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Pennard Castle

Three Cliff's Bay, Gower Peninsula, south Wales

Map link for Pennard Castle

Photographs copyright © by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Below right: view back through gatehouse from inside the inner ward.

Elisabeth Whittle 1992

Pennard Castle's situation is dramatic and beautiful. It is perched on the edge of the valley of the Pennard Pill, with a sheer drop below to the north and west. From it there is a sweeping view out towards Three Cliffs Bay, and across the valley to Penmaen Burrows. It was a perfect position for a castle, except for one thing which cannot have been foreseen when it was built: it was vulnerable to sand blow. By the end of the 14th century sand encroachment had led to its abandonment.

In the early 12th century Henry de Beaumont, first earl of Warwick, was granted the lordship of Gower, and it was probably he who built the ringwork castle here. It had a bank and ditch around it, and a primitive stone hall. On the opposite side of the valley, at Penmaen, was a very similar castle of the same date. The only traces of this early castle are the footings of the hall at the west end of the courtyard, which was probably added to the ringwork in the early 13th century.

In the late 13th or early 14th century the castle was rebuilt in stone, using local limestone and reddish sandstone, and the present-day ruins are the remains of this castle. It was probably the work of the de Braoses, who held the castle for a while in the 13th century. In 1321 it passed to the de Mowbray family.

The castle is small and rather crudely built, with a curtain wall around a courtyard. It incorporated up-to-date elements such as the twin-towered gatehouse, but they were built in an amateurish way, with little understanding of their real purpose or construction. The circular trace of the curtain wall follows the line of the earlier ringwork bank except on the north side, where the ground falls steeply below. Here the wall is well preserved, standing to battlement height in places, and is particularly impressive from the outside. On the south and west it has almost completely gone. At the west end of the north side it incorporates a small semicircular turret with a single arrowslit facing westwards. The gap to the east of it was probably a garderobe. A square tower, the base of which survives, was added to the outside of the west curtain wall. This appears to have been residential, with splayed windows on the west and south sides.

The only entrance was through the gatehouse on the east side, which consisted of an archway between two half-round towers with square inner sides. The northern side is best preserved; the southern side, except for part of the front wall, is very ruined. The entrance to the passage has a simple portcullis, but the grooves did not reach the ground. Further evidence of lack of understanding of military architecture by the builders are the ineffective arrowslits and two square holes of unknown purpose from the guardrooms to the passage.

A small settlement grew up around the castle, and to its east a solitary section of wall is all that is left of St. Mary's church, abandoned in 1532. Castle, village and church were all overwhelmed by sand.

Below: An impressive section of curtain wall overlooks Three Cliffs Bay.



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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas