As you approach the Town of Conwy in North Wales, you will no doubt be impressed by the imposing fortress that dominates the town and the connected town wall. Much in the manner of nearby Caernarfon, another fortified town in the ring of steel imposed by Edward I. This however boasts a very complete town wall that can be fully accessed. It is another of the great works by the master architect James of St George, responsible for the four castles plus many other works and renovations in the area.
I have noticed that many castles are starting to include a scale model of how the castle would have looked feature. The one in Conwy is located in the chapel tower. This helps the visitor to envision how the architects dealt with the landscape at the time. Conwy is not much different now as it was then, there are the bridges that cross the river, added in the early to mid 19th century, and they included an extension to the beach to support the structure. This model shows the key sea gate supply route. This was a common feature with these four key fortresses and meant that any besieger would fail if they could not compromise this supply route.
The castle is built on a rocky section close to the water’s edge and contains a deep (90 ft) well for access to water. Undermining and starving the occupants out would have been a difficult affair. This castle employed a workforce including ground workers, carpenters, stone mansions, and woodcutters. The cost has been estimated at close to £45 million in modern money for the construction of this which took just four years and was completed in 1287. It is another of the masterpieces of James of St George.
This is taken from the high point of the castle, one of the extended towers in the king’s tower on the river side of the castle. Below left are the king’s kitchen and cellar and in the distance, the great hall can be seen with the prison tower next to it and the kitchen tower opposite.
The castle does not have a large footprint like that of Beaumaris nor is it a very square double-ringed like Harlech https://mercianexplorer.com/2022/04/30/castle-watch/. It does, however, have a lot in common with Caernarfon in the Narrow appearance and included town wall although Caernarfon is I believe slightly bigger.
Although it looks strong, the castle has fallen. Once and rather embarrassingly to a small group under the command of the Tudor brothers Rhys and Gwilym in 1401. They approached during prayers posing as workmen. They held out for some time although ultimately they could never hope to retain control of the castle and it was surrendered. sadly during their occupation, they also sacked the town.
The castle was put back into service during the Civil war under the royalist Archbishop John Williams. It held out remarkably during a three-month siege to the parliamentarian forces but ultimately was forced to surrender with no relief force coming to the rescue.
A castle in two.
In the middle of the castle there is a drop with a guardhouse and a wall that splits the inner ward in two. Should the main gate be breached and invades enter the courtyard then this second part to the castle can be sealed off completely.
It is also noticeable that the inner section if you will of the castle beyond the middle gate, contains the higher towers, or each tower gains an archers nest giving anyone stationed there and excellent field of fire.
There was also a small drawbridge stationed here which could be withdrawn and a small guardhouse (pictured left) where archers would make the life of those attacking a misery.
As a war bow archer myself, I have a Yew bow 110Lb at 33 for those that shoot. Arrows from this range would lift attackers off their feet. Mine is practically small compared to the 170-250Lb that was common in the day. As well as archers shoulder.
The town also boasts an excellent town walk which is almost fully accessible. The only exception is the bridge over the train tracks for obvious safety reasons. there as some remarkable views from the high points on the wall that overlooks both the town and the surrounding countryside. Conwy also plays host to plenty of places to eat and drink (which is all a visitor could wish for)
The original castle was housed between the peaks of Deganwy, itself an imposing fortress and often where invaders of Wales would assemble. This castle however was destroyed by Llewelyn ap Gruffudd in 1263 after starving the English garrison into surrender. It could have been repaired but Edward I opted for the more strategic position offered by Conway. This also offered the ability to be supplied by sea and avoid the fate of the precious castle. I plan to visit Deganwy in a future blog.
Another enjoyable trip around a castle, it is near the town of Betws y coed which is also always worth a visit. That’s it for now. I hope to visit more castles associated with James of St George soon as I find him an interesting character and may write a post about him soon. Thanks for reading, I hope it was interesting and that you get to visit the castle too. I shall leave you with one of my favorite waterfalls. Also note, lads in the town used to dive into the white water sections of this. Mad but impressive.