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Dolwyddelan Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Dolwyddelan, Conwy

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Latitude: 53.0531 / 53°3'11"N

Longitude: -3.9085 / 3°54'30"W

OS Eastings: 272178

OS Northings: 352353

OS Grid: SH721523

Mapcode National: GBR 5Z.CR1N

Mapcode Global: WH553.XJZ8

Entry Name: Dolwyddelan Castle

Scheduled Date:

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 3406

Cadw Legacy ID: CN040

Schedule Class: Defence

Category: Castle

Period: Medieval

County: Conwy

Community: Dolwyddelan

Traditional County: Caernarfonshire


The native Welsh castle of Dolwyddelan stands on a small rocky knoll on the southern slopes of Moel Siabod. It overlooks the Lledr Valley and guards the old road from Nant Conwy to Meirionydd which ascends from the valley at this point. The castle consists of two towers connected by a curtain wall enclosing a courtyard. The buildings are all of local grit and slate rubble. The well-preserved appearance of the earlier SE tower or keep is due to re-occupation at the end of the 15th century and extensive restorations in the mid-19th century.

There is a tradition that the castle is the birthplace of Llywelyn Fawr. His father Iorwerth Trwyndwn was granted the commote of Nant Conwy upon the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170: it is possible therefore that the earliest work of the keep does date from the late 12th century. The castle was completed during the next century and during the English war was the royal residence of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. It fell to the English in January 1283, and was immediately rearmed. There is a record of the appointment of a constable in 1284, who was still in office in 1290, but its isolated site far from the sea resulted in its being soon abandoned. The castle was re-occupied for a short time at the end of the 15th century by Maredudd ab Ieuan, who acquired the lease in 1488 and added a second floor to the keep. In the middle of the 19th century the keep was restored by Lord Willoughby de Eresby. In 1930 the building was placed under the guardianship of the Ministry of Works.

Architectural description. - The keep is entered on its first floor by a flight of stone steps leading up from the courtyard to a door in the NW wall which was covered by a fore-building, now very ruined. This contained a small pit crossed by a drawbridge which could be raised against the door. The doorway has a deep chamfer continuous round the segmentally arched head. The 12th-century building was of one main floor, with a basement (now inaccessible) reached by a trap-door. The NW and SE walls of this period mostly survive, and the line of the original steeply-pitched gable can still be traced on the SW inner face, but much of the outside of this wall was completely rebuilt in the 19th century, apparently on the old plan.

The NE gable wall probably incorporates a little 12th-century masonry at the base but most of it must be the work of Lord Willoughby. It is possible however that the doorway to the mural stair, and the lower steps, are actually the work of Maredudd, although no trace remains of a door giving access to the second floor added by him.

The entrance floor, a single apartment, is lighted by three windows, two in the SE wall and one SW of the door. Each has window seats set in wide embrasures with deep roughly pointed rear-arches formed of thin slabs. The fireplace in the centre of the SE wall is mostly modern, but its back is old.

The late 15th-century second floor, which was not replaced during the 19th-century restorations, was lighted by three windows. That in the SW wall has a slab lintel, and breaks the line of the 12th-century gable. Those in the NW and SE walls have arched heads, perhaps 19th-century replacements of lintels.

The outworks consist of rock-cut ditches on the W and E; these were not needed on the S side, where the ground falls precipitously. To the NW, there is a wide marshy area partly caused by the damming of a small stream by the causeway carrying the old road. The original entrance crossed the E ditch on the line of the present approach.

The 13th-century curtain wall, 4ft 6 ins to 5ft 6ins thick, is very ruined, but still stands to a height of about 8ft near the junction with the S wall of the keep. The main gateway was on the NE near the NW tower; but there was another opening through the same wall near the keep.

One jamb of a loop exists in the best preserved section of the S curtain. Access to the wall-walk must originally have been by wooden steps of which no trace survives. Later an approach was provided from the first floor of the NW tower by a newel stair in its S wall. At a later date, perhaps ca. 1490, a straight flight of stone steps was built against the outside of this wall, blocking the ground floor loop. NE of the keep, a thin wall, probably 13th-century, continues the line of the N curtain to the brink of a steep drop. A small postern with deeply splayed reveals leads from the enclosure, which was otherwise inaccessible except by ladders.

The NW tower was built within the angle of the earlier curtain; straight joints ware visible at both junctions. It is very ruined, but the E wall stands to a height of about 26ft. The tower probably had two floors, each a single room. It was entered from the courtyard by a wide door, with jambs of sandstone which appears to be the only imported stone on the site. The ground floor seems to have been lighted by narrow slits to the courtyard. A doorway in the N wall leads to a latrine and a flanking chute indicates another on the wall-walk above; these precede the building of the tower. In the E wall, above a line of beam-holes indicating the first-floor level, there is a large fireplace with canopied hood. From the embrasure of a window to the S there are remains of a stair which probably led to the roof and curtain wall-walk. The base of a small rectangular bastion added to the W wall contains two latrine outlets, which probably served the first-floor apartment of the tower.

There are scheduled remains [Cn196] of another medieval defensive site, possibly a precursor to Dolwyddelan, on a rocky knoll 350m to the SE. The remains consist of a defensive ditch around the west side of the knoll, and the foundations of a tower on top.

The monument is of national importance for its potential to enhance our knowledge of medieval defence. It retains significant archaeological potential, with a strong probability of the presence of associated archaeological features and deposits. The structures themselves may be expected to contain archaeological information concerning chronology and building techniques.

The scheduled area comprises the remains described and areas around them within which related evidence may be expected to survive.

Source: Cadw

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