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Oystermouth Castle

Mumbles, Swansea, south Wales
SS 613 883

Map link for Oystermouth Castle

Photographs 01, 03, 05, 07 copyright © 2006 Bill Damick
Photographs 02, 04 copyright © by Laurie Oliver


Elisabeth Whittle 1992

This is the Gower Peninsula's finest castle, standing on a small hill with a magnificent view over Swansea Bay in the resort town of Mumbles. It is well-preserved, intricate and exciting to explore. Oystermouth Castle was founded by William de Londres of Ogmore Castle early in the 12th century. Of this first castle, which was probably a ringwork and bailey on the highest part of the hill, there is now no trace. The castle later came to be the chief residence of the lords of Gower, and its history became intimately connected with that of Swansea Castle.

The earliest stone building of the castle, the keep, dates from the 12th century. This is the building straight ahead of the entrance. It has been much altered and incorporated into a later block, of which it now forms the southern half. Originally it was a free-standing, rectangular building, entered through an arched doorway, now blocked to the right of the present entrance porch. The great hall would have been on the first floor. Twice the Welsh burnt this early castle, first in 1116 and later in 1215.

In the 13th century the de Braoses were lords of Gower and held the castle, and towards the end of the century Oystermouth rather than Swansea became their principal residence. Edward I paid a brief visit here in December 1284. The de Braoses rebuilt the castle in stone, and most of what remains today is from that period. On the east and west sides is a high and impressive curtain wall with a wall-walk along the top. At its north-east end this leads to a garderobe and then rises to a small tower from which the panoramic view is magnificent. This is a good place from which to appreciate the lovely south window of the chapel. On its north side the castle is enclosed by the outside walls of several residential blocks.

The castle entrance on the south side is an arched passage flanked by what were originally two half-round towers. These have had their fronts hacked off, and the remainder patched and tidied up. Inside the castle the southern part is an open courtyard, with remains of two long, rectangular buildings against the curtain walls on either side of the entrance. The rest of the castle buildings fill the northern end. Behind the keep is a rectangular room with small windows and a fireplace in the south wall. Above this was the lord's private apartment, or solar, and below is a basement. A narrow passage leads through the top floor of the north-west block, thought to be the earliest stone addition to the castle after the keep. It is a high, three storey block with a barrel-vaulted basement, and similar middle floor, now held up by a modern pillar. In the south-east corner there is a fascinating narrow passage, dimly lit by narrow slits, which leads back to the keep. It skirts round a spiral staircase which can be glimpsed through its slits. To the west of the keep is a small guardroom. The north end of the west range is a three-storey residential building with fireplaces and garderobes on each floor. To the south is a range with steps leading down to two barrel-vaulted basements and steps up to a large, once well-lit room, with the remains of a large fireplace in its west wall. Apparently the de Braoses lived in some comfort here.

There remains the chapel block on the east side, architecturally the high point of the castle. It was added in the early 14th century, and is usually attributed to Lady Alenora de Mowbray, wife of lord John Mowbray who held the castle then. It blends in well with the rest of the castle, but its detail suggest a much greater level of refinement. On the ground floor are a large fireplace, narrow trefoil-headed splayed windows and a garderobe in the south-east corner. Above is a similar floor. But on the top floor was a large chapel, the great glory of which is its east window. This and the other chapel windows, retain their fine tracery, the finest of the period of any window in south-east Wales.

The chapel use was short-lived, for by 1331 the lords of Gower lived elsewhere. A gradual decline set in, and by the 16th century the castle was ruined. It still has the power to stir the imagination.


Additional photographs of Oystermouth Castle





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