John Philipps, the 4th baronet, demolished most of the outer curtain wall and formed a raised causeway leading to a new entrance at the level of the hall. The second Sir John, the 6th baronet, undertook a complete remodelling of the interior in the mid C18. The architect of the remodelling is unidentified, but could have been James Gibbs; Sir John was in communication with a person of that name in 1752. As a Commissioner for the Fifty London Churches he was well acquainted with leading London architects. However, the letter from Gibbs, of unknown contents, is late in the project (which seems to have been under way by 1749). There was also a letter from the joiner James Rich, to whom the new gallery stairs and chapel interior are credited; by this he is known to have provided a plan for the chapel in 1753, and might have been in control of the whole design, except that his involvement, also, may only have been late in the project. Henry Cheere (later Sir Henry), mason, provided a number of fireplaces. Sir John was in communication with him on many occasions from 1749 onwards. All the plasterwork, panelling and joinery was renewed, floors relaid, sash windows substituted, and at the same time the grounds were re-landscaped. The next radical change was the demolition of the W bastion and substitution of a large four-storey Regency W wing by Lord Milford. Fenton gives the date of this extension as 'about ten years ago', i.e. c.1801. He refers to the 'two magnificent rooms' provided on the hall level. The dining room fireplace is by Cheere, and may have been installed originally in the W bastion. Lord Milford's successor, R B P Philipps, employed the architect Thomas Rowlands of Haverfordwest in the late 1820s to carry out further improvements in a Norman style (presumably in the view that the castle was of that period). The E entrance was given a Norman doorway and the chapel above it was given round-headed windows. Norman window heads were also added to the main S facing windows of the Regency wing. The old narrow causeway to the entrance was enlarged to a broad terrace with sweeping staircases down to the N yard and the S lawn. Estate improvements were carried out at the same period. A surviving C19 undercroft plan shows the service layout of that time. There was a conservatory and a kitchen in N extensions, which have since been removed. The Butler's pantry was under the Regency wing, with other rooms; the four main bastions contained a salting room, a beer cellar, a servants' hall, and the Cook's room. In 1960-63 some late attics were removed and the hall re-roofed under the directions of Donald Insall.

It is only in the undercroft that mediaeval interior features remain. At the E end, beneath the present entrance, are the wall slots of the original portcullis. Behind these are cross-loops commanding the corridor. At each side is a guard-room. The two E bastions have vaults with eight ribs, springing from what now appears to be a low height; the extrados of each rib is built up for some distance before the springing of the vault panels. Beneath the hall the undercroft is of two rows of three cross-ribbed vaults, with transverse ribs and a central spine wall. These ribs are chamfered at each edge. There is a large spiral staircase adjacent to the NE bastion. The hall is the main achievement of the mid C18 alterations. It is designed with joinery and plasterwork in the same architectural order. The walls are divided into panels with broad plasterwork strips. Deep round-headed window recesses. Doric plasterwork frieze and cornice with triglyphs and mutules. The E gallery has a balustrade with turned balusters. Beneath and to the rear, centrally, is the door from the main entrance passage. The gallery centre-bay breaks forward, with circular columns in front of square ones. The centre bay frieze carries triglyphs, that of the outer bays is plain, both have mutules. At the S side of the gallery is a quarter-landing staircase: big square newels, turned balusters, moulded handrails, close strings. W doorway with Doric frieze, broken pediment, round columns; six-panel door with broad architrave. Floor of white marble with smaller black quarries. The chimneypiece is the principal one by Henry Cheere: jambs with herms; tablet on the frieze with cherubs shearing (surely a pun) and other rustic scenes. The tiles in the hearth carry black crests; possibly not original. Large cast-iron firedogs and back. The Library, in the SE bastion, is a circular room, with all joinery (except the window frames, which are in very deep recesses) cut on the curve. Ionic pilasters separate the bookcases. Fine late C18 ceiling plasterwork divided radially into segments. The room in the SW bastion has a Cheere chimneypiece with overmantel, broken pediment, and decoration including cherubs lighting a fire with bellows. The chapel, reached from the hall gallery, was 'handsomely wainscotted with mahogany' (Fenton) but all appears to have been decoratively painted in the C19, and is now plain-painted. The ceiling is of two bays, separated by an elliptical arch. The E bay is in panels, the W bay decorated with stars in relief on the plaster. Two round-headed E windows with stained glass by Alexander Gibbs, c.1890. Altar rails on turned balusters. Box pews each side facing inwards. Above the Library is a room which was an 'elegant breakfasting room' (Fenton). This is now a bedroom, with ceiling of good plasterwork and a fireplace, evidently by Cheere, probably taken from the Library beneath, decorated with a boar hunting scene. The Regency wing contains a staircase hall aligned across the building and two large reception rooms, the S being now the dining room and the N the drawing room. The staircase hall has a delicate gothic cornice and a central groined vault, with panelled pilasters, to overcome the junction where the main central corridor from the old part of the house meets it. A fine staircase with bracketted cut strings, large turned balusters, a handrail coiled at the curtail step. In the dining room a cornice with modillions; a lighter cornice in the drawing room. Central ceiling roundel in the dining room in delicate plasterwork with rinceau trails and an acanthus leaf feature at the centre. Walls in plasterwork panels outlined with small raised mouldings. Doors of six panels, probably walnut. Two of the communicating doors are single faced, having been cupboard doors. Cheere chimneypiece in the dining room with seashell carvings and cherubs skating on ice. Door surrounds with modified Doric entablatures.

