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Latitude: 51.5361 / 51°32'9"N
Longitude: -3.2545 / 3°15'16"W
OS Eastings: 313082
OS Northings: 182654
OS Grid: ST130826
Mapcode National: GBR HV.GD2K
Mapcode Global: VH6DZ.JNT9
Entry Name: Castell Coch
Source ID: 3377
Cadw Legacy ID: GM206
Schedule Class: Defence
County: Cardiff (Caerdydd)
Built-Up Area: Taff's Well
Traditional County: Glamorgan
This monument comprises the remains of a medieval castle and much later Victorian Gothic-style castle. Situated on a natural ledge of Carboniferous Limestone at the mouth of the Taff gorge, Castell Coch ‘the red castle’ commands a highly visible and defensive position.
The original medieval castle consisted of a substantial earth and timber structure built after the Norman Conquest (1066). Subsequently, in the 13th century the strategic value of the site was to be recognised by the Clare lords of Glamorgan. It was the Clares – probably no later than 1290 – who were to develop the powerful stone fortress over the earlier defences. It is during their tenure of the castle that the only medieval mention of Castell Coch – castrum rubeum or the red castle – appears in 1307.
The fortification of the site began with a massive earthen motte some 34m across the base and about 9.1m high. The later masonry sits atop this earthwork core. On the south side, flanking the hall, are two large round towers – the Kitchen and Keep Towers. Adjoining the south-east tower (Keep Tower) is a rectangular gatehouse and next to this a short stretch of curtain wall leads to a third round tower (Well Tower) on the north-east side. From here, back to the south-west tower (Kitchen Tower) there is a substantial length of curving curtain wall. Following the construction of the earthen motte it seems likely that it was next clad in a masonry ‘apron’ – which covers the otherwise exposed sections of the motte – before the shell keep was raised on top.
It is assumed from structural evidence that the castle was destroyed militarily in the early 14th century, probably during the Welsh rebellions in Glamorgan between 1314 and 1316. Its walls and towers were to decline into almost total obscurity.
It was not until the late Victorian period that a castle at Castell Coch would rise again. In the summer of 1875, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart (1847-1900), third marquess of Bute employed the eccentric genius of William Burges (1827-1881), to create the Gothic fairytale castle that can be seen today.
The Victorian castle comprises three towers with courtyard. Entrance into the castle is via a working drawbridge over the moat. The gatehouse contains a portcullis and double doors which lead onto the courtyard. The courtyard is enclosed by curtain walls which incorporate sections of the original medieval masonry. The Kitchen Tower is raised over two stone-vaulted medieval rooms and contains the kitchen and Lady Margaret’s Bedroom. This room, belonging to the eldest daughter of Lord and Lady Bute, contains a suite of cream furniture based on simplified Burges designs.
The Keep Tower, the tallest and most impressive of the three towers, is built over a vaulted medieval basement. It contains the Drawing Room – a lavish galleried vaulted chamber containing original furnishings. It is dominated by the statues of the Three Fates on the chimney-piece and decorated with scenes from Aesop’s Fables. Above the Drawing Room is Lady Bute’s Bedroom – a sumptuous red and gold domed chamber, decorated with ‘Sleeping Beauty’ imagery containing equally splendid furniture.
Lord Bute’s Bedroom can be found in a room at the top of the gatehouse originally designed to house the winding mechanism for the portcullis and drawbridge. This rather spartan room was converted to a bedroom when the Keep Tower was redesigned. Located between the Kitchen Tower and Keep Tower is the Banqueting Hall – the first of Burges’s ‘Castellan’s rooms’ and the only room to be furnished and decorated before his death in 1881. The walls are decorated with murals depicting the matyrdom of St Lucius and his sister, and family protraits. Below the Banqueting Hall lies the large vaulted chamber of the Lower Hall.
The Well Tower is raised over a stone-vaulted basement and contains the castle’s well. It is likely to be the earliest of the three medieval towers. Originally, a small projecting chapel was constructed at roof level but was later removed. In the basement is the Dungeon – cleverly designed with two small windows from which shafts of light meet at the centre of the floor.
This monument is of national importance for its potential to enhance our knowledge of medieval warfare and castle-building practices and Victorian era Gothic-style architecture. The scheduled area comprises the remains described and an area around them within which related evidence may be expected to survive.
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