January 16th, 2018
After the Welsh uprising of the late 13th century, Edward the King of England decided there was only one way to keep the rebels in check. Work soon began in earnest on Edward’s impressive plan to remind the Welsh of their new rulers, and to control any unruly behaviour.
His plan resulted in the “iron ring” of castles that not only dominated the local residents, but also took impressive command of the coastline. His castles at Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris are still spectacular examples, not just of Edward’s desire for control over his kingdom, but also of the incredible designs of architect Master James of St George. It’s a testament to his skills that all the castles are intact over 700 years later.
Today on the blog, we’re exploring the majestic Conwy Castle – which is about an hour’s drive from the Oakeley Arms but well worth a visit if you’re staying with us. The town of Conwy is one of the coast’s gems too – packed with independent food and gift shops.
Standing strong and proud on the edge of the estuary, Conwy Castle is as awe inspiring today as it would have been when it was first built, and this was exactly Edward’s plan.
Unlike most of his other castles in the ‘Iron Ring’, Conwy is not a concentric design, being instead a rectangular shape; its high position on a rocky hill helps to secure its strong defence. The eight enormous towers deter any attack, and the domineering significance of the vast and impenetrable grey stone walls were sure to subdue any unwelcome rebelliousness.
As in Caernarfon, Edward wanted to build an entire fortified town to surround his castle, so he instructed Master George to begin work on the town walls, which are still mostly intact today. They create almost a complete circle of defence around the important town.
Spanning for a mile and a half, more than twenty giant towers and gateways rise up from the great stone barricades. There are almost five hundred differed positions along the walls where watchmen would have stood guard; each with a bow and arrow at the ready.
Conwy castle wasn’t captured by Welsh rebels until the fifteenth century, after which it was sadly left to ruin. Despite its dilapidated state its majesty somehow survived the fast pace of modern development, and when Thomas Telford was scratching his head in the nineteenth century for a solution to the troublesome problem of crossing the mouth of the River Conwy, he held the castle and its history in high esteem. Although a small part of the castle was demolished in the 1820’s in order to build his road suspension bridge (one of the first in the world), the majority remained intact, and Telford’s bridge is now almost as iconic as the castle itself.
Today, the castle and town walls are some of the best preserved medieval fortress buildings in Britain. Calm may have long been restored between the English throne and the Welsh rebels, but the power, strength and dominance that that buildings commanded are unmistakable in the ever-watchful mighty walls.