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Haverfordwest Castle

In the center of town, Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales

Map link for Haverfordwest Castle

All photographs copyright © by John Northall

Below: view of the south side of the inner bailey


Sian Rees 1992

he castle stands on a superb, naturally defensive position at the end of a strong, isolated ridge with a sheer cliff on the east. It was an English foundation, first established by Gilbert de Clare, earl of Pembroke in the mid-12th century, and remained an English stronghold throughout its history. It is first mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis as one of the places he visited in 1188 with Archbishop Baldwin. Of that castle, which must have been of earth and timber, little now survives, except, perhaps for the footings of a large square keep in the north-east corner of the inner ward.

The present form of the castle, divided into two wards, probably reflects that of the original 12th-century castle. The plan is a little difficult to make out as the museum lies in the center of the outer ward, while the former prison governor's house lies on the site of the inner ward gatehouse. The medieval castle was converted to a prison in the 18th century, but the buildings of the inner ward and outer defences can still be appreciated.

Haverfordwest was probably a strong stone castle by 1220, when it withstood an attack by Llywelyn the Great who had already burned the town. It was acquired by Queen Eleanor (wife of Edward I) in 1289, who immediately began building there on a large scale, to judge from the considerable sums of money recorded as being spent on "the Queen's castle at Haverford." Much of the existing masonry is late 13th-century in style and may well have been undertaken during the one year before her death in 1290.

The lofty inner ward has round towers on the north-west and south-west corners, while the south-east corner has a square tower with an additional projecting turret. The entrance lay on the west, protected by a gatehouse of which no trace survives. The remains of a spacious hall lie on the south, with large windows built high enough in the exterior wall to be safe from attack by besiegers equipped with scaling ladders. The south-west and south-east towers have three storeys, the latter with a basement equipped with a postern gate to allow access to a small terrace which could be used to counter-attack during a siege. The wall-walk, carried on a row of corbels on the east of the tower, is a well-preserved feature on the inside, and from the outside of the castle the tower's remaining lights and arrowslits can be seen.

The outer ward has lost much of its medieval defences, but the curtain wall survives, albeit in a very rebuilt form, along with most of the north side, with one small semicircular turret and a square tower further east. An outer gatehouse presumably lay near the present entrance on the west. This was the only side with no natural formidable defence.

In the 14th century the castle was held by a series of owners, including Edward, the Black Prince, from 1359-67. In the hands of the crown from 1381-85, the castle was repaired. It was strong enough to repulse an attack in 1405 during Owain Glyndwr's war of Welsh independence. By the 16th century, however, the castle was derelict, but was hastily re-fortified during the Civil War. A story relates how in 1644 the nervous Royalists abandoned the castle, mistaking a herd of cows on a nearby hill for a Parliamentary army, thus allowing it to fall to Parliament without any resistance! It was later recaptured and held for the king for a year, but finally surrendered after the battle of Colby Moor, just to the west.

Medieval Haverfordwest was defended by town walls around the high ground near the castle, which were later extended as the town rapidly became an important market and trading place. Nothing remains of these town walls, although three medieval churches of Haverfordwest do survive. 



Historical Timeline for Haverfordwest Castle by John Northall

~500 BC ? The high ground overlooking the lowest fordable point on the Western Cleddau was possibly the site of a circular earthwork fort at the end of a ridge. 
~200 AD ?  The Romans occupied West Wales and may have used this strong site which was accessible by ship from the Cleddau Estuary.
1100 Haverfordwest Castle was founded by the Norman knight Gilbert de Chuv and was probably a ringwork and bailey on the site of the old fort.
1107  Flemish mercenaries, who had been part of William the Conquerors army, were rewarded with lands in Pembrokeshire and Haverfordwest became the main town of “Little England Beyond Wales”. 
1188 The Norman cleric Giraldus Cambrensis visited the castle in 1188 when it was still  made of earth and timber. 
~ 1210 ?  The Flemings rebuilt Haverfordwest castle in stone including a rectangular keep that was built down the steep slope outside the castle enclosure. 
1213  Haverfordwest was given a marcher charter from William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke which allowed it to hold markets in the style of an English borough.
1220 Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd, marched south with his army and destroyed many Norman castles but although he took and burned the town of Haverfordwest the castle held out. By this time the castle had probably been developed into a strong stone castle with two wards.
1284  King Edward I and his wife Eleanor of Castile stayed at the castle during a pilgrimage to St Davids cathedral. Eleanor was said to be delighted with its beautiful setting above the river.
1289 Queen Eleanor, who was a wealthy woman in her own right, purchased the castle and turned it into a royal palace.  Large picture windows overlooking the river and down the valley towards the estuary were added to a new hall and solar block within the inner bailey. Eleanor also commanded a garden to be built outside the palace wall.
1359-67 Amongst others, Edward “The Black Prince” occupied the castle.
1381-85  The castle was repaired while in the hands of the crown.
1405 The town was burned by the French allies of Owain Glyndwr but the castle was not taken.
1642 During the English civil war Haverfordwest was hastily repaired and changed hands four times between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. Defending canons were installed on a platform at the edge of the outer bailey and the platform can still be seen.
1648 The Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, ordered the castle to be destroyed to stop the defeated Royalists using it against Parliament. Parts of it were blown up with gunpowder, presumably including the outer gatehouse, outer bailey walls and the inner gatehouse. Several towers on the south east and south west corners survive and a small postern gate in the south east tower allows access to the site of Queen Eleanor's garden. 
1779 The inner bailey, which still retained high walls on three sides, was converted into a prison.
1820 A modern prison building was erected within the flattened outer bailey.
~1985  The truncated remains of the well tower below the queen's garden was destroyed to make a patio for an adjacent local business.
2022 Plans were made for the renovation and protection of the castle remains.



Additional photographs of Haverfordwest Castle

Below: Looking up at the castle over the site of an ancient priory.


View of the square tower at South East corner of inner bailey.

Entrance to Queens Garden from south west tower of inner bailey.  


View of the old keep down slope and round inner bailey tower.


Lodgings located in the inner ward of the castle.


Edge of the old ringwork wall can be seen in the grass.


Great hall to left with cellars and arrow loops beneath.


Palace lodgings from Queens Garden.


View of the Queens Garden and inner bailey seen from the south.


Queens garden add-on.


Looking south over castle lake.


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

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