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Castell Coch, Wales

Castell Coch, Wales

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983

History of Castell Coch

By Marco Stojanovik

Castell Coch (Welsh for ‘Red Castle’) is a 19th-century gothic revival castle built above the village of Tongwynlais in South Wales, just outside of Cardiff. The original castle built on the site was a Norman stronghold to defend the newly conquered town of Cardiff and route along the Taff George. The current castle, however, is built upon the ruins of a stone fortification most likely built by Gilbert de Clare in the mid-13th century to defend his freshly annexed Welsh lands. Designed in the 19th century by the architect William Burges, the stunning fairy tale castle is a romantic reconstruction of a fanciful medieval world. This article explores the site’s history to assist you in your tour of Castell Coch.

“Castell Coch (Red Castle) near Cardiff, South Wales. Built in the 1870s.”

Norman Stronghold

The first castle on the site of the later Castell Coch was built in the 1080s during William I’s invasion of South Wales. It was established as was one of a series of wood and earth fortifications in the area built to protect the newly conquered Cardiff, and was specifically raised to dominate the high ground over-looking the route along the River Taff.

Castell Coch over the River Taff

Towards the end of the eleventh century it was abandoned as the frontier between Norman and Wales forces moved further away from Cardiff towards Glamorgan. It is possible that it was taken over by the Welsh in the mid-twelfth century capturing lost land after the successful raid of Cardiff by Ifor ap Meurig (Ifor Bach) in 1158.

Middle Ages Red Castle

It is assumed that Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Cloucester, rebuilt Castell Coch in the mid-thirteenth century to secure the area between the facility and his Castle of Caerphilly, built following his armed seizure of the uplands of Sendhennydd.

The new castle was dominated by a round tower keep overlooking a small D-shaped courtyard and a hall. All were built from rough sandstone rubble, the colour from which the building took its medieval name – Castrum Rubuem meaning ‘red castle’. Two additional towers were later added and the curtain wall strengthened.

But the newly built stronghold did not last long attacked in July 1314 during a Welsh rebellion led by Llywellyn Bren. The castle was captured, destroyed, and fell into ruin for over 500 years.

Castell Coch, Wales UK

The Third Marquess of Bute’s Fairy Tale Castle

In 1871 John Crichton Stuart, the Third Marquess of Bute, took an interest in the site and endeavoured to restore the castle ruins. He employed his architect William Burges to reconstruct the castle as a country residence not far from his main home, the opulent Cardiff Castle.

Built upon the lower portion remains of the 13th century castle, William Burges aspired to reproduce a small medieval castle based on the original 13th century design. However, the approach he took on was highly imaginative, instead designing a romantic High Victorian neo-gothic folly resembling that of a dreamy fairy tale castle.

Its historical inaccuracies, though, are forgiven for its architectural uniqueness as conical roofs on three towers rise above a fanciful drawbridge.

Castell Coch (The Red Castle) located just outside Cardiff in South Wales, UK.

Meanwhile winding stone staircases, secret passages, and splendid chambers fill the interior – all elaborately decorated with specifically designed furnishings that make use of symbolism drawing on classical and legendary themes.

Castell Coch, interior of conical roof.

Reconstruction began in 1875 and continued after Burge’s death in 1881 on his plans until completion in 1991. Nevertheless, the Bute’s never truly lived there. Currently, the castle is under government protection and is open to visitors.

Articles on Wales published by Odyssey Traveller.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Wales.