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WALES



Caernarfon Castle

Located in North Wales this very impressive castle is built on a site dating back to the Roman era. Famous for its octagonal towers and stonework.

Caernarvon is architecturally one of the most impressive of all of the castles in Wales. It's defensive capabilities were not as overt or as powerful as those of Edward I's other castles such as Harlech and Beaumaris (which indicate the pinnacle of castle building and defenses in Britain), but Caernar(f)von was instead intended as a seat of power - and as a symbol of English dominance over the subdued Welsh.

Caernarvon is located at the southern end of the Menai Strait between north Wales and Anglesey, 8 miles south west of Bangor. During Edward I's invasions of Wales, this was strategically an excellent place to build a castle; Anglesey was referred to as the garden of Wales, providing agriculturally rich land close to the poorer land on north Wales. The Menai Strait also allowed speedy access between the north Welsh coast and the western coast, and was therefore important for Edward to control for supplying outposts such as Harlech and Aberystwyth.

As with all of the castles of Edward's Iron Ring, Caernarvon was built on the shoreline (as alluded to above, supplies came by sea due to the Welsh prowess in convoy ambush over land - see Welsh Warriors and Warfare page). At Caernarvon, Edward also built a town, destroying the original Welsh settlement beforehand. Therefore as the entirety of the new settlement was of English origin, I use the anglicised "Caernarvon" as opposed to the Welsh "Caernarfon" in this article.

The castle of Edward I at Caernarvon succeeded first a Roman fort, and then a Norman motte and bailey - built by Hugh of Avranches around 1090. This motte was incorporated into the Edwardian castle, but was destroyed around 1870 (Dr Lawrence Butler suggested to me that there is a good argument for a new resistivity survey to be carried out for the investigation of this). The Welsh retook the original motte in 1115 and retained control until Edward's invasion and colonization in 1283. The site's previous history also demonstrates the strategic importance of the site.

Edward's building was initiated by his march from Chester, and work probably began in May 1283. Edward wanted to create a nucleus of English influence in this area, which was previously so rich in Welsh tradition and anti-English feeling. He also wished to create Caernarvon as the capital of a new dominion - hence the incorporation of a town and market into the strong walls of the site.

Castles are not built in a day, and Caernarvon castle and town demonstrably has two main building periods. The first is that of 1283-92, and the second is dated to 1294-1330.

Even so, it continued to be maintained and garrisoned, and successfully withstood sieges by the forces of Owain Glyndwr in 1403 and 1404. During the Civil War, Caernarfon finally surrendered to Parliamentary forces in 1646. Centuries of neglect were halted by repairs undertaken in the late 19th century and, in 1911, it was the scene of the Investiture of Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) as Prince of Wales.

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Conwy Castle

Located in North Wales this castle and its adjoining town walls are a well preserved example of medieval architecture.

Words cannot do justice to Conwy Castle. The best, simple description is found in the guidebook published by CADW, the Welsh Historic Trust, which states: "Conwy is by any standards one of the great fortresses of medieval Europe." Conwy along with Harlech is probably the most impressive of all the Welsh castles. Both were designed by Edward I's master castle builder James of St. George, and while Harlech has a more storied past, Conwy's eight massive towers and high curtain wall are more impressive than those at Harlech.


U
nlike Harlech however, Conwy Castle and town are surrounded by a well-preserved wall lending an additional sense of strength to the site. A similar town wall exists at Caernarfon Castle, but is far less complete and gets lost in the modern town. By contrast, Conwy's well-preserved wall helps the town maintain a medieval character lost by other Welsh castle-towns over the years. Construction of Conwy began in 1283. The castle was an important part of King Edward I's plan of surrounding Wales in "an iron ring of castles" to subdue the rebellious population. The highly defensible wall Edward built around the town was intended to protect the English colony planted at Conwy. The native Welsh population were violently opposed to English occupation of their homeland.

Today, Conwy is approached from the east via the A55 through North Wales. The beauty of this section of the country rivals anything in Britain. Approaching Conwy, the castle seems to suddenly rise out of the hills. The majestic old suspension bridge connecting the castle with the main peninsula, depicted in many representations of the castle over the years, still guards the main approach to the castle.

The section that follows was contributed by Iona Dudley, Aged 9, North Wales. A big "diolch yn fawr" to Iona for the great research!

The Conwy Suspension Bridge was built by Thomas Telford one of the greatest engineer's of the 18th and 19th Century. The bridge was one of the first to be built using this design, the road being carried by huge chains anchored at each end. Telford began building the bridge and the embankment that is now known as the Conwy Causeway in 1822 and 4 years later at a cost of 51,000, the bridge was opened on 1st July, 1826. Soon after the completion of the Suspension Bridge a railway was planned from Chester to Holyhead. To cross the River Conwy, Robert Stephenson, the son of the famous railway engineer George Stephenson, began the construction of a Tubular Railway Bridge made of steel plates riveted together. This took nearly 3 years to build being completed in 1849. With the invention of the motor car and the North Wales Coast becoming a popular tourist attractions, by the 1940's the Suspension Bridge could not cope with the large number of cars passing through Conwy. So another bridge was constructed between 1955 and 1958.
With the building of the new road bridge it soon became clear that the traffic problem had not gone away. With massive traffic jams through Conwy every summer it was decided that a road would need to be built to by-pass Conwy. It took from 1970 till 24th September, 1986 for a decision to be made on how to build a new crossing of the River Conwy. This new crossing was to be an immersed tube tunnel built from concrete. 6 tunnel sections, each 118 metres long and weighing 30,000 tons were built by the Conwy Morfa and then floated into position. The tunnel was started in November, 1986 and completed in May, 1990, it cost 102 million to build.

The castle dominates the entrance to Conwy, immediately conveying its sense of strength and compactness to the observer. The eight great towers and connecting walls are all intact, forming a rectangle as opposed to the concentric layouts of Edward's other castles in Wales. Almost all of the castle is accessible and well preserved. Journeying to the top of any of the towers offers the visitor spectacular views of the town, surrounding coastline and countryside. Sailboats and other pleasure-craft dot the picturesque harbor and quay next to the castle, while flocks of sheep roam the nearby hills.

Conwy is by any standards one of the great fortresses of medieval Europe. First impressions are of tremendous military strength, a dominating position and a unity and compactness of design. The eight mighty towers seem to spring from the very rock which dictated the castle's eventual layout. As with Edward I's other great castles in north Wales, the design and building operations were in the hands of James of St. George, who eventually held the title of Master of the Kings Works in Wales. At Conwy, however, he somehow created a building which, more than any other, demonstrates his brilliant understanding of military architecture.

It was during his second campaign in Wales that King Edward gained control of the Conwy valley in March 1283. He began work on the new fortress almost immediately, the natural advantages of the site being so far superior to those of the older castle at Deganwy on the opposite side of the estuary. Moreover, plans were laid for an accompanying garrison town, itself to be defended by a complete circuit of walls and towers. Castle and town walls were all built in a frenzied period of activity between 1283-87, a tremendous achievement in which up to 1,500 craftsmen and labourers were involved during peak periods.

King Edward was actually besieged at Conwy during the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1295. Though food ran low, the walls stood firm. Some alterations were carried out under Edward, the Black Prince in the 14th century. (Jeff's note: In 1403 the castle fell by trickery to the forces of Owain Glyndwr, was held by his men and later ransomed back to the English for some much-needed funds.) Conwy saw some action in the Civil War, but afterwards was left to the elements.


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