Laugharne

A Norman called Robert Crookedhand (Courtemain) held the castle called Abercorram in 1116, when he made Bleddyn ap Cedifor it's constable during disturbances in Deheubarth caused by Gruffydd ap Rhys (d.1137).  The castle obviously survived this and in 1171 King Henry II met Rhys ap Gruffydd (d.1197) there and made an agreement with him over control of South Wales that led shortly to Rhys being made justiciar of South Wales.  When Henry died in 1189, Laugharne castle along with those of St Clears, Kidwelly and Llanstephan, were seized by Rhys on his first onslaught against the men of Richard I.  The castle was probably recaptured by 1193, but in November 1215 it was taken by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (d.1240) in his great South Welsh campaign.  The castle was then held by Maeglwyn ap Rhys (d.1230) until 1220/3.  Apparently since the reign of King Stephen, the castle had been held by the Tracy family - alleged illegitimate descendants of King Henry I (d.1135).  This family was close to the Braoses of Radnor and married into that family affiliation three times, before, at some point before 1240, the daughter and heiress of Henry Tracy (d.1274) married Guy Brion (d.1268), taking Laugharne castle to him as dower. 

In 1257 Guy was captured, probably at the battle of Cymerau and Laugharne castle together with Llanstephan and Narberth, were rapidly taken by forces loyal to Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (d.1282).  Guy was still held captive on 29 October 1258 when the king gave £100 towards his ransom.  Presumably he was freed son afterwards and the managed to recover his castle which was recorded as a normal barony of Carmarthen in 1275.  The Brians, as they had become, finally died out at the end of the fourteenth century - there being a distinguished effigy of Guy Brain (d.1390) in Tewkesbury abbey.

In 1584, Queen Elizabeth I granted Laugharne to Sir John Perrott, said to have been an illegitimate son of Henry VIII.  Perrott was responsible for converting the castle into the Tudor palace whose ruins grace the seafront today.  He did the same thing to Carew castle.  Unfortunately for the palace the place was put into a state of defence during the Civil War.  Consequently it was captured by the Royalists in 1644 and during a subsequent week long siege by the Parliamentarians was damaged by cannon fire before the garrison surrendered.  To add insult to injury the palace was then slighted to prevent a similar occurrence.  The castle gazebo later became workplace to two famous authors with Richard Hughes writing 'In Hazard' and Dylan Thomas a 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog'.

Description
The castle seems to have begun its existence as a simple ringwork, like many other castles in the area, viz. Kidwelly, Oystermouth, Llanstephan and Carreg Cennen.  On this two thick walled round towers, mainly consisting of a red sandstone coursed rubble with some greenstone carefully laid in, were built on the north side in front of a presumed ditch of which no trace currently remains.  A curtain wall was also constructed in red sandstone.  There is no trace of this between the 2 towers where a hall block has been added.  However, the toothing of a west curtain wall can still be seen running SE from the NE tower.  There is also a fragment of this remaining where it joins the thin nineteenth century retaining wall along the shore front.  At this point there appears to have been a rectangular chamber running parallel to the original SE curtain.  Of this a fragment survives at the SE junction of the south wall as well as some of the interior wall.  This wall is much thinner than the west wall running south from the keep, which still has traces of a gateway in it.  There was another rectangular thirteenth century building at the SW corner of the enceinte which is now occupied by the later kitchen.  There is much original red sandstone masonry embedded by later greenstone work along the less exposed riverside.  This later greenstone work also overtops the early wall on the interior side, with one large chimney in particular being suddenly cut off at the change from red to green sandstone.  At the SE end of this block, set back some 6' back from the later wall edge, is a small, solid D shaped turret.  After this the wall continues on its way around the sea front towards the NE as a nineteenth century retaining wall, although part of it beyond the gazebo is thought to be fourteenth century.

The larger NW tower seems to have been a keep, placed as it was near to the entrance.  It is also slightly bigger than the other tower at 35' diameter rather than 30' of the NE tower.  The keep has a later domed roof and its upper floors were gained via a curving mural stair in its SW wall.  Such stairs are generally seen as earlier than spiral stairs.  Internally it can be seen that many embrasures have been blocked off when the tower was refurbished.
 A list of other round tower keeps can be found in the description of Llanstephan castle and a general list of round keeps is found under Dundrum. 

Between the keep and the 5 storey NE tower stands a hall block with its 3 floors of south facing windows blocked up.  The hall also has a D shaped turret to the exposed north and the whole is made of a mixture of red and green sandstone.  The ground floor angular embrasures along this wall would appear to be original.  Later a second hall was built against the south curtain.  A probably originally 3 storey, D shaped tower of similar dimensions to that on the hall, was also added at the SW corner of the ward.  This was later heightened by another two storeys in greenstone.  Peculiarly this tower projects most onto the riverside and not into the more vulnerable ground to the west.  The NE tower, like the keep, has a pronounced plinth.  It also originally had first floor loops of which the blocked lower part of one still exists beneath a broken later window embrasure.  The tower was originally of 3 storeys, including its original blind basement, but, like the rest of the castle, it has a later, much thinner 2 top storeys added.  The upper floors were reached by a spiral stair against its south side which has now all but disappeared.  The lower two floors seem to be two or three flights of steps.

At the west end of the inner ward was a boldly projecting rectangular gatehouse with two round turrets on the extremities.  This seems to be all of one build and has blocked loops at first floor level.  Presumably it too has been heightened, probably in Tudor times when many large windows were added throughout.  The Tudor gate would appear to be further forward to the west than its predecessor.  Simultaneously the walls were given mock battlements, while recent excavations have uncovered the Tudor cobbled courtyard and a pitched stone kitchen floor.  Also uncovered where remains of an earlier castle.  All that was found of this was the east wall of what was interpreted as a hall block, partially overlain to the north by the NE tower.  There as also a thin wall running SSE towards the medieval curtain.  Possibly the hall block was similar to the one that still stands at Grosmont.  This was probably part of the first 'castle' on the site.

The outer ward is mainly gone, but a powerful rectangular twin towered gatehouse remains to the north.  This has a polygonal tower to the east and an irregular tower to the west with an attached garderobe turret in line with the curtain wall that covers the NW front.  to the NE there is another thicker fragment of curtain adjoining the gatehouse.  Another length of wall remains to the south.  This butts against the west wall of the inner ward and runs some 45' west before making a shallow turn to the NW.  As these are made from the red sandstone they are presumably thirteenth century.




Why not join me at other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


 

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