It has been a very, very long winter here in the UK, with very cold weather lasting from late 2012 until well, last week. This weekend gone was really the first proper instance of nice, sunny weather where a coat or jumper even, was not necessary. To make the most of the [short-lived] sunny weather, I decided to head to Cardiff Castle. I have visited Cardiff Castle once before when visiting friends in Cardiff in Autumn 2011, this was before my blog existed and so another visit was due. Cardiff Castle was gifted to the city of Cardiff in 1947 on the death of the forth Marquess of Bute, as a result of this, entrance to the castle was made free for residents of Cardiff, when visiting, residents with proof of address, would be given a photo-card which would grant them access to the Castle and discounts to special events. This remained the case until April 1st 2013, after which a “Cardiff Key” photo-card now costs £5 for a resident of Cardiff and lasts for three years, this enables free access to the castle and again discounted access to special events. For non-residents entry to the castle (excluding the premium tour) costs £11 for an adult, a premium ticket which includes access to the Castle Apartments costs extra.
A Little History
Cardiff Castle’s history is predominantly split between three historical periods; Roman, Norman and Early Modern/Victorian, each of which can be distinctly seen in the varying parts of the castle.
The Castle originates to the time of the Roman Invasion of Britain in 43AD, where a fort was established at the site of Cardiff Castle by the end of the 50s AD. There were four Roman forts, built on the site, the first three made from wood and the fourth made with stone, with high stone walls and an embankment on the inside. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the fort at Cardiff Castle was likely abandoned whilst the settlement outside the walls grew into the city of Cardiff.
There was little change at the site of Cardiff Castle until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. After being crowned King William I in 1067, William went on to conquer south-east Wales, founding a castle in Cardiff in 1081. The Normans made many changes to the former Roman Fort whilst building Cardiff Castle; the outer stone walls remained in part, however much of the inner ward was transformed. The most notable and lasting change the Normans made was the creation of the motte (artificial hill) on which a wooden castle keep was constructed by Robert Fitzhamon, Earl of Gloucester and Lord of Glamorgan. Following a Welsh uprising in 1135 the wooden keep was replaced with a stone keep by Fitzhamon’s daughter Mabel and her husband Robert the Consul. Cardiff Castle passed into the ownership of several powerful families over the course of the next two hundred years, including the de Clares and the Despensers, both of whom also owned Caerphilly Castle, which I visited and wrote about earlier in the month.
In 1404, the town of Cardiff was destroyed and the castle badly damaged following an attack by Owain Glyndwr, after Glyndwr’s forces were defeated, the castle’s owner Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick began repairing the castle and during the 1420’s and 30s, built a new mansion beside the existing keep providing more modern and comfortable accommodation for the Lord and his family. For the first 50 or so years of the 16th Century, Cardiff Castle reverted back to the crown until it was granted to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Whilst under the ownership of the Herbert family – though the 2nd Earl of Pembroke; Henry Herbert in particular – Cardiff Castle was painstakingly renovated and repaired. During the 1570s, the rooms within the house were renovated and a new north wing was added, the keep and the Black Tower were also modernised, turning Cardiff Castle into a building fit for favourites of Queen Elizabeth I. The castle remained in the hands of the Earls of Pembroke until the late seventeenth century, however during the Civil War, Royalist forces seized the castle from the Parliamentarian 4th Earl of Pembroke resulting in Castle being badly damaged, though largely contained to the keep.
In 1683 ownership of Cardiff Castle was bequeathed not to the next Earl of Pembroke, but instead the daughter of the 7th Earl, Charlotte Herbert. In 1766, Charlotte’s grand-daughter married John Stuart who became the 1st Marquess of Bute. The 1st Marquess instigated a major overhaul of the castle, including new wings being added to the house and the demolition of older buildings and walls within the castle walls. The keep however remained in its deteriorating state. When the 3rd Marquess of Bute came of age, after inheriting the Bute estate and title of Marquess from his father as an infant, he hired architect William Burges to once again overhaul the house. Both the 3rd Marquess and Burges had a particular interest in the Middle Ages and used the Asia and the east to inspire their medieval makeover of the castle interior. It was Burge’s idea to build the Clock Tower in the south-west corner of the castle grounds, beginning a 16 year period of restoration and redecoration. As well as the restoration of Cardiff Castle, the 3rd Marquess of Bute rebuilt Castell Coch, a castle situated on a steep hillside north of Cardiff. The Marquess hired Burges to carry out the restoration of Castell Coch also, decorated in a similar style to the newly renovated Cardiff Castle house. The 3rd Marquess died in 1900 at the age of 53, having transformed the castle into what has been described as “a Welsh Victorian Camelot”. Despite this, his son the 4th Marquess carried on his father’s work at Cardiff Castle, completing several restoration projects including the reconstruction of the Roman walls that surround the castle grounds and the construction of tunnels on the inside of the walls. In 1947, the 4th Marquess died and the Castle was gifted to the City of Cardiff by the Bute family, eventually becoming a key tourist attraction open to the public and hosting many events throughout the year.
