Castell Coch

Castell Coch (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈkastɛɬ koːχ]; Welsh for Red Castle) 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 was likely 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.

19th-century Gothic Revival castle in Tongwynlais, Wales

Castell Coch
Tongwynlais, Cardiff, Wales

The main entrance to Castell Coch

Location shown within Cardiff

Castell Coch
Coordinates

51°32′09″N3°15′17″W

Type Gothic revival
Site information
Controlled by Cadw
Condition Intact
Site history
Built Original castle 11th–13th centuries
Rebuilt 1875–91
Built by John Crichton-Stuart
William Burges
In use Open to public
Materials Red sandstone rubble, grey limestone and Pennant sandstone
Events Native Welsh rebellion of 1314
Listed Building – Grade I

John Crichton-Stuart, the 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 reconstruct 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. The Marquess 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.”[1] 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.”[2]

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

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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.[3][4] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6][7] The first castle was probably abandoned after 1093 when the Norman lordship of Glamorgan was created, changing the line of the frontier.[4]

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.[4][3][8]Caerphilly Castle was built to control the new territory and Castell Coch—strategically located between Cardiff and Caerphilly—was reoccupied.[4][8] 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.[3][9] 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.[4] 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.[10][lower-alpha 1]

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.[11][12] Gilbert’s son, also named Gilbert, inherited the property in 1307.[13] He died at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, triggering an uprising of the native Welsh in the region.[13] 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.[13][14]

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