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Ruthin Castle

In the town, Denbighshire, north Wales
SJ 124579

Map link for Ruthin Castle

Drawings and text copyright © by John Northall.

With acknowledgements to The History of Ruthin Castle by Reginald de Hereford, The Royal Commission into Ancient Monuments in Wales, and A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales, Clwyd and Powys by Helen Burnham.

Above: The west gate allowed access into the dry moat separating the upper and lower baileys. A portion of the modern hotel can be seen in the background.

This page is the beginning of a series of essays concerning Ruthin Castle in north Wales. The page you are presently viewing provides a historical context for the castle, a site plan, and a reconstruction drawing, while other linked pages present a timeline for Ruthin along with information and photographs for several other parts of the medieval castle.

Reconstruction Drawing, Description & Site Plan

Ruthin Castle is built on a red sandstone ridge 100 feet above the Clwyd valley, overlooking a strategic river crossing. Judging by the curving moat to the west of the upper bailey, the earliest castle here may have been a motte and bailey. However, the first documented castle was given to Prince Dafydd ap Gruffydd by King Edward in 1277. It was known as Castell Coch yn yr Gwernfor - the red castle in the great marsh - and the redness of its sandstone walls can be seen to this day.

The castle of 1277 consisted of a pentagonal upper bailey that had revetment walls built up the quarried rockfaces of the ridge and was therefore similar to Holt and Whittington castles. The bailey was around 350 feet long by 250 feet wide and the floor level of the buildings was much higher than the ground outside the walls. This was particularly true on the north west side where the land sloped away towards the river. The opposite side of the castle was defended by a deep and broad dry moat.

Revetment walls featured heavily at other Welsh castles such as Dinas Bran, Deganwy and Ewloe and had the advantage that they could not be broken down by siege engines.

Ruthin was improved by its next owner, Reginald de Grey, perhaps when he first took over in 1282 and again in 1295 when the castle was further strengthened and extended. Reginald employed the famous military architect Master James of St George to provide the castle with a twin-towered gatehouse and six round towers, the northern tower incorporating a smaller Welsh one. The walls above the revetments of the upper bailey were 7 to 9 feet thick and rose to a height of 100 feet above the bottom of the moat.

The lower bailey had a drum tower at each corner and its own gate, which had a portcullis, a rounded fighting platform above the entrance and a bridge across the moat towards the river. This outer court was around 240 feet wide by 160 feet long and was overlooked by the main court. The baileys were separated by another deep moat that may have been spanned by a bridge. The current wooden bridge across this moat is not original.

There was a sally port between the two baileys from which defenders could rush into the moat to counterattack their foes at the base of the walls. A spiral stairway leads from this doorway up the side of the adjacent drum tower at the southwestern corner of the upper bailey. A second flight of steps curves around the outside of the tower towards a gateway into the upper bailey.

A similar doorway exists at the base of the northern tower and steps lead from it up through the tower into the apex of the upper bailey. There are also signs that yet another sally port was situated on the opposite side of the castle to the south of the main gate, the remains now hidden in the thick undergrowth against the revetment wall of the eastern moat.

In 1826 a fine house was built over the southeastern quarter of the castle, within both baileys, and it was rebuilt and extended in 1849-52. The house hid many details of the castle's internal buildings but some details of the main hall survive. It was 100 feet long by 40 feet wide and looked out over the Clwyd valley from the west side of the upper bailey.


Additional Essays and photographs for Ruthin Castle by John Northall

Ruthin Castle Upper Bailey page
Ruthin Castle Lower Bailey page
Ruthin Castle Gatehouse page
Ruthin Castle timeline page
View Mr Northall's other contributions to the Castles of Wales web site
Link to the Ruthin Castle Hotel page

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