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Reconstructive Drawing,  Site Plan
& Timeline For Degannwy Castle
by John Northall

All drawings copyright © by John Northall.
The drawings and comments are based on Mr Northall's
personal surveys of and observations at the site.

 

A bold part of my reconstruction is the square tower on the highest point of the larger hill. There is a lot of fallen masonry here, more than there is adjacent to it (which is ascribed to the Kings Hall by the Royal Commission), and I think it's too substantial a mound not to be a tower. This is of course conjecture but it would certainly fit the older Welsh pattern of having a keep at the highest point as in Carndochan, Dolwyddelen, Castell Y Bere, Dolbadarn and Ewloe. The RC plan shows the front of a structure divided off from the hall which it says was built in 1250AD and was 90 ft by 30ft.

As for the lone tower on the smaller hill - it doesn't show in the sketch but the tower was quite definitely apsidal and must have been shaped pretty much like the 2 apsidal towers at Castell Y Bere, but perhaps a bit smaller. I wasn't sure if it reached the edge of the rocks, as I have drawn it, but there is certainly a wall line around the edge which could be tower or curtain. I decided eventually it was probably tower. Again, this fits with other Welsh sites. It also fits with the ground plan published in the Royal Commission.

 

 

Things not so obvious in the sketch are the double upper gateway with enclosed killing zone as at Dinefwr, and the small tower on the far side of the hill with attached small hall and latrine chutes.

Also not apparent and not shown on the RC plan is a double wall line on the most easily attacked side of the larger hill, the west side facing the smaller hill. There was also a "barrier" on the west of the small hill and this appears to be a mantlet similar to the weaker side of Denbigh castle, but was unfinished. It had been ordered built in Henry III's time at the same time as "raising" a tower and enclosing the bailey in mortar and lime.

There is a cave leading off from the quarry near it's south-western corner heading off towards the sea. It has a solid blind end and doesn't seem to go anywhere and I'm not sure wether it is contemporary to the castle. The Royal Commission map calls the quarry ancient and there is a similar but smaller one on a local hill-fort / llys called Bryn Euryn and another within Dinas Bran.

Bearing in mind that there are no water supplies to these sites I think the quarries may have been used as water cisterns. The quarry at Deganwy seems to be lined with clay, which is unnatural on a volcanic hill, and this would support the water cistern theory.

 

The One Thousand Years of Deganwy Castle

A Timeline by John Northall

The twin hills above the modern village of Deganwy housed a fortress that was in use from at least the Roman era until its final destruction in 1277. Hardly anything now remains of the castle but history has left us an intriguing insight into this once grand stronghold.

Roman Period

  • Excavations in 1961-6 uncovered evidence of dark age and Roman occupation on the larger west hill of the castle.

  • Five Constantian coins were found on the south slope of the west hill and one unidentified Roman coin was found in the mortar of the wall around the east hill. Sadly, all are now lost.

  • Samian ware (fine imported glazed pottery) was also found during excavations.

    Dark Ages

  • 6th Century - Deganwy became the Llys (fortified court) of the fearsome Maelgwn, Lord of Anglesey, who died in 547 AD (Nennius).

  • 822 - The Annals Cambriae state that the fortress of Deganwy, described as Arx Decantorum, was destroyed by the invading Saxon army of Ceolwulf of Mercia. The Saxon army did not stay.

    Medieval Period

  • 1080 - Robert of Rhuddlan built the first Norman castle on the site while attempting to subjugate North Wales. He was killed when bravely attacking some Welsh pirate ships under the neighbouring Great Ormes headland. His men were said not to be quite so brave and lived to fight another day!

  • 1200 - Possessed by Llewelyn Fawr

  • 1210 - The castle was slighted (i.e. made indefensible) by Llewelyn during an English advance.

  • 1213 - The castle was recaptured from the English by Llewelyn Fawr who then built a stone castle here. Part of the north wall and the foundations of a small round-faced tower are attributed to this phase of construction, and a carved stone bracket from the site bearing a bearded and crowned head is on show in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff - it may show the face of Llewelyn Fawr himself. (Castles of the Welsh Princes by Paul R Davies).

  • 1241 - After Llewelyns' death his son Dafydd, who had succeeded him in competition with his half-brother Gruffudd, slighted the castle during the advance of the English army of Henry the 3rd. A peace treaty was signed and Henry gained the castle along with Mold and Basingwerk and began to rebuild it.

  • 1244 - Deganwy was refortified by the English because of a return to hostilities by the Welsh.

  • 1250 - On Aug 23rd Alan Le Zusch was ordered by Henry to fortify the bailey between the two hills in stone and lime, raise Mansells tower on the east hill by 12 ft and make a barrier ("incinctorium") outside the tower. A level platform just below the apsidal end of the tower still exists. The bailey was to be provided with two gates, with two towers on each side in pairs and with suitable chambers above these with fireplaces. There was to be a chapel in the town of Gannoc just outside the north side of the bailey and a horse mill was ordered. A 1ft 5 inch millstone, 3 inches thick, was found just outside the south gate in 1948. (Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales).

  • 1252 - A town charter was granted to Gannoc and the pipe roll for the period of 1250 to 1255 records a rent of 10 shillings.

  • 1254 - Payment was recorded in a pipe roll for walling half the bailey and making one gatehouse. No payment was made for the northern bailey wall and it appears never to have been any more than started. This side was evidently still protected by a strong earthen rampart and wooden palisade but rebuilding had been hampered by Welsh attacks.

  • A letter sent from Deganwy during Henry's 1254 campaign, preserved by Matthew Paris, tells vividly of the hardships and lack of food in the castle. Prisoners were slaughtered on both sides and the heads of Welshmen were brought back to the castle as trophies after each successful sortie. (The Oxford History of England, The Thirteenth Century).

  • 1257 - Attacked by Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, David's nephew and grandson of Llewelyn Fawr.

  • 1263 - Prince Edward, later to be King, had been able to revictual his castle with the help of his mercenaries in April but the Welsh starved the garrison out by cutting off his resupply chain later in the year. Llewelyn ap Gruffudd then slighted it so thoroughly that it was never to be raised again.

  • 1277 - The English were once again encamped at Deganwy after a successful invasion under Edward the First. The king arrived here from Rhuddlan on 29 August after agreeing the disposal of North Wales with Llewelyn's traitorous brother Dafydd. Edward decided to build a new castle across the river on a prominent rock jutting out into the River Conwy, where it could be supplied by sea via a fortified dock.

  • Local tradition has it that the stone of Deganwy Castle was reused in the making of Conwy Castle and its town walls - an ignominious end to a once proud fortress that had lasted for a thousand years.

 

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