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St Clears Castle

aka Banc y Beili

1/2m south of the village, Carmarthenshire, south Wales
SN 281 154

Map link for St Clears Castle

Photographs copyright © 2002 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

The motte-and-bailey castle at St Clears is situated on the junction between the Taf and Cynin rivers, probably at the limit of navigable water for the shallow-draught boats that the Norman settlers would have used. The substantial motte, 8m high and an oval 20m by 10m across its top, lies on the north of the site and is well preserved. The large, rectangular bailey extended 50m south of the motte (as far as the house on the far side of the site). There are reports of stonework being visible on the summit of the motte, suggesting that it carried a masonry structure in its later history.

The castle was probably founded in the late 11th century, judging from the fact that a Cluniac priory was established at St Clears around 1100 and this would almost certainly have been after the foundation of the castle. The early history of the castle is obscure. It may be the castle called Ystrad Cyngen which we know was captured in 1153 by Rhys ap Gruffydd, 'the Lord Rhys' of the south-west royal house of Deheubarth. Giraldus Cambrensis mentions St Clears Castle by name as the home of 12 archers who had murdered a young Welshman who was 'devoutly hastening to meet the archbishop' presumably to offer himself as a crusader. This was a terrible sin and the 12 Englishmen themselves later took the cross an penance. The tables were turned when the Lord Rhys took the castle from the English a year later in 1189 and gave to his son Hywel Sais, but it was recovered by William de Braose II in 1195. In 1215 it was one of the castles taken by Llywelyn the Great during his sweeping campaigns into south Wales, but was in English hands again when William Marshal the younger, earl of Pembroke, took charge. Thereafter it appears to have remained in English hands until the 14th century when decay set in. St Clears does figure briefly in the Glyndwr uprising in 1405, when it was besieged and presumably captured along with the castle at Carmarthen.

Motte and bailey beside river. Stone lime, mortar and ashes were found on top of the motte. (Lhuyd, Paraachialia III, p.52) .The castle was captured in 1153 and 1189 and destroyed in 1215 (Brut y Tywysogion). D.F. Renn

Lockley, "Beside the church (of St. Clears) is the mount of the castle of St. Cleare, Norman knight." And also "Under the Welsh name of Ty Gwyn (White House)" it was visited in 1188 by Giraldus Cambrensis and Archbishop Baldwin, when visiting Ty Gwyn (Whitland), when 'twelve archers of the adjacent castle of St. Clare (St.Clears), who had assassinated a young man, were signed with the cross of Alba Domus as a punishment for their crime'."

Only the mound is now left. It was once part of the possessions of Lord Rhys, but little is known of its history, and it probably never amounted to much after its destruction by Llewelyn the Great, following his taking Carmarthen Castle.

The motte and bailey of Banc y Beili beside the confluence of the Cynin and the Taff at St. Clears is only a mound. It may have been the Ystrad Cyngen dating from 1154 of the Brut y Tywysogion but is of no great importance and apparently was destroyed by L1ywelyn the great in 1213.


Additional Photographs of St. Clears Castle 

The impressive motte & bailey at St Clears viewed from the south.




Additional miscellaneous details about the castle as complied by John Cotton.

The large bailey of St Clears viewed from the summit of the motte.









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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas