Castell Coch

Castell Coch (Welsh for 'Red Castle'; Welsh pronunciation: [ˈkas.tɛɬ koːχ]) is a 19th-century Gothic Revival castle built above the village of Tongwynlais in South Wales. The first castle on the site was built by the Normans after 1081 to protect the newly conquered town of Cardiff and control the route along the Taff Gorge. Abandoned shortly afterwards, the castle's earth motte was reused by Gilbert de Clare as the basis for a new stone fortification, which he built between 1267 and 1277 to control his freshly annexed Welsh lands. This castle may have been destroyed in the native Welsh rebellion of 1314. In 1760, the castle ruins were acquired by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, as part of a marriage settlement that brought the family vast estates in South Wales.

John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, inherited...Read more

Castell Coch (Welsh for 'Red Castle'; Welsh pronunciation: [ˈkas.tɛɬ koːχ]) is a 19th-century Gothic Revival castle built above the village of Tongwynlais in South Wales. The first castle on the site was built by the Normans after 1081 to protect the newly conquered town of Cardiff and control the route along the Taff Gorge. Abandoned shortly afterwards, the castle's earth motte was reused by Gilbert de Clare as the basis for a new stone fortification, which he built between 1267 and 1277 to control his freshly annexed Welsh lands. This castle may have been destroyed in the native Welsh rebellion of 1314. In 1760, the castle ruins were acquired by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, as part of a marriage settlement that brought the family vast estates in South Wales.

John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, inherited the castle in 1848. One of Britain's wealthiest men, with interests in architecture and antiquarian studies, he employed the architect William Burges to rebuild the castle, "as a country residence for occasional occupation in the summer", using the medieval remains as a basis for the design. Burges rebuilt the outside of the castle between 1875 and 1879, before turning to the interior; he died in 1881 and the work was finished by Burges's remaining team in 1891. Bute reintroduced commercial viticulture into Britain, planting a vineyard just below the castle, and wine production continued until the First World War. He made little use of his new retreat, and in 1950 his grandson, the 5th Marquess of Bute, placed it into the care of the state. It is now controlled by the Welsh heritage agency Cadw.

Castell Coch's external features and the High Victorian interiors led the historian David McLees to describe it as "one of the greatest Victorian triumphs of architectural composition." The exterior, based on 19th-century studies by the antiquarian George Clark, is relatively authentic in style, although its three stone towers were adapted by Burges to present a dramatic silhouette, closer in design to mainland European castles such as Chillon than native British fortifications. The interiors were elaborately decorated, with specially designed furniture and fittings; the designs include extensive use of symbolism drawing on classical and legendary themes. Joseph Mordaunt Crook wrote that the castle represented "the learned dream world of a great patron and his favourite architect, recreating from a heap of rubble a fairy-tale castle which seems almost to have materialised from the margins of a medieval manuscript."

The surrounding Castell Coch beech woods contain rare plant species and unusual geological features and are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

11th–14th centuries  Julius Caesar Ibbetson's 1808 painting of the medieval ruins, based on his 1792 watercolour

The first castle on the Castell Coch site was probably built after 1081, during the Norman invasion of Wales.[1][2] It formed one of a string of eight fortifications intended to defend the newly conquered town of Cardiff and control the route along the Taff Gorge.[2] It took the form of a raised, earth-work motte, about 35 metres (115 ft) across at the base and 25 metres (82 ft) on the top, protected by the surrounding steep slopes.[3] The 16th-century historian Rice Merrick claimed that the castle was built by the Welsh lord Ifor ap Meurig, but there are no records of this phase of the castle's history and modern historians doubt this account.[4][5] The first castle was probably abandoned after 1093 when the Norman lordship of Glamorgan was created, changing the line of the frontier.[2]

In 1267, Gilbert de Clare, who held the Lordship of Glamorgan, seized the lands around the town of Senghenydd in the north of Glamorgan from their native Welsh ruler.[2][1][6] Caerphilly Castle was built to control the new territory and Castell Coch—strategically located between Cardiff and Caerphilly—was reoccupied.[2][6] A new castle was built in stone around the motte, comprising a shell-wall, a projecting circular tower, a gatehouse and a square hall above an undercroft.[1][7] The north-west section of the walls was protected by a talus and the sides of the motte were scarped to increase their angle, all producing a small but powerful fortification.[2] Further work followed between 1268 and 1277, which added two large towers, a turning-bridge for the gatehouse and further protection to the north-west walls.[8][a]

On Gilbert's death, the castle passed to his widow Joan and around this time it was referred to as Castrum Rubeum, Latin for "the Red Castle", probably after the colour of the Red sandstone defences.[10][11] Gilbert's son, also named Gilbert, inherited the property in 1307.[12] He died at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, triggering an uprising of the native Welsh in the region.[12] Castell Coch was probably destroyed by the rebels in July 1314, and possibly slighted to put it beyond any further use; it was not rebuilt and the site was abandoned.[12][13]

15th–19th centuries Bute ownership  William Burges's plans for the reconstruction, showing the surviving medieval features (bottom) and his intentions for the new building (top)

Castell Coch remained derelict; the antiquarian John Leland, visiting around 1536, described it as "all in ruin, no big thing but high".[12] The artist and illustrator Julius Caesar Ibbetson painted the castle in 1792, depicting substantial remains and a prominent tower, with a lime kiln in operation alongside the fortification.[14][15] Stone from the castle may have been robbed and used to feed the kilns during this period.[16] A similar view was sketched by an unknown artist in the early 19th century, showing more trees around the ruins; a few years later, Robert Drane recommended the site as a place for picnics and noted its abundance in wild garlic.[15][17][18]

The ruins were acquired by the Earls of Bute in 1760, when John Stuart, the 3rd Earl and, from 1794, the 1st Marquess, married Lady Charlotte Windsor, adding her estates in South Wales to his inheritance.[19] John's grandson, John Crichton-Stuart, developed the Cardiff Docks in the first half of the 19th century; although the docks were not especially profitable, they opened opportunities for the expansion of the coal industry in the South Wales valleys, making the Bute family extremely wealthy.[19][20] The 2nd Marquess carried out exploration for iron ore at Castell Coch in 1827 and considered establishing an ironworks there.[21]

The 3rd Marquess of Bute, another John Crichton-Stuart, inherited the castle and the family estates as a child in 1848.[22][23] On his coming of age, Bute's landed estates and industrial inheritance made him one of the wealthiest men in the world.[24] He had a wide range of interests including archaeology, theology, linguistics and history.[24] Interest in medieval architecture increased in Britain during the 19th century, and in 1850 the antiquarian George Clark surveyed Castell Coch and published his findings, the first major scholarly work about the castle.[15] The ruins were covered in rubble, ivy, brushwood and weeds; the keep had been largely destroyed and the gatehouse was so covered with debris that Clark failed to discover it.[15][25] Nonetheless, Clark considered the external walls "tolerably perfect" and advised that the castle be conserved, complete with the ivy-covered stonework.[26]

In 1871, Bute asked his chief Cardiff engineer, John McConnochie, to excavate and clear the castle ruins.[27][b] The report on the investigations was produced by William Burges, an architect with an interest in medieval architecture[27] who had met Bute in 1865. The Marquess subsequently employed him to redevelop Cardiff Castle in the late 1860s, and the two men became close collaborators.[28][29] Burges's lavishly illustrated report, which drew extensively on Clark's earlier work, laid out two options: either conserve the ruins or rebuild the castle to create a house for occasional occupation in the summer.[30][31][32][33] On receipt of the report, Bute commissioned Burges to rebuild Castle Coch in a Gothic Revival style.[30][31]

Reconstruction  Reconstruction of the castle in 1875, with a temporary bridge across the ditch (left) and the ruined Well Tower (right)

The reconstruction of Castell Coch was delayed until 1875, because of the demands of work at Cardiff Castle and an unfounded concern by the Marquess's trustees that he was facing bankruptcy.[34] On commencement, the Kitchen Tower, Hall Block and shell wall were rebuilt first, followed by the Well Tower and the Gatehouse, and the Keep Tower last.[35][31] Burges's drawings for the proposed rebuilding survive at the Bute seat of Mount Stuart.[32] The drawings were supplemented by a large number of wooden and plaster models, from smaller pieces to full-size models of furniture.[36][c]

The bulk of the external work was complete by the end of 1879. The result closely followed Burges's original plans, with the exception of an additional watch tower intended to resemble a minaret, and some defensive timber hoardings, both of which were not undertaken.[31][35][38] Clark continued to advise Burges on historical aspects of the reconstruction and the architect tested the details of proposed features, such as the drawbridge and portcullis, against surviving designs at other British castles.[39][40]

This concludes the survey of the ruins and my conjectural restoration. As for the latter I must claim your indulgence; for the knowledge of the military architecture of the Middle Ages is a long way from being as advanced as the knowledge of either domestic or ecclesiastical architecture. It is true that Viollet le Duc and Mr. G.T. Clark have taught us a great deal, but we are still very far behind hand and the restoration I have attempted will I hope be judged according to the measure of what is known or ought to be known.

—Extract from the report of William Burges on Castell Coch.[41]

Burges's team of craftsmen at Castell Coch included many who had worked with him at Cardiff Castle and elsewhere.[42] John Chapple, his office manager, designed most of the furnishings and furniture,[42] and William Frame acted as clerk of works.[42] Horatio Lonsdale was Burges's chief artist, painting extensive murals at the castle.[42] His main sculptor was Thomas Nicholls, together with another long-time collaborator, the Italian sculptor Ceccardo Fucigna.[42]

Stimulated by antiquarian writings about British viticulture, Bute decided to reintroduce commercial grape vines into Britain in 1873.[43] He sent his gardener Andrew Pettigrew to France for training and planted a 1.2-hectare (3-acre) vineyard just beneath the castle in 1875.[43][44] The first harvests were poor and the initial harvest in 1877 produced only 240 bottles.[45][46] Punch magazine claimed that any wine produced would be so unpleasant that "it would take four men to drink it—two to hold the victim and one to pour the wine down his throat".[44][46][47] By 1887, the output was 3,000 bottles of sweet white wine of reasonable quality.[47][48][49] Bute persevered, commercial success followed and 40 hogsheads of wine, including a red varietal using Gamay grapes, were produced annually by 1894 to positive reviews.[47][48][49][50]

Burges died in 1881 after catching a severe chill during a site visit to the castle.[51][d] His brother-in-law, the architect Richard Pullan, took over the commission and delegated most of the work to Frame, who directed the work on the interior until its completion in 1891.[53][51] Bute and his wife Gwendolen were consulted over the details of the interior decoration; replica family portraits based on those at Cardiff were commissioned to hang on the walls.[54][55] Clark approved of the result, commenting in 1884 that the restoration was in "excellent taste".[56] An oratory originally built on the roof of the Well Tower was removed before 1891 but in other respects the completed castle was left unaltered.[57]

The castle was not greatly used; the Marquess rarely visited after its completion.[53] The property had probably only been intended for limited, informal use, for example as a retreat following picnics. Although it had reception rooms suitable for large gatherings, it had only three bedrooms and was too far from Cardiff for casual visits.[58][34][e] The restored castle initially received little interest from the architectural community, possibly because the total rebuilding of the castle ran counter to the increasingly popular late-Victorian philosophy of conserving older buildings and monuments.[60]

20th–21st centuries  The courtyard

Bute died in 1900 and his widow, the Marchioness, was given a life interest in Castell Coch; during her mourning, she and her daughter, Lady Margaret Crichton-Stuart, occupied the castle and made occasional visits thereafter.[53][61] Production in the castle vineyards ceased during the First World War due to the shortages of the sugar needed for the fermentation process, and in 1920 the vineyards were uprooted.[47] John, the 4th Marquess, acquired the castle in 1932 but made little use of it.[58] He also began to reduce the family's investments in South Wales.[62] The coal trade had declined after 1918 and industry had suffered during the depression of the 1920s;[63][64] by 1938, the great majority of the family interests, including the coal mines and docks, had been sold off or nationalised.[62]

The 5th Marquess of Bute, another John, succeeded in 1947 and, in 1950, he placed the castle in the care of the Ministry of Works. The Marquess also disposed of Cardiff Castle, which he gave to the city, removing the family portraits from the castle before doing so. In turn, the paintings in Castell Coch were removed by the ministry and sent to Cardiff,[55] the National Museum of Wales providing alternatives from their collection for Castell Coch.[55] Academic interest in the property grew, with publications in the 1950s and 1960s exploring its artistic and architectural value.[65] Since 1984, the property has been administered by Cadw, an agency of the Welsh Government, and is open to the public; it typically receives between 50,000 and 75,000 visits per year; this number dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 23,095 people visited in 2021.[66][f] The Drawing Room is available for wedding ceremonies.[70]

The castle has been used as a location for filming several films and television programmes, including The Black Knight (1954), Sword of the Valiant (1984), The Worst Witch (1998), Wolf Hall (2015) and Doctor Who (several episodes).[71][72][73][74]

The castle's exposed position causes it to suffer from penetrating damp and periodic restoration work has been necessary.[54][75] The stone tiles on the roof were replaced by slate in 1972, a major programme was carried out on the Keep in 2007 and interior conservation work was undertaken in 2011 to address problems in Lady Bute's Bedroom, where damp had begun to damage the finishings.[54][75][76][77] The original furnishings, many of which the Marquess removed in 1950, have mostly been recovered and returned to their original locations in the castle.[53] Two stained-glass panels from the demolished chapel, lost since 1901, were rediscovered at an auction in 2010 and were bought by Cadw for £125,000 in 2011.[78]

^ a b c Newman 1995, p. 315. ^ a b c d e f g Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, p. 106. ^ Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, pp. 105–106. ^ McLees 2005, p. 5. ^ Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, pp. 106, 110. ^ a b Davies 2006, p. 282. ^ Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, pp. 106–107. ^ Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, pp. 107–108. ^ McLees 2005, p. 8. ^ Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, p. 105. ^ McLees 2005, p. 7. ^ a b c d Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, p. 108. ^ McLees 2005, pp. 10–11. ^ Rousham 1985, p. 2. ^ a b c d Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, p. 110. ^ McLees 2005, p. 11. ^ Brown 2011, pp. 71–72. ^ Floud 1954, p. 4. ^ a b McLees 2005, p. 13. ^ Davies 1981, p. 272. ^ Davies 1981, p. 221. ^ Hannah 2012, p. 4. ^ McLees 2005, p. 14. ^ a b Crook 2013, p. 231. ^ Clark 1884, pp. 360–364. ^ Clark 1884, pp. 362, 364. ^ a b Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, p. 112. ^ McLees 2005, p. 3. ^ Redknap 2002, p. 13. ^ a b Redknap 2002, pp. 12–13. ^ a b c d Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2000, p. 113. ^ a b Brown 2011, p. 74. ^ McLees 2005, p. 22. ^ a b McLees 2005, p. 24. ^ a b Brown 2011, p. 75. ^ Williams 2003, p. 271. ^ Williams 2003, pp. 269, 271. ^ Floud 1954, p. 7. ^ McLees 2005, p. 38. ^ Floud 1954, pp. 7, 9. ^ Jones 2005, p. 52. ^ a b c d e McLees 2005, pp. 54–55. ^ a b Pettigrew 1926, pp. 26, 28. ^ a b Lilwall-Smith 2005, p. 239. ^ Carradice 2014. ^ a b Pettigrew 1926, p. 31. ^ a b c d Cite error: The named reference WalesOnline was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ a b Davies 1981, p. 141. ^ a b Bunyard & Thomas 1906, p. 251. ^ Saintsbury 2008, p. 293. ^ a b Williams 2003, p. 272. ^ Misselbrook 2001, p. 10. ^ a b c d McLees 2005, p. 31. ^ a b c Kightly 2005, p. 77. ^ a b c Floud 1954, p. 13. ^ Clark 1884, p. 364. ^ Brown 2011, p. 7. ^ a b Floud 1954, p. 18. ^ Garnett 2003, pp. 32, 35. ^ Brown 2011, pp. 68–71, 75–76. ^ Williams 2003, p. 276. ^ a b Benham 2001, p. 2. ^ Jenkins 2002, pp. 26, 33. ^ Nicholas 1872, p. 461. ^ Brown 2011, pp. 75–76. ^ a b Davies & Pillsworth 2022, p. 48. ^ Davies 2022, p. 61. ^ McAllister 2020, p. 44. ^ McAllister 2018, p. 39. ^ Cite error: The named reference cadw.gov.wales1 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Creighton & Higham 2003, p. 65. ^ "Children explore and film crews roam where once wizards walked". Wales Online. 27 March 2013. ^ "14 Doctor Who locations that were recycled for new episodes". Radio Times. 4 March 2016. ^ McCrum, Kirstie (21 January 2015). "Find Wolf Hall in Wales with location guide that includes 4 our of awe-inspiring castles". Wales Online. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference CaseStudy was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Cite error: The named reference cadw.wales.gov.uk2 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Cite error: The named reference report was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Carradice, Phil (1 April 2011). "Burges' Stained Glass Panels Return Home to Castell Coch". BBC Wales. Archived from the original on 13 March 2015. Retrieved 22 March 2015.


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