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Usk Castle (Unoccupied Parts)

A Scheduled Monument in Usk (Brynbuga), Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy)

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.7052 / 51°42'18"N

Longitude: -2.9032 / 2°54'11"W

OS Eastings: 337684

OS Northings: 201106

OS Grid: SO376011

Mapcode National: GBR J9.3Y55

Mapcode Global: VH79V.MDKM

Entry Name: Usk Castle (Unoccupied Parts)

Scheduled Date:

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 2959

Cadw Legacy ID: MM012

Schedule Class: Defence

Category: Castle

Period: Medieval

County: Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy)

Community: Usk (Brynbuga)

Built-Up Area: Usk

Traditional County: Monmouthshire

Description

The monument consists of the remains of a castle, dating to the medieval period. The castle was established by the Normans soon after the conquest of south Wales by William fitz Osbern in the 1070s. The earliest stone building is the four sided keep which rises up dramatically within the gardens of Castle House. This was probably the work of the de Clares who held the lordship of Usk from 1115 to 1174 - the first mention of a castle at Usk dates from 1138. Although much altered, enough of the original structures survives to show that this was a typically Norman keep. It is in an offensive position, jutting out from the curtain wall, and is rectangular and austere with few windows and immensely thick walls. It stands to its full height and its walls are now punctuated by doors and windows from four phases of building in the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. The original 12th century keep would have had three storeys, with an unlit basement and would have been entered by wooden stairs on the inner side of the first floor.

In 1174 the castle fell to the Welsh lord of Caerleon, Hywel ap Iorwerth, but was recaptured by the crown in 1085 after which a considerable sum of money was spent on strengthening it. A substantial garrison was recorded as being in residence in the castle at around this time - 10 archers, 10 residents, 15 mobile sergeants, 4 watchmen, a chaplain and a clerk. Much of the remainder of the castle was built by William Marshal between 1212 and 1219, transforming it into a major stronghold and demonstrating his great power to the Welsh and to his neighbouring antagonist Reginald de Braose. The very latest French ideas on military layout were employed at the castle, which was given a strong curtain wall with round towers at four of the eight angles of its flattened octagonal shape. The entrance comprised a simple arched gateway with a portcullis, to the N of the keep. The curtain wall is well-preserved and standing to its full height in places, and the entrance retains its portcullis slot but no evidence for a gatehouse. Of the round towers only the one on the SW side (the Garrison Tower) survives to any extent. The tower in the W corner was destroyed during 14th century rebuilding, the N tower was rebuilt in the late 13th century and only the foundations of the S tower remain. The Garrison Tower is impressive in form, surviving to its original height, it has battlements and a ring of external beam holes that would have supported a wooden fighting gallery or hoard accessed through a blocked doorway at third floor level. The entrance was at first floor level, reached by wooden stairs.

After William Marshal's death in 1219 his sons held the castle until 1245 and it was during this time that modifications were carried out to provide more high status apartments. In 1233 the defensive capabilities of the castle were tested when Henry III laid siege to it during his quarrel with Richard Marshal, but failed to capture it.

After 1262 the castle was held by Gilbert de Clare who instigated alterations to the Garrison Tower and rebuilt the N tower. According to an account from 1289 the N tower was rebuilt to house Gilbert de Clares treasure. It is a three storey D-shaped tower with stone stairs on the inner side and a garderobe tucked into the NE corner. On the first floor was a well-appointed room with a fireplace, a window on the inner side and some cruciform arrowslits on the outer side. Very little survives of the second floor but an 18th century print shows that it had corbelled-out battlements, like those on the Garrison Tower.

In 1314 Gilbert de Clare died at the battle of Bannockburn and the castle passed to his sister Elizabeth de Burgh. During her ownership the castle was transformed to allow greater domestic comfort, with the building of the hall block, square tower and chapel along the NW side of the inner ward.

Between 1368 and 1399 the castle was held, through marriage, by the Earls of March. They built the outer ward and gatehouse on lower ground to the SE of the inner ward, and the small NE angle tower next to the entrance to the inner ward. The roughly rectangular outer ward is now entirely occupied by the gardens of Castle House, which incorporates the 14th century gatehouse into its structure. The curtain wall runs SW from the house to a small circular tower, the Dovecote Tower. It has been altered since the 14th century but stands to its full height, with two storeys and a basement.

The last major event in the history of the castle was the decisive defeat of Glyndwr's sons forces at Pwll Melyn in 1405 by forces garrisoned at the castle. At that time the castle was in royal hands and Richard, Duke of York, used it as a favourite retreat. In the third quarter of the 15th century Sir William Herbert of Raglan held Usk and modernised the keep and the hall, and built lodgings in the inner ward. After his death in 1469 the castle was abandoned and fell into decay.

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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