Ancient Monuments

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Swansea Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Castle (Castell), Swansea (Abertawe)

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Latitude: 51.6205 / 51°37'13"N

Longitude: -3.9411 / 3°56'27"W

OS Eastings: 265718

OS Northings: 193085

OS Grid: SS657930

Mapcode National: GBR WSC.2Q

Mapcode Global: VH4K9.MJWK

Entry Name: Swansea Castle

Scheduled Date:

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 3759

Cadw Legacy ID: GM012

Schedule Class: Defence

Category: Castle

Period: Medieval

County: Swansea (Abertawe)

Community: Castle (Castell)

Built-Up Area: Swansea

Traditional County: Glamorgan


The monument consists of the remains of a castle dating to the medieval period. Swansea Castle stands on a clifftop, below which the River Tawe originally flowed, and its position was strategic: it commanded the lowest crossing of the river, the main east-west route in south Wales, and a good harbour. What is visible now is only a small part of the latest castle on the site, which in its heyday in the late 13th century stretched from Welcome Lane in the north to Caer Street in the south, and from the clifftop in the east almost to Princess Way in the west. (The first phases of castle building found to the north are scheduled under GM441).

Swansea Castle's history was a turbulent one: it suffered in many Welsh raids, and changed hands many times. It was a Norman castle, first mentioned in 1116 as being attacked by the Welsh. It was established by Henry I's friend Henry de Beaumont, first earl of Warwick, as the seat of administration of the marcher lordship of Gower, which Henry bestowed on him in about 1106. This first castle was of motte and bailey type and nothing of it remains above ground. The west side of its deep ditch has been excavated to the north of the present remains. It was rebuilt in stone on the same site, probably after being razed by the Welsh in 1217. Nothing remains above ground of this stage either, but the west side of the curtain wall has been found, together with a mural tower. To the south-west of this small castle, called the 'Old Castle', a large roughly rectangular outer bailey was walled in stone in the 13th century.

The 'New Castle', of which the present day remains were part, lay in its south-east corner, built on the site of an earlier graveyard. This 'New Castle' dates from the late 13th to early 14th century, by which time Edward I's pacification of Wales had deprived it of any military importance. It continued as an administrative centre but at a reduced level. Its holders, then the de Braoses, preferred to live at Oystermouth Castle, and inevitable decline set in. Stripped of their usefulness, the variou gates and towers of the bailey - Harold's Gate, Donald's Tower, Bokynham Tower and Singleton Tower - were sold off in the early 14th century.

The visible remains consist of the north and south blocks, probably the work of William de Braose II and William de Braose III, connected by a short stretch of much-altered curtain wall. The curtain wall was originally continued up Castle Bailey Street on the west, and west from the north block to enclose a roughly rectangular area, with an entrance on the west side. The well preserved south block, which occupied most of the south side of the 'New Castle', is the most spectacular part, with its picturesque arcaded parapet on top of the outside walls. This was probably a slightly later addition to the main building, which was a residential block. The two large windows on the south side are the windows of the first-floor hall, and below them are the narrow windows of three barrel-vaulted chambers. In the angled wing to the east was a sub-basement with great battered walls, from which there was access to the river. On the first floor was a solar, or private chamber, reached by steps on the west side. At the west end of the block is a spectacular circular garderobe tower standing to its full height, and in the south-east angle is a small turret with an arrowslit.

The small rectangular tower to the north has been much altered in post-medieval times, but retains a few original features such as cross arrowslits. On the ground floor are three vaulted chambers, with four rooms above them inserted in the late 18th century when the block was turned into a debtors' prison. It had probably been used as a prison for a long time before. The monument is of national importance for its potential to enhance our knowledge of medieval defensive practices. The monument is well-preserved and an important relic of the medieval landscape. It retains significant archaeological potential, with a strong probability of the presence of both structural evidence and intact associated deposits.

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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