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Dinham Castle

3 1/2m WSW of Chepstow, Caerwent, Monmouthshire, south Wales

Map link for Dinham Castle

Photograph Copyright © by Paul Davis

West of the church, the ruins of the defended castle of the lords of Llanvair Disooed, parts as high as 20 ft (6 metres) and more, in disgraceful neglect. Gnarled trees sprout from several places. Roughly coursed local brown cut stonework survives. The cylindrical towers suggest a date in the C13, when the FitzPayn family held the lordship followed by the Monthermers by the end of the century. The best preserved tower is at the SE angle, and the stretch of straight wall joining it to the w has robbed operlings a first-floor hall or chamber was sited here, protected by a ditch and bank to the S. Further W, a smaller tower on a flared base, from which a solid wall runs N-wards. This probably connected with the remains of the apparently free-standing tower immediately to the w, and formed part of a twin-towered gateway. The flat inner court to the N is further defined only by a high, featureless chunk of wall on its E side.

John Newman, Buildings of Wales, Gwent/Monmouthshire (2000) p, 362.
Provided to the Castles of Wales web site by Horton Rogers.

Text and photos below taken from Notes on the Ecclesiastical Remains at Runston, Sudbrook, Dinham, and Llan-bedr, by Octavius Morgan and Thomas Wakeman, 1856. Printed for the Monmouthshire and Caerleon Antiquary Association, by Henry Mullock, Newport. Provided to the Castles of Wales web site by John Cotton.

Dinham is situated about a mile to the north of Caerwent, and at the present time offers but little to the study of the Antiquary; the ancient buildings having, in the course of the year 1857, been either taken down or entirely altered, for the purpose of forming a better barn and stable for the adjoining farm-house. It is much to be regretted that the destruction of these buildings had taken place previous to our visit, and this instance shows how necessary it is, without loss of time, to record and preserve memorials of existing remains before the hands of time and improvement cause further dilapidation, or their entire removal. The only remains at present existing in situ, and which were fortunately with very good taste preserved in their original state, are two narrow trefoil-headed single light windows in one gable-end of the building, apparently of the XIV century, and a small square-headed loop-hole or window in the east wall: between and below those two windows there was once a doorway. On the premises are still some fragmentary portions of the old building; these consist of the coping stones and hip-knob from the other gable-end of this building, and the two large stones which once formed the head of a four-centre arched doorway of the XV century. This building has usually been considered to have been a chapel, but the hip-knob, which is a very good XIV century example, does not appear to have ever had a cross fixed on it, although there is a square bed for one, but there is no socket nor hole in the stone; and from the great length of the building it has rather the appearance of having been part of some domestic edifice. There is however clear proof that there was a Church and cemetery somewhere here, for part of the baptismal font has long been used as a trough for the pump, and there is built into the garden wall a coffin-stone with a raised cross of the early character of the XIII century, and which goes by the name of the Bishop's Stone-these details will all be found illustrated in Plate X.


In the midst of a thick copse wood on the top of a hill that rises just above the farm buildings, and near a road which leads through a wooded dingle to Wentwood, are the foundations of a castle which once existed here-these remains however, the inhabitants of the place have always been used to call " the old Chapel," and the wood goes by the name of the Church wood. The underwood having been recently cut away, it was not difficult to trace by the heaps of stones the lines of the walls of the old castle, which inclosed a considerable area, and a ground plan of so much of the foundations of these buildings as can be traced, (for little else remains), is given in Plate X. The approach and entrance seem to have been from the road above mentioned, and these remains are situated on the top of the steep bank or hill on the right as we enter the mouth of the dingle, overhanging the road, which the castle would command, as well as the more open country which lies below it in the direction of Caerwent.

On the top of the hill are clearly to be seen the foundation walls of a building which consisted of two compartments, as shown in the plan in Plate X. This building stands alone, and its position is due east and west, and our first impression was that it was the remains of a Church, the smaller compartment towards the east being the chancel, though it is wider and not built in a line with what would have been the nave. The walls of this part, though nearly level with the ground are quite sufficient to show there was an entrance on the south side, answering to the usual Priest's door. The walls of what would have been the nave are a few feet above the ground but we cannot say with certainty whether there was any other entrance doorway or not. The external projections of the cross-wall where the two compartments open into one another, look as if they were the foundations of buttresses, which tends to bear out the idea of its having been a Church; but there are no wrought stones anywhere visible to give any further indications of what it may have been. The total internal length of the building seems to have been about 50 feet. On the brow of the hill, connected with the extremity of what seems to have been the boundary-wall, is a portion of the wall of another apartment, somewhere about 20 feet wide; the outer side of the walls have been entirely destroyed, but in the thickness of the inner wall at the point of junction with the boundary wall, is a flue, apparently a portion of a chimney; this is marked A on the plan, and a view of this chamber and its chimney are also given in Plate X. The masonry of these walls is very rough work, and the courses of stones are very irregularly laid; below there is a large piece of wall, thrown down and tilted up on end, having the roots of a large old yew tree twined round it; this will shew that it has. been for centuries in that position.

The whole of the foundations on the hill are very oddly laid out, and with the exception of the so-called Church, none of the buildings seem to have been quite rectangular. There are numerous other foundations all around, but so confused that nothing can be made of them without extensive excavations. It is impossible to give any probable date to these buildings, but the want of regularity of plan seems to bear a resemblance to some of the irregular fastnesses which were erected in the time of Henry III. In these a large area seems to have been inclosed according to the nature of the ground, and numerous buildings of rough stone and timber erected within them, and this being a thickly wooded country, in fact a forest, timber was most likely very largely employed, which having perished, leaves us nothing but large heaps of stones without regular plan.

The present and modern name of Dinham might at first suggest a Saxon origin, but in all the oldest records it is found written Dinan, and this leads us to infer its derivation from the Welsh word Din, which in its primary sense signifies a fortified hill or rock, and afterwards came, like Dinas, to signify a fortified town or city, all early towns being originally inclosed with walls for security. The Irish and Gaelic word Dun has a similar signification, and these together with the Saxon Tun, the Dutch Tuyn, and the English Town, seems all to have had one common origin as they had one common meaning, viz: a space inclosed for security and defence. Hence the inations-dunum-dinum and dinium of the Romans, and the tune-don-ton and town of the Saxons and English. It may be remarked that there are several places in various parts of Wales with the name Dinas, and there is a town in Brittany called Dinan, which is seated on a craggy rock.

There was a Church here as well as a Castle at a very early period. The Church of Castel Dinan is mentioned in two Bulls of Pope Honorius II, dated in 1128 and 1129, as then belonging to the See of Llandaff, and the tithes of the Chapelry still form part of the revenues of the Cathedral Church. The Anglo-Norman Barons who acquired estates in Gwent soon after the Conquest, appropriated to themselves various Ecclesiastical benefices, which of right belonged to the Church of Llandaff. The age and infirmity of Bishop Herwald, who held the See no less than forty-eight years, and died in 1104, and the subsequent vacancy of four or five years, favoured these usurpations. Upon the accession of Bishop Urban, he remonstrated with the parties without effect, and at length pronounced sentence of excommunication against the offenders by name, which Pope Callixtus in 1119, and Honorius II. in 1128 threatened to confirm unless they made restitution. At the head of this list of lunderers stands Walter Fitz-Richard (De Clare), Lord of Caerwent, who seems to have compounded the matter with the Bishop by founding Tintern Abbey upon part of the lands of which he had plundered the Church, and having endowed it with a portion, was permitted to retain the rest; for the advowsons of Caerwent, Llanvair, Dinan, and St. Neveyn (Crick), do not appear to have been restored till the 11th Edward III, 1338, when Almeric de Lucy conveyed them to the Archdeacon and Chapter of Llandaff. Dinan is one of the few places in Gwent mentioned by name in Domesday book, which survey of England was completed in 1086. It is there stated "In Wales there are three Hardwicks (i.e. villages belonging to Herdsmen), Lamecare (Llanwern), Porteschiuet, and Dinan. In these are 8 Ploughs and 11 villains and a half, and 15 Bordars with 6 ploughs. For his 3 Hardwicks Roger de Ivry had lOO shillings." Roger de Ivry was the eldest son of Roger, Chief Butler of Normandy, by Adeliza, daughter of Ivo de Bellemont. He was banished for treason by King William Rufus, and died in 1088. His estates were forfeited to the Crown, but restored to his younger brother Geoffry, the other brother Hugh having died before him. Geoffry died without issue in the reign of Henry II.

As already observed, there was a castle here in 1128, probably built by one of these men, since, though named in the Bull of that date, it is not mentioned in Domesday. The estates having escheated were granted to Guy de Sancto Wallerico. Whether Dinham was included in the grant or not we have no direct evidence. Guy left a son Reginald, whose line ended in coheiresses early in the reign of Henry III; but Guy may have had another younger son or sons, from whom perhaps descended a family whose name we find written Le Walleys, Wallens, Walshe, and finally after some other variations of orthography, Welsh, who were seated here and at Llanwern down to the early part of the XVII century-they bore the same arms as those given by the Heralds as the coats of Sancto Wallerico, viz: Ermine, a bend sable, and the corruption of Wallerico to Walsh is no more strange than many others that could be named. However this may be, two of the family accompanied Strongbow to Ireland in or about 1170; these were David Le Walleys, and Phillip Le Walleys, younger sons of Ralph and brothers of William Le Walleys. It may be right to observe that Dinham, and Llanwern were mesne fees, the former certainly, and probably the latter, at that period held under Strongbow, (Gilbert de Clare) as Lord of Chepstow. It is probable that at one time Dinham was their principal seat, as several of them are found described as of this place, thus Adam De Dinham in the reigns of Henry III, and Edward II. William De Dinham, or William Le Walsh in the Reign of Edward III. Christopher Welsh,who was High Sheriff in 1569, was the last of the family who held Dinham: it was then sold to John Symings a great land-jobber at that time, who conveyed it in 1586 to William Blethyn, Bishop of Llandaff, whose descendants made it their principal residence, till the male line of the family became extinct on the death of Timothy Blethyn in 1737. The coheiresses sold it in 1746, to John Day, Esq., High Sheriff in 1747. Since then it has passed through several hands, and now belongs to J.H.Bayly, Esq., of Alderley Park, Gloucestershire.

The aged yew tree whose roots are twined round a large fragment of the walls of the castle, shews that it must have been in ruins for some centuries; and it may reasonably be conjectured that, as the times became more settled, civilisation more advanced, and buildings of a more commodious and luxurious description began to be erected in the reign of Edward III, the living in the cramped accommodation of an ancient hill fastness was no longer found convenient, and that in consequence a more commodious dwelling was erected at the foot of the hill for the residence of the family; the hill fortress either being, suffered still to remain for a time, to be used in case of need, and so allowed to go gradually to decay, or as was most frequently the case, serving for a quarry from which stones could be more easily procured for the erection of the new structure, which will account for the almost entire destruction, and unintelligibly confused state of the remains of the old Castle. And it is by no means improbable that, the old Church having been in a dilapidated state, a new Chapel may have been erected adjoining the new dwelling-house, which the two existing windows in the pine-end as seen in the illustration may have served to light, the door beneath them now blocked up having been the entrance; this supposition will account for the present building having been called a Chapel, the remains on the hill "the old Chapel" and the wood, "the Church wood.

O. M. & T. W.


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