Home | Main Menu | Castle Index | Historical Essays | Related Essays | What's New | Links

Caergwrle Castle

On a hill above the town, Flintshire, northeast Wales
SJ 307 572

Map link for Caergwrle Castle

Photographs, castle plan drawing and commentary
copyright 2005 by John Northall

Above: view of the ruined keep at Caergwrle Castle and the surrounding countryside.

Below: The north-east tower was demolished when the castle was slighted
but has survived better than the rest.


King 1974; Manley 1994

The masonry castle, on the highest point of the hill, was probably first built by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, in lands given him by Edward I after the first Welsh campaign of 1277, in recognition of his help in their capture from his brother Llywelyn. Its architecture reflects Dafydd's divided loyalties, with English elements incorporated into a basically Welsh pattern. A single curtain wall, which survives on the east, is fronted by a substantial ditch with an outer counterscarp bank; there are towers, with blunt apses of English pattern, on the north and south-east and a round keep at the south. Openings for latrines at first floor level can been seen in the curtain to the west of the north tower, and unusually, two large holes in the west wall of the tower itself contained timber beams supporting the canopy of an internal fireplace. The south-east tower, again unusually, apparently had a living chamber at ground level, and its poor defensive position offers inadequate cover to the eastern curtain. There is no evidence of defences of the precipitous west, although this side has probably been damaged by quarrying. It is uncertain where the entrance lay, although one on the north-west seems likely.

Note: John Northall believes that the castle's main gate was likely located at the northwest corner of the castle. He makes the following statements and presents the following two photographs below as evidence.

"Looking west from the broken end of the northern enclosure wall at the probable site of the main gate. The protection afforded by the steep western slope of the hill is obvious."

"The mound that supported the bridge can be seen in the moat to the north of the main gate. The curving outer bank of the iron-age hillfort is to the left of the outer castle bank."

The castle, although probably not complete, was sufficiently well defended by 1282 to provide a base for Dafydd's attack on the English garrison at Hawarden, which sparked Edward's second Welsh campaign. When the English reached Caergwrle in June 1282, the retreating Welsh had damaged the castle and filled in the well; expensive refurbishments, apparently largely in timber, were nonetheless put in hand. The following year Edward gave the castle, probably still unfinished, to his queen Eleanor, but it burnt down six months later. The shell, which had outlived its strategic purpose, passed to their son Edward of Caernarfon. It was granted in 1308 to John of Cromwell on condition that he repair it, but by 1335 it was nonetheless ruinous.

John Northall, who has been studying, exploring and documenting Welsh castles for many years, takes issue with historians who have failed to perhaps take a closer look at the design and layout of Caergwrle Castle. While it is true that castles with both Welsh and English building elements can present considerable challenges to the historian (Criccieth, Dolforwyn), today we are beginning to understand that Welsh-built castles were perhaps better constructed and better designed than credited in the past. As a result, certain Welsh castles that were previously dismissed as weak or of poor design, are today being reevaluated as new archaeological evidence comes to light. JLT.

In regards to Caergwrle Castle, Mr. Northall feels that:

"The position of the main gateway has often been given as being adjacent to the southeastern side of the north apsidal tower, but this is almost certainly incorrect. The earthen causeway across the moat at that point is much weaker than the surrounding earthworks and it may have been constructed in Victorian times when castle visiting became a popular pastime for the well-off. There is a well on the inside of the supposed gateway at that point and there are no signs of any gate passage in the remaining masonry."

"The millstone grit that the north-western curtain wall stood on has been entirely quarried away but the earthworks give a clear pointer as to the location of the main gate. The gate was probably situated at the north-western corner of the castle where there is a detached mound in the middle of the ditch to support a wooden bridge across the moat. A similar arrangement can be seen at Dinas Bran and there is no other reason for a carefully constructed detached mound to be in the middle of a wide ditch. The approach to the bridge would have been along the broad outer bank in full view of the castle defences, again as at Dinas Bran."


Additional photographs of Caergwrle Castle

Looking east from the site of the keep, a large oven can be seen in the corner
formed by the south curtain wall and south-east tower.

 

A substantial part of the south curtain wall remains between the south-eastern tower and the keep.

The site often given for the main gate is obstructed by the recently excavated well.
The stone footings for a wooden hall can be seen running towards the well in the centre foreground.

 

A small room that housed one of the latrines stands within the top of the curtain wall
to the left of the remains of a spiral stairway.

 

The keep stood upon the rocky boss to the right of the picture and the oven can be seen
towards the left adjacent to the curtain wall.

 

The hillfort bank runs around the edge of the hill within the trees.

 

The remains of a fireplace in the castle.

 

The curved south-eastern tower projected out from the south curtain wall
to give covering fire along its outer face.

 

The two rectangular holes in the inside face of the north-east tower once supported a hood around the fireplace.

 

The curtain wall was provided with an external buttress between the north-east and south-east
towers which may have supported a turret.There are traces of a similar arrangement at Deganwy.

 

A substantial earthen bank was placed in the northern ditch, presumably to carry
a wooden access bridge to the (now demolished) main gate to the right of the tower.

 

View Mr. Northall's other contributions to the Castles of Wales web site

Home | Main Menu | Castle Index | Historical Essays | Related Essays | What's New | Links

Copyright 2009 John Northall and the Castles of Wales Website