A rectangular block of undercroft, hall, gallery and attic storeys, ranging E/W, plus four main half-round bastions, two at N and two at S. At the W end a castellated Regency wing of four storeys in place of a former fifth bastion. The entrance is at the E between a pair of flanking turrets, reached from a raised terrace. The material throughout is irregularly coursed hammer-dressed limestone masonry; the Regency wing recently re-rendered. Crenellated parapets concealing slate roofs. The E entrance elevation has a narrow centre between the turrets, to which a Norman-style doorway with a deep round archway has been added. The doorway rises to its own corbelled and crenellated parapet upon which is the family crest. There are two windows above in Norman style. These are leaded and are the E windows of the chapel. In the attic over the chapel is a single sash window with exposed frame, also round headed. The whole has a raised crenellated parapet on a corbel course, in the local tradition. There are loopholes in the parapet, mostly filled. The flanking turrets have eight-pane sash windows to rooms at hall and gallery levels. The N and S elevations of the older part of the castle are broadly similar. In each case the E bastion is wider than the W bastion; the NE is the widest of all, incorporating a large spiral staircase in its wall thickness. The bastions all rise from spurs, the form at ground level being octagonal. On the S side there is an additional turret at the right of the W bastion, for a staircase. The central part reveals the double height windows of the hall, with the gallery to its E side. The fenestration of this part is now mostly exposed frame sash windows. The hall windows each side are tall fixed lights with transoms and round heads, four panes wide. 12-pane attic windows above, five facing N, four facing S. 12-pane barred or sash windows to the undercroft. In the bastions the windows are of sash type, with two slit windows in the NE. The Regency wing to the W is of four storeys. Crenellated parapet over a corbel table, with concealed roofs behind. Each of the W corners is formed as a slightly projecting three-quarter round turret. The fenestration is regular, with exposed-frame sash windows, apart from some blank panels at W and N. The W elevation is of three windows, the N and S of four. The windows are generally of 12 panes, but 6 panes to the top storey. The windows of the main room facing S are of plate glass, with transoms and round blank heads with Norman style ornament. (Listed Building Report)

The Castle was probably built by Sir John Wogan, who was Justiciar of Ireland between 1295 and 1308. The plan is unusual. The castle has no internal courtyard, and originally the main block was protected by seven projecting circular towers: the two at the east end were linked to form a gatehouse, and the entrance led straight through a portcullis into the undercroft of the hall, a very unusual feature. There was a walled courtyard around the castle but probably no moat. Picton's closest architectural affinities are with a group of Irish castles built in C13- Carlow, Lea and Ferns - but these had four circular towers at the corners of rectangular main blocks instead of seven as at Picton. (Castle of Wales website ? original reference)

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 ReferenceSN010134
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  • King, D.J.C., 1976, ‘Picton Castle’ The 123rd Annual Meeting in South Pembrokeshire, 1976, CAA p. 39-40
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Guide Books

  • 2012, Picton Castle and Gardens (Peterborough: Hudson's Media Ltd) - little on medieval castle
  • n.d., Picton Castle and Woodland Gardens The historic home of the Philipps family_

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1916, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward II (1324-27) Vol. 5 p. 495 online copy
  • Bellaguet, M.L. (ed), 1841, Chronique du religieux de Saint-Denys Vol. 3 p. 324 (c. 1403) online copy