Conway Castle and Bridges
Publisher: The Pictorial Stationery Company
Conwy Castle is one of the earliest examples of Edward I’s “iron ring” of castles built to pacify the rebellious princes of northern Wales. Edward finally subdued the Welsh threat in Snowdonia in 1283. Well aware of the strategic importance of Conwy to the area, Edward immediately began building a massive castle there. So important was the castle to Edward that he imported up to 1,500 craftsmen from all over England to speed the building process. The castle was completed in only four years, a remarkable feat in those days.
Imagine a 13th-century visitor gazing across the River Conwy at the castle’s gleaming white walls, heraldic banners, painted shutters and shields hanging from the battlements. This was truly a fortress fit for a king – inside and out. First master mason James of St George raised the mighty towers and curtain wall. There was no point in luxury until the castle was secure. Then he built a suite of royal apartments inside this bristling outer shell. . . . Despite spending an astronomical £15,000 on Conwy, Edward I only stayed here once. Trapped by a Welsh rebellion of 1294, he spent a miserable Christmas with just one barrel of wine in the castle cellar for comfort. His queen Eleanor of Castile, for whom Master James built a relatively modest first-floor chamber, died in 1290 after years abroad. She can only have seen Conwy as a building site. In 1301 the future Edward II came to the castle to receive homage as Prince of Wales and stayed for a couple of months. Conwy also hosted tense negotiations between Richard II and his eventual captors in 1399. History tells us these were the only times the royal apartments were used for their intended purpose. By the 17th century the original suite with two entrances – one for the king and one for the queen – had been converted to a single unit. . . .But damage caused in the aftermath of the Civil War, a familiar story at medieval sites across Wales, soon meant these royal rooms were never lived in again.
Each tower formerly sustained a lofty and elegant turret, provided with a winding staircase, raised for the purpose of commanding an extensive view of the adjacent country. Of these turrets four only at present remain. “In one of the great towers,” observes Mr. Pennant, in his Journey to Snowdon, “is a fine window, in form of an arched recess, or bow, ornamented with pillars. This, in antient times, was an elegant part of architecture, called the Oriel, usual in the houses of people of rank ; and appears, from a poem of the very age in which this was built, to have been the toilet (or rather the Boudoir) of the ladies, and probably might have been that of Queen Elinor.
“The Great Hall,” continues the above tourist, “suited the magni-ficence of the founder. It is of a curved form, conformable to the bend of the outward walls, including one end with a large window, which seems to have been the private chapel. It extended a hundred and thirty feet in length, was thirty-two broad, and of a fine height.”
“The ancient castles of England and Wales”, William Woolnoth & E.W. Brayley, jun, 1825
Passing through the gateway, which had a portcullis on its inner side, into the outer ward, it will be seen that the towers are somewhat flattened on their inner face in order to allow the alure or rampart walk to be carried along outside them instead of passing through their centre. On the south side is the hall, with a basement quarried out of the rock beneath it. At the east end behind the dais, and formerly separated by a wooden partition, is the chapel. Hall and chapel have each two large windows towards the court and smaller ones towards the field, and at the east end of the chapel is a round-headed window with a piscina in the south jamb. Opposite the hall door and against the north curtain was the kitchen, now destroyed.
The inner ward is separated from the outer by a cross-wall in which is a shoulder-headed doorway, and the four towers at its angles are distinguished from the others by having each a small round turret, about 15 feet high, into which the vice extends. The south-eastern tower is called the King’s and the north-eastern the Queen’s tower. The living rooms, consisting of a ground door and one floor above, are ranged round the south and east sides of this ward. The west end of the south side contained a small hall on the upper floor, communicating at its lower end with the tower called the Broken tower–which probably contained the kitchen–and at its upper or eastern end with a drawing-room. This in turn communicates with the King’s tower, and so with the Queen’s cham-ber, which occupies the upper floor on the east side.
In the Queen’s tower is a beautiful little oratory with an apse of three bays, each containing a lancet window. The centre one has been filled with a figure of Queen Eleanor, the wife of Edward I, in stained glass. On either side of the oratory is a small mural chamber with a loop towards the chapel. Under the Queen’s chamber is a passage which ends in a doorway opening on to the eastern platform : on either side of the doorway are staircases leading to the first floors of the King’s and Queen’s towers. The eastern platform is larger than the western, and a door at its northern extremity formerly led to a parapeted staircase descending to the water’s edge, but this was removed when the suspension bridge was built in 1822.
“Castles Of England And Wales”, Herbert A Eales, 1912
On the suspension Bridge, Conway
The Suspension Bridge, by its lightness, finely contrasts with the solid masses of the castle, and is an object no less beautiful than useful in communicating with both banks of the river.
“Wales illustrated” , Henry Gastineau & Henry, 1830
Built by Thomas Telford, the 99.5-metre-long (326 ft) suspension bridge spans the River Conwy next to Conwy Castle, a World Heritage Site. The bridge was built in 1822–26 at a cost of £51,000 and replaced the ferry at the same point. It is in the same style as one of Telford’s other bridges, the Menai Suspension Bridge crossing the Menai Strait. The original wooden deck was replaced by an iron roadway in the late nineteenth century and it was strengthened by adding wire cables above the original iron chains in 1903. The following year a six-foot-wide (1.8 m) walkway was added for pedestrian traffic.
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