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Conwy's Town Walls

In the town of Conwy, Aberconwy & Colwyn, north Wales

All photographs copyright 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Above: view of the Mill Gate section of town wall near the castle.

 

The combination of castle and town wall make Conwy one of Europe's finest surviving medieval towns, period. By itself, Conwy castle represents a highpoint in medieval architecture, and the presence of an intact town wall further enhances Conwy's appeal, making it one of the most complete and interesting medieval town-experiences available anywhere. Although most of Edward's great castles in north Wales were accompanied by a defensive town wall, protection for his newly-planted English colonies, only at Conwy and Denbigh is it possible to still get a sense of what these fortifications were actually like.

Jeffrey L. Thomas

 

Below: approaching tower #13 with the castle in the background.

Cadw Guidebook

The walls of Conwy are judged the finest in Britain. They are not only completely intact, but largely unencumbered by later building, and still give the impression of enclosing and protecting the town. Like the castle, their history is well documented, and they are sufficiently well-preserved in detail to demonstrate all the tactical features of their design.

The circuit of the wall is 3/4 of a mile in length, with 21 towers at regular intervals of about 46m. The wall is 1.68m thick and 9m high, with towers rising to 15m. Externally it presented a continuous stone face, but the towers were open-backed, the wall-walk maintained across then by a series of removable wooden bridges. This insured that each section, with its independent stair to ground level, could be isolated if it was attacked and scaled. At wall-walk level, each tower had a floor (set back from the bridge) which gave access to the lower arrowslits and to a stair to the battlements. They may not have been roofed.

The wall and towers provided 480 firing positions, the projecting towers covering the base of the wall to either side. Tower 13 at the highest point illustrates the tactic of the surveillance system; it is set forward of the wall-line to give a clear view of the approach to the Upper Gate and down the north side.

The wall was fronted by a ditch on the north and west sides, and was pierced originally by three double-towered gates and two posterns. The only landward gate, on the north-west, was very heavily defended, but the others, fronting the two rivers, were less so. The town walls were linked to the castle by lengths of narrow walling, too narrow for attackers to run along.

The construction of the town walls went hand in hand with that of the castle, and they were essentially complete by 1286. The surviving accounts and a study of the different stone used show that, usually, the towers were built first, up to wall-walk level, then the curtain wall was built to link them, and finally the upper part of the tower and all the battlements were added. The town walls were still a useful defence during the Civil War. What is remarkable is their subsequent survival during 19th-century development. Both the Telford and railway company towers were careful to maintain their visual integrity.

From the quay, visitors may walk around the outside of the walls for the entire circuit, except at the south-western corner where they should re-enter by the Upper Gate; walk down Rosemary Lane and take the footpath beside the Catholic church to the site of Llywelyn's Hall and Tower 16; leave by the station and go through the Mill Gate. The Mill Gate led down to the king's mill on the river Gyffin, a corn mill previously belonging to the abbey. The gate is unusual in that its towers contain domestic accommodation. This part of the town, with the lodgings of the major officials and their record offices was burnt in the Owain Glyndwr revolt of 1401.

It is possible to walk along the top of the north wall; access points are at Tower 5 and the Upper Gate. Originally there were no openings in the north wall. Even now, pierced by two roads, it is still one of the finest stretches of medieval town wall in Britain.

Below: view of the wall walk and towers towards the quayside section.

 

Below: exterior view of the Mill gate section of the wall walk near the castle.

 

Learn more about King Edward's walled towns in north Wales
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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas