Ruined Castles - Wales
The last of the great Edwardian castles to be built
I built a string of castles around North Wales to stamp his
power and authority over the region. All were designed by
James of St George and reflect state of the art military
design. Beaumaris, the last castle to be built, was the
biggest and most ambitious venture he undertook. Built on
flat marshy land by the Menai Strait, it needed to be well
fortified. It is regarded as the most technically perfect
castle with moat and two concentric lines of walls and
towers with massive gatehouses. It would have been virtually
The gate next-the-sea entrance protected the tidal dock which allowed supply ships to sail right up to the castle.
Unfortunately money ran out before it was finished. 600 years on, it is still as impressive as ever, and a World Heritage Site.
Beaumaris Castle was built in response to a rebellion by Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294. The local population were moved to a new settlement of Newborough and Edward began to build Beaumaris Castle and establish an English town under its protection. Native Welsh residents were not allowed to purchase houses or land within the borough and were disqualified from holding any civic office. There was also a requirement that all trade be conducted at Beaumaris, making it the main commercial centre of Anglesey.
Work began in 1295 with an average of 1,800 workmen, 450 stonemasons and 375 quarriers on the site. The wage bill was around £270 a week and the project rapidly fell into arrears. Workers were paid with leather tokens instead of normal coinage. Construction slowed as debts began to rise. Work stopped in 1300, when around £11,000 had been spent. Edward's invasion of Scotland was diverting funding from the project. Work only recommencing after an invasion scare in 1306. When work finally ceased around 1330 a total of £15,000 had been spent. A royal survey in 1343 suggested that at least a further £684 would be needed to complete the castle, but this was never invested.
Beaumaris Castle was taken by Welsh forces in 1403 during the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion, the last of the Welsh uprisings. It was recaptured two years later. The castle was poorly maintained and in a state of disrepair by 1534.
During the Civil War, Beaumaris Castle held a strategic location as it controlled part of the route between the King’s bases in Ireland and his operations in England. The castle was held by forces loyal to Charles I, and money was spent to improve its defences. It held out until 1646 when it surrendered to the Parliamentary armies. The castle escaped slighting as Parliament was concerned about the threat of a Royalist invasion from Scotland and it continued to be garrisoned by Parliamentary troops.
After the restoration of the monarchy, the castle was no longer needed. Lead was stripped from the roofs and it was left to fall into ruin. In 1807, Lord Thomas Bulkeley bought the castle from the Crown for £735, incorporating it into the park that surrounded his local residence, Baron Hill. By now Victorians were beginning to visit romantic ivy clad ruins and Beaumaris Castle was visited by the future Queen Victoria in 1832 for an Eisteddfod festival. In 1923 the castle was placed in the care of the Commission for Works who carried out a major restoration project, stripping back the vegetation, digging out the moat and repairing stonework. Now it is under the care of CADW.
The castle is reached across a bridge over the moat and through the Gate Next the Sea with two massive towers and heavily defended with murder holes and portcullis. Stairs inside the towers lead to the wall walk round the outer wall.
The inner defensive wall is taller and much more substantial with larger towers. The area between the two walls would have been a real killing zone.
The inner wall has two massive gateways, both offset from the gateways through the outer walls. These were intended to be two stories high and include the state rooms. Neither were completed. Now they are roofless shells.
There is a series of wall passages through the walls with small rooms and latrines. Steps in the towers give access to the wall walk with its splendid views of the castle and town.
The inner ward was huge as it was designed to hold the domestic buildings. Nothing is left of them and it is unknown how many of these buildings were ever built or finished. Remains of fire places can be seen on the walls.
The chapel, built on the first floor of the Chapel tower, was designed to be used by the King rather than the garrison.
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