Castell Coch

Castell Coch

Castell Coch (English translation: "Red Castle") is a 19th century Gothic Revival castle built on the remains of a genuine 13th century fortification. It is situated in the village of Tongwynlais, north of Cardiff in Wales. A castle was probably founded on the site in the early thirteenth century by a Welsh chieftain named Ifor Bach. In the late thirteenth century the castle site was claimed by the De Clare family because of its strategic importance, commanding both the plains area and the entrance to the Taff valley. The castle was rebuilt in stone and consisted of a keep, towers, an enclosed courtyard and a gatehouse.

It is assumed, in the absence of documentary evidence, that the castle was almost completely destroyed in the Welsh rebellions of the early 14th century. Certainly, in Tudor times, the antiquary John Leyland described it as "al in ruine". It was in this wrecked and overgrown state in 1871, when John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, ordered the site to be cleared of vegetation and debris, and his architect, William Burges, drew up plans for a full reconstruction. Burges and the Marquess had, by that time, been working for over three years on the rebuilding of Cardiff Castle; the aim at Castell Coch was to achieve another Gothic Revival masterpiece in the appropriate thirteenth-century style.

A very full, and beautiful, set of drawings for the planned rebuilding exists, together with a full architectural justification by Burges of his plans. The most picturesque, and archaeologically questionable, features of the reconstruction are the three conical roofs to the towers. Burges undoubtedly, and rightly, desired the roofs for their visual effect, admitting that they were "utterly conjectural" although "more picturesque and (..) affording much more accommodation"; but was determined to defend them as historically sound. "It is true that some antiquaries deny the existence of high roofs in English Mediaeval Military Architecture, and ask objectors to point out examples. As nearly every Castle in the country has been ruined for more than two is not surprising that no examples are to be found. But we may form a very fair idea of the case if we consult contemporary (manuscripts) and if we do we find nearly an equal number of towers with flat roofs as those with pointed roofs. The case appears to me to be thus: if a tower presented a good situation for military engines, it had a flat top; if the contrary, it had a high roof to guarantee the defenders from the rain and the lighter sorts of missiles. Thus an arrow could not pierce the roof, but if the latter were absent and the arrow was fired upright, in its downward flight it might occasion the same accident to the defenders as happened to Harold at Hastings."

The three towers, the Keep, the Well Tower and the Kitchen Tower, incorporate a sumptuous, but very limited, series of apartments; of which the main sequence, the Castellan's Rooms, lie within the Keep. The Hall, the Drawing Room, Lord Bute's Bedroom and Lady Bute's bedroom comprise, in total, one of the most exhilarating suite of rooms in the High Victorian Gothic style to be found anywhere in Britain, although the second and fourth hugely exceed in quality the Hall and the Lord's chamber. The weakness of some of the interior decoration can perhaps be attributed to Burges' early death. Although the castle was built by 1881, an enormous amount remained to be done internally and work continued for a decade after his death. Regrettably, some of the decoration has an anaemic quality that can also be seen in parts of Cardiff Castle, e.g. the Great Hall.

This aside, the Drawing Room and Lady Bute's bedroom are fantastical creations with an exuberance that overpowers the visitor. The ceilings and wall paintings are dazzling in their richness and almost equal the best achieved at Cardiff Castle. In addition, the exterior of the castle is an awesome display of architectural power and ability. In a lecture, Burges called on architectural students to "study the great broad masses, the strong unchamfered lines", and the combinations of cone, block and drum which Burges achieved at Castell Coch demonstrate his architectural mastery. Following Burges' death, work on the interior continued for another ten years. But the Castle was not suitable for, nor was it intended to be, a permanent residence, and the family's visits were infrequent although the Marchioness and her daughter, Lady Margaret Bute, did occupy it for a period following the death of the Marquess in 1900. In 1950, the 5th Marquess of Bute placed the Castle in the care of the Ministry of Works. It is now administered by Cadw on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales.

Appearances in movies and popular culture

The castle is mentioned in the Target novelisation of the Doctor Who segment "The Ark" where companion Dodo Chaplet implies that she has visited the castle. It later appeared in the "Doctor Who" series itself, in the episode "Journey's End", though it portrayed a German schloss located near Nuremberg.

The castle was used as the location of the witch school "Cackle's Academy" in the popular television series "The Worst Witch".

It appeared in Tracey Beaker's Movie Of Me and also in a film adaptation of Robin Hood.

The castle has also been used as a location in many films. The castle was used as one of the locations for the Hollywood movie The Black Knight, starring Alan Ladd. This movie also used the legend of the secret tunnel between Castell Coch and Cardiff Castle.


*Girouard, Mark, "The Victorian Country House" (1979) Yale University Press
* Floud, Peter, "Castell Coch: Official Guide" (1980) Welsh Office
* Crook, J. Mordaunt, "William Burges and the High Victorian Dream" (1981) John Murray
* Crook, J. Mordaunt, "The Strange Genius of William Burges" (1981) National Museum of Wales
* McLees, David, "Castell Coch: Official Guide" (2005) Cadw

External links

* [ Cadw] - tourism information on the castle
* [] - description of Castell Coch
* [ Castell Coch Virtual Tour] , featuring 360° full screen panoramas
* [ : photos of Castell Coch and surrounding area]

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