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Holt Castle

Holt, Wrexham, Northeast Wales

Map link for Holt Castle

Photographs copyright 2004 by John Northall

Palmer 1907; Butler 1987

Holt Castle, known as Chastellion or Castrum Leonis from the lion sculpture above its gateway, was built some time between 1282 and 1311 by John de Warren, who was granted the area after Edward I's final defeat of the Welsh. He chose this low-lying but strategically important site on the west bank of the Dee in preference to Dinas Bran, which he apparently did not maintain. The King's architect may have been responsible for the design of the castle.

The site lies in a quarry, which presumably provided the stone for the building. It was probably intended to guard the river crossing now occupied by the Holt-Farndon bridge a little further downstream. The castle must have been high enough to see to the west and to the crossing point. The visible remains are difficult to interpret since almost all the stonework was removed between 1675 and 1683 for the construction of Eaton Hall, about 5 miles downstream. A survey of 1562 shows all the towers as round with a rectangular external annexe containing the chapel running full height of the south-eastern tower opposite the gate as square or rectangular.

 

Holt Castle Tour

Photographs and text copyright by John Northall

 

This photo tour takes us on a clockwise tour of the castle remains, starting and finishing near the main gate.


This picture shows the east side of the castle, now much reduced by quarrying. The earthen bank to the right of the photograph leads to the site of the barbican tower that stood in front of the main entrance. Beyond that, the position of two of the four demolished round towers can be seen at the corners of the elevated enclosure where the red sandstone rock faces can be seen. The remains of the wet moat lie around the enclosure in front of the wooden fence.

The barbican tower was situated where the clump of trees now stands at the right of this picture. There was a gap between the barbican tower and the carved stone entrance ramp (marked by the site of the modern metal fence) which would have been crossed by a drawbridge.

Looking from the south, the remains of the castle enclosure rest on top of a shaped sandstone base. A round tower stood to the right of the doorway and a rectangular tower was placed at the angle of the wall to the left. Did the doorway open out into an external room in a now-demolished accommodation range or tower?

Steps lead from the inside of the postern doorway up to the raised level of the courtyard. The hinge and drawbar sockets are on the other side of the door recess, which shows that the photograph has been taken from the outside of the door. There are no signs of dividing walls, floors or roofs in the adjoining stonework and this suggests that there were no external buildings at this point.

A drain emerges from the courtyard at the southern corner where the rectangular tower once stood. There are no signs of the rectangular tower itself.

The rock underneath the south-west corner seems to have been quarried away after the castle was abandoned, leaving the curtain wall hanging in mid-air.

The west side of the castle had a round tower at each end which reached down to ground level and it was protected by a wet moat fed from the river Dee. The remains of the main gate can be seen above the entrance ramp to the left of the picture.

Looking up at the main gate from below the north-west corner of the castle where a flanking tower used to stand. A buttress between the gateway and the tower reinforced the external face of the curtain wall.

The remains of the buttress and curtain wall to the right of the gate passage can be seen through the undergrowth that covers the entrance ramp. There is nothing of note to be seen inside the enclosure and access is not permitted for reasons of public safety.


 

Timeline

2nd to 4th Century AD - The Romans had military brick and tile works at Holt, which supplied building materials to the legionary fortress at Chester some 10 miles downstream.

1282 - The Welsh districts of Bromfield & Ial, in which Holt was situated, were given to the Norman baron John de Warrene by Edward the First as a reward for his participation in the final war against the Princes of Gwynedd.

1284 - Holt castle was started by Edward 1 on a base of triassic sandstone (245 million years old) next to the river Dee. It was then handed over to John de Warrene for completion.

1311 - The castle had been completed and a planned town placed next to it for the use of English settlers. The design of the castle featured towers that were built externally down the face of the rock outside the curtain wall, as was also the case with the upper ward at Ruthin and the south-eastern side of Conwy castle. Holt was known as Castrum Leonis or Castle Lyons and had a Lion motif carved into the stonework above the main gate.

1400 - The English-dominated settlement at Holt was burnt by Owain Glyndwr's men during a major revolt against the English crown but the castle was not taken.

1620 - John Norden surveyed the castle and noted that it was 'nowe in great decay' but still intact. Attached to the castle were 'Garners for corne barnes, stables for cattell, killne, brewhouse and one pidgeon house' but these have now entirely disappeared.

1643 - The castle was unsuccessfully besieged while being held by Royalists during the English civil war.

1646 - After holding out for a year during a second siege, Holt was captured by the Parliamentarians and was the last castle to fall in north-east Wales.

1650? - Holt castle was slighted (rendered indefensible through partial demolition) on the orders of Parliament to stop it being used against the people in any future unrest.

1675 to 1683 - Much of the castle's stonework was robbed by Thomas Grosvenor who floated it downstream towards Chester, for use during the construction of Eaton hall.

Circa 1735 - Samuel and Nathanial Buck made an engraving of Holt castle, which showed that it had not been completely demolished as the remains of a round tower and the rectangular annex could still be seen. Other stumps of masonry, some of which are still visible today, can be seen protruding from a deep covering of accumulated earth.

An 18th century engraving of the castle showed that parts of it remained after stone was taken to build Eaton Hall.


Today - All the towers have now gone, leaving the remains of a thin wall around the top of the rock which includes part of the main gate and the postern gate with internal steps. Many finely cut sandstone blocks can be seen in the walls of Holt village and these presumably came from the castle.


 

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