Monday, 10 November 2014

Castell Coch

Castell Coch, on a steeply wooded hillside north of Cardiff is proof that fairy tales do, sometimes, come true. Of course it helped that the client was John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the spectacularly rich 3rd Marquess of Bute and his architect was eccentric genius William Burges, one of 19th century Britain's most imaginative designers. While working for Lord Bute at Cardiff Castle, William Burges drew up plans for the reconstruction of Castell Coch, a ruined 13th century castle on the Bute estates north-east of Cardiff. Although the plans were drawn up in 1872, due to the scale of the ongoing work at Cardiff Castle, work on Castell Coch did not begin until 1875.

Lord Bute a serious and committed antiquarian and scholar had a passionate interest in archaeology. In 1871 he commissioned  an extensive programme of excavations at Castell Coch, the Red Castle. So in 1872 with the ruins cleared of vegetation he asked William Burges to imagine what the original appearance of the castle would have been like.

The origins of the castle go back to the 11th century when the Welsh were defending their country against the Norman invaders who sought to conquer the south-west of the country. The first stronghold on the site was a motte and bailey, later a stone keep was erected on the summit. By the 13th century the area was controlled by the powerful Clare family, lords of Glamorgan, and they built the first of Castell Coch's three great towers, the Well Tower.

Two further towers were added to the southern face of the castle, overlooking the Taff Gorge, most probably by Earl Gilbert de Clare (1263-95), responsible for building Caerphilly Castle. However soon after Castell Coch seems to have suffered the depredations of war and was finally abandoned after the Welsh rebellions of the early 14th century.  Then, after a gap of 550 years, the Marquess of Bute engaged William Burges to recreate the castle.

What Lord Bute's cash and William Burges' imagination created was a stunning fantasy castle. Never intended to be a permanent residence Castell Coch was a spectacular folly to augment Lord Bute's vast Welsh estates.

The dramatic entrance to the castle is by means of a wooden bridge to the gatehouse, defended by a working portcullis and drawbridge and a wooden platform above. Bute and Burgess wanted to emulate Viollet-le-Duc at Carcassonne and Pierrefonds. Spiritual protection is provided by a statue of the Madonna and Child

The Courtyard was inspired by the castle of Chillon and Viollet-le-Duc's covered wall walk at Pierrefonds.

The Courtyard and wall walk

The Portcullis

The Banqueting Hall

The vaulted galleried Drawing Room is the most spectacular room at Castell Coch.

The Drawing Room

The Three Fates of Greek mythology on the chimney-piece.

The drawing room ceiling

The walls of the drawing room are painted with scenes from Aesop's Fables.

Lord Bute's Bedroom

Ceiling of Lord  Bute's Bedroom

Lord Bute's Bedroom

Lady Bute's Bedroom

Ceiling of Lady Bute's Bedroom


The washstand

Lady Margaret's Bedroom

Stained glass from the Chapel

Although Castell Coch was never intended as a permanent residence, after Lord Bute's death, his widow and daughter Lady Margaret withdrew here for the mourning period. Lady Bute recieved the use of Castell Coch for life. However the castle was only used for occassional visits in summer and for an annual meet of the Pentrych Hunt. The castle was requisitioned in the Second World War and in 1950, the 5th Marquess of Bute handed Castell Coch over to the Ministry of Works, whose successors Cadw care for the castle today.