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Oxwich Castle

Gower Peninsula, south Wales

Map link for Oxwich Castle

Photographs copyright © 1996 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

he magnificent Tudor mansion created by Sir Rice Mansel and his son Edward stands on a headland above the wide sweep of Oxwich Bay. The house is known as Oxwich Castle, and there indeed appears to have been an earlier true stronghold on the site. Philip Mansel is recorded as holding the site in 1459. However, the remains we see today are best regarded as those of a mock-fortified manor house, with clear evidence of sumptuous accommodation, and raised during the peaceful and prosperous years of the 16th century.

The Mansels were one of a number of minor gentry families in south Wales who gained in power, prestige and property under the Tudor monarchs. The growth of this powerful gentry class, whose lifestyle resembled that of earlier feudal magnates is reflected in the appearance of similar manor houses throughout south Wales. Beaupre in the Vale of Glamorgan, for example, was another Mansel house, and Sir Richard Williams created an imposing mansion in part of the former abbey at Neath.

As completed, Oxwich was arranged around an enclosed courtyard with some military pretension. It was entered through a showy gateway, and, typical of the period, was emblazoned with the arms of Sir Rice Mansel. Within, there are two adjacent ranges of buildings which appear to have been designed independently, each capable of functioning as a household in its own right.

 We know from the antiquarian, Rice Merrick, writing about 1578, that Oxwich was built partly by Sir Rice Mansel and was "lately re-edified or repaired" by his son, Sir Edward. The work perhaps extended over a period of about sixty years, between 1520 and 1580. Surviving architectural details suggest that the two-story southern range and gateway were the work of Sir Rice, probably around 1520-38. The east range was designed and built on an altogether much grander scale by Sir Edward, perhaps about 1559-80. Central to the house was an impressive two-story hall with an elegant long gallery above. Three tower-like projections to the rear of the building provided very extensive, and almost tenement-like accommodation.

By 1632, Oxwich had been leased as a residence. The Mansels' principal seat had become Margam, where the house built by Sir Rice had been further developed. Gradually, the east range at Oxwich fell into disrepair, though the south range continued in use as a farmhouse. In 1949, Oxwich was rescued from demolition by Lady Apsley and placed into State care. After a long program of conservation and reconstruction, it is now maintained by Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments.

Oxwich Castle, Diane M. Williams, Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, Cardiff, 1995.

Additional photographs of Oxwich Castle

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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas