Beaumaris Castle

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Edward I built a string of castles around North Wales to stamp his power and authority over the region. All were designed by James of St George and reflect state of the art military design. Beaumaris was the biggest and most ambitious venture he undertook. It was the last to be built, along flat marshy land of the Menai Strait. It needed to be well fortified and is often regarded as the most technically perfect castle with moat and two concentric lines of walls and towers with massive gatehouses. It would have been virtually impregnable.The gate next-the-sea entrance protected the tidal dock which allowed supply ships to sail right up to the castle.

Unfortunately money ran out before it was finished. 600 years on, it is still as impressive as ever, and a World Heritage Site.

Llanfaes, just a short distance north of Beaumaris was the wealthiest borough in Wales at the time and an important trading port on the route to Ireland. Beaumaris Castle was built in response to a rebellion by Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294. The local population were moved to a new settlement of Newborough and Edward began to build Beaumaris Castle and establish an English town under its protection. Native Welsh were not allowed to purchase houses or land within the Borough and were disqualified from holding any civic office. There was also a requirement that all trade be conducted at Beaumaris, making it the main commercial centre of Anglesey.

Work began in 1295 with an average of 1,800 workmen, 450 stonemasons and 375 quarriers on the site. The wage bill was around £270 a week and the project rapidly fell into arrears. Workers were paid with leather tokens instead of normal coinage. Construction slowed as debts began to rise. Work stopped in 1300, when around £11,000 had been spent. Edward's invasion of Scotland was diverting funding from the project. Work only recommencing after an invasion scare in 1306. When work finally ceased around 1330 a total of £15,000 had been spent. A royal survey in 1343 suggested that at least a further £684 would be needed to complete the castle, but this was never invested.

Beaumaris Castle was taken by Welsh forces in 1403 during the Owain Glynd?r rebellion, the last of the Welsh uprisings. It was recaptured two years later. Afterwards, the castle wasn't really needed and was poorly maintained. By 1534 it was in a state of disrepair.

During the Civil War, Beaumaris Castle was a strategic location as it controlled part of the route between the King’s bases in Ireland and his operations in England. The castle was held by forces loyal to Charles I, and money was spent to improve its defences. It held out until 1646 when it surrendered to the Parliamentary armies. The castle escaped slighting as Parliament was concerned about the threat of a Royalist invasion from Scotland and it continued to be garrisoned by Parliamentary troops.

After the Reformation, the castle was no longer needed. Lead was stripped from the roofs and it was left to fall into ruin. In 1807, Lord Thomas Bulkeley bought the castle from the Crown in 1807 for £735, incorporating it into the park that surrounded his residence, Baron Hill. By now Victorians were becoming interested in romantic ivy clad ruins. It was visited by the future Queen Victoria in 1832. In 1923 the castle was placed in the care of the Commission for Works who carried out a major restoration project, stripping back the vegetation, digging out the moat and repairing stonework. Now it is under the care of CADW.

Beaumaris castle is built from local stone and is what everyone expects a castle to look like, with a moat and two walls of defence with towers. The small dock which provisioned the castle is still there. The small wall known as the Gunners Walk is still there. This gave extra protection to the dock and may have held a trebuchet siege engine. Large horse chestnut trees are the walls are reflected in the water.

It is reached across a bridge over the moat and through the Gate Next the Sea with two massive towers and heavily defended with murder holes and portcullis. Stairs inside the towers lead to the wall walk round the outer wall.

The right had tower (west) takes you up above Gunners Walk. The other tower takes you up onto the wall walk around the outside or the outer wall to the Llanfaes gateway at the north of the castle and giving access to the hinterland. There is also access between the two walls round the outer ward. Walking round here, dwarfed by the tall towers makes you realise just how effective the castle would have been as a killing zone.

The inner defensive wall is taller and much more substantial with larger towers. It has two massive gateways, both offset from the gateways through the outer walls. These were intended to be two stories high and include the state rooms. Neither were completed. Now they are roofless shells. There is a series of wall passages through the walls with small walls and latrines. Steps in the towers give access to the wall walk with its splendid views of the castle and town.

The inner ward was huge as it was designed to hold the domestic buildings. Nothing is left of them and it is unknown how many of these buildings were ever built or finished. Remains of fire places can be seen on the walls.

The chapel was built on the first floor of the Chapel tower, access through the walls from an adjacent tower. It was designed to be used by the King rather than the garrison and has vaulted ceiling, blind arcading round the walls with trefoil arches. It is empty apart from a table altar with a small cross. On the ground floor of the tower is a small exhibition about Edwardian castles.

There are two disabled spaces on the road by the castle. Otherwise disabled visitors can be dropped off by the Visitor Centre. There is a large pay and display car park to the west of the castle which has disabled bays. Disabled can park free with a blue badge. Visitors can park free for 60minutes on the main street.

Disabled visitors and carers are admitted free and there is a slight reduction for seniors. The Visitor Centre with a small shop is accessible. There is a well made path across the bridge into the castle. There is level, grassy access to the inside of the castle. The wall walk is reached by steep steps and is inaccessible.

A black mark is that there are no toilets on the site. Visitors have to use the public toilets a short distance from the visitor Centre.

This is an amazing castle – military architecture at its best. I have visited it many times now and it never ceases to impress.
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