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Picton Castle

3 1/2m SE of Havorfordwest, Pembrokeshire, south Wales
Map link for Picton Castle

Text and photographs used with permission by the Picton Castle Trust,
with all rights reserved.

 

History of Picton Castle

Until the late 11th century south-west Wales formed part of a Welsh kingdom named
Deheubarth which was ruled by Rhys ap Tewdwr. About Easter 1093 he was killed in battle near Brecon by Normans, who then undertook a general invasion of South Wales. As part of this drive a castle was established at Pembroke to provide a base for the reduction of this area, but progress was slow and uncertain, and in 1108 Henry I attempted to bolster up the process of colonisation by settling Flemings in Rhos and Deugleddau (the area around Haverfordwest). One of the Flemish leaders, Wizo, established a barony centered on his castle at Wiston, some three miles to the north of Picton, and then began granting out estates to his knightly followers. It must have been about this time that the first castle was built at Picton.

 

     

 

The early lords of Picton were obscure men whose names have not survived. There is some possibility that their castle was situated upon a mound a couple of hundred yards east of the present building, but even this has not been established with certainty. What is certain is that by the end of the 13th century Picton was in the hands of the Wogans, barons of Wiston, though whether this had happened through failure of male heirs and regrant to a cadet of the Wogan family or through the marriage of an heiress to one of the Wogans, is unknown. The Wogan line of Picton ended in an heiress who married Owain Dwnn, and the Dwnns in turn ended in an heiress, Jane, who in the late 15th century married Sir Thomas Philipps of Cilsant, esquire to the body of Henry VII. The Cilsant family, which held extensive lands in West Carmarthenshire was descended from a late 11th-century magnate named Cadifor Fawr. Cadifor's great-grandson, Aaron ap Rhys, took part in the Third Crusade, became a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, and is said to have added the golden collar and chain to the back of the lion rampart which is the insignia of the Philipps family. The Philippses have held Picton Castle since the days of Sir Thomas. When, in 1611, James I wanted to raise money to meet the cost of keeping his army in Ireland he hit upon the idea of selling baronetcies (hereditary knighthoods). Sir John Philipps bought one at a cost of L1,095. The sum was supposed to cover the cost of keeping 30 soldiers in Ireland for a period of 3 years. In 1776 Sir Richard Philipps, 7th bart., was created Lord Milford, a title currently held by Wogan Philipps, elder brother of the Honourable Hanning Philipps of Picton.

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 the 13th century - Carlow, Lea and Ferns - but these had four circular towers at the corners of rectangular main blocks instead of seven as at Picton. A 1740 print by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck (shown at right) shows slit windows with trefoil heads on the north-east tower which were characteristic of the period about 1300.

Big traceried windows replaced smaller ones in the hall about 1400, and a grand recessed arch containing a large window was built in the gatehouse. These features disappeared during the course of the 18th-century alterations but may be seen in Buck's print. In 1697 Sir John Philipps, 4th bart., pulled down part of the curtain wall, built the terrace and created a main entrance at first-floor level. He also built an extra storey above the great hall, altered some windows and probably wainscotted some of the rooms. Sir John Philipps, 6th bart., remodelled the interior of the castle in 1749-52. It was completely redecorated above basement level, and had new plasterwork, panelling and joinery floors, sash windows and at least four marbled fireplaces.

 

Below left: The modern Great Hall at Picton Castle
Photograph copyright by Jeremy Philipps

     

 

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the Philippses of Picton Castle were the most powerful family in Pembrokeshire, exercising tremendous political, social and economic influence over all aspects of local life. They has vast estates, were prominent philanthropists (being particularly notable supporters of the Charity School movement), and for generations supplied Pembrokeshire with sheriffs, justices of the peace, deputy lieutenants, lords lieutenants and members of Parliament. In consequence, Picton Castle was once the home to Philipps family and a substantial number of friends and servants, a centre of squirearchal government, and a focus of local social and cultural life, functions which it has retained in some measure to the present day. The castle is now owned by the Picton Castle Trust.

 

Visit the official Picton Castle web site for additional information

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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas