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Haverfordwest Castle

In the center of town, Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales

Map link for Haverfordwest Castle

Photographs copyright 2001 by Irma Hale

Sian Rees 1992

he castle stands on a superb, naturally defensive position at the end of a strong, isolated ridge with a sheer cliff on the east. It was an English foundation, first established by Gilbert de Clare, earl of Pembroke in the mid-12th century, and remained an English stronghold throughout its history. It is first mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis as one of the places he visited in 1188 with Archbishop Baldwin. Of that castle, which must have been of earth and timber, little now survives, except, perhaps for the footings of a large square keep in the north-east corner of the inner ward.

The present form of the castle, divided into two wards, probably reflects that of the original 12th-century castle. The plan is a little difficult to make out as the museum lies in the center of the outer ward, while the former prison governor's house lies on the site of the inner ward gatehouse. The medieval castle was converted to a prison in the 18th century, but the buildings of the inner ward and outer defences can still be appreciated.

Haverfordwest was probably a strong stone castle by 1220, when it withstood an attack by Llywelyn the Great who had already burned the town. It was acquired by Queen Eleanor (wife of Edward I) in 1289, who immediately began building there on a large scale, to judge from the considerable sums of money recorded as being spent on "the Queen's castle at Haverford." Much of the existing masonry is late 13th-century in style and may well have been undertaken during the one year before her death in 1290.

The lofty inner ward has round towers on the north-west and south-west corners, while the south-east corner has a square tower with an additional projecting turret. The entrance lay on the west, protected by a gatehouse of which no trace survives. The remains of a spacious hall lie on the south, with large windows built high enough in the exterior wall to be safe from attack by besiegers equipped with scaling ladders. The south-west and south-east towers have three storeys, the latter with a basement equipped with a postern gate to allow access to a small terrace which could be used to counter-attack during a siege. The wall-walk, carried on a row of corbels on the east of the tower, is a well-preserved feature on the inside, and from the outside of the castle the tower's remaining lights and arrowslits can be seen.


The outer ward has lost much of its medieval defences, but the curtain wall survives, albeit in a very rebuilt form, along with most of the north side, with one small semicircular turret and a square tower further east. An outer gatehouse presumably lay near the present entrance on the west. This was the only side with no natural formidable defence.

In the 14th century the castle was held by a series of owners, including Edward, the Black Prince, from 1359-67. In the hands of the crown from 1381-85, the castle was repaired. It was strong enough to repulse an attack in 1405 during Owain Glyndwr's war of Welsh independence. By the 16th century, however, the castle was derelict, but was hastily re-fortified during the Civil War. A story relates how in 1644 the nervous Royalists abandoned the castle, mistaking a herd of cows on a nearby hill for a Parliamentary army, thus allowing it to fall to Parliament without any resistance! It was later recaptured and held for the king for a year, but finally surrendered after the battle of Colby Moor, just to the west.

Medieval Haverfordwest was defended by town walls around the high ground near the castle, which were later extended as the town rapidly became an important market and trading place. Nothing remains of these town walls, although three medieval churches of Haverfordwest do survive.


Additional photographs of Haverfordweat Castle








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