When approaching the castle from the city centre, you are greeted with the reconstructed Roman walls, the 4th Marquess made a point to have the reconstructed walls use a different coloured brick to the existing Roman walls. If you walk down Duke Street, following the castle walls, you will come to the main entrance, and further down, the 3rd Marquess’ clock tower.
Walking through the main entrance you will have the option to go out into the Inner Ward, the house, the keep or walk around the castle battlements, I decided to walk up the stairs in the modern building housing the shop and cafe and walk around the battlements. If you follow the castle walls around, you will eventually come to a path leading down towards in the Inner Ward, walking down this path, on the left will be a doorway leading to the war time tunnels.
These tunnels were originally built to allow the Marquess of Bute to walk around the castle grounds even in bad weather. During World War Two, the tunnels were used as air raid shelters, providing enough room for several thousand people.
If you follow these tunnels, you will eventually enter the north gatehouse, where you can walk up the stairs to the battlements or walk down and out to the castle green.
After leaving the tunnels and exiting the North Gatehouse, I headed across the castle green and towards the Keep.
The Norman Keep is situated atop of a high mound and require you to traverse a fair number of stairs to get there. Once inside, the keep is a 12 sided stone shell which giving the impression of being circular.
As well as the keep shell, there is a tower that can be explored, allowing an impressive view of Cardiff City Centre, Cardiff Bay and inland towards the Welsh Valleys. On a clear day you are able to see Castell Coch on a hillside north of Cardiff.
After descending the quite steep steps of the Keep, it was time to explore the Castle’s house.
Walking through the front door you will enter the entrance hall, this room was added in the 1920s by the 4th Marquess of Bute, after demolishing an incomplete grand staircase. Immediately drawing your attention after walking through the door, a large display case is built into three alcoves housing suits of armour.
To the left of the entrance hall, a staircase leads to the first floor which houses the principle rooms of the house, and on the righthand wall, a doorway leads to the library. Heading up the staircase, you will enter a corridor with a doorway showing the Arab Room.
The Arab Room dates back to 1881, designed by William Burges as an occasional sitting room. The ceiling is made of wood that has been covered in gold leaf and decorated, a style that is known as a muquarnas. The Arab Room is a fine example of how the 3rd Marquess and Burges used Middle Eastern styles to inspire their medieval decoration of the castle house. Due to the ornate nature of all aspects of the room, including the floor, access into the Arab Room is not permitted, forcing you to follow the corridor into the Banqueting Hall.
The Banqueting Hall was created by Burges in 1873 as a large medieval style great hall at the heart of the castle house. The room is decorated with medieval imagery, the walls depicting stories from the 12th century and the chimney piece showing Robert, Earl of Gloucester who was an illegitimate son of Henry I, who owned Cardiff Castle in the 12th century.
To the side of the fireplace a door leads to the Octagon Staircase, another room that can only be viewed, not entered. The Octagon Staircase is housed in the Beauchamp Tower which was built by Richard Beauchamp in the early-mid 15th century. The tower has been home to a staircase since the 1780s, however the current staircase was constructed by Burges in 1870s.
Continuing around the house tour, you will arrive in the Small Dining Room.
The Small Dining Room was used by the Bute family when there were few or no guests staying at the castle. The decoration of this room is quite subdued compared to the highly decorative Banqueting Hall and Arab Room, some aspects are fairly decorative including the chimney piece and stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Book of Genesis. After the viewing the Small Dining Room you head back downstairs and enter the Drawing Room.
The Drawing Room retains the typical design of an 18th century Georgian drawing room, dating back to 1780. The room is decorated with paintings of the Bute family including the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Marquess of Bute. Two archways lead into the last room on the house tour; the Library.
The Library in it’s current form dates back to 1870s, created by Burges from two rooms, though the back in the 15th century, what is now the library formed part of the house’s Great Hall. The library is home to original Burges bookcases and tables and is also decorated with busts of sculptures of the Marquess’s of Bute. After perusing the Library you leave the house through a second door and exit back into the castle’s inner ward green.
Whilst this was my second visit to Cardiff Castle, there was quite a lot to see that I had missed on my first visit, probably due to visiting with friends rather than by myself. It is quite nice exploring such places at your own pace and whilst listening to music, I find that it helps me see things I might otherwise miss. After having visited castles for my last two blog posts, I think my next will be either a country house or perhaps I will get round to visiting the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay.
- http://www.cardiffcastle.com – Cardiff Castle Website