Castell Dinas Brân, Wales

The Castle, Llangollen
On the back:
“We have to gain the Victory.
That is our task.”
The Prime Minister

Google Street View.

Crowning a craggy hilltop high above Llangollen, Castell Dinas Brân – the Crow’s Fortress – is one of the most dramatically-sited and legend-haunted strongholds in the whole of Britain. Set within the corner of an Iron Age hillfort, it is one of the few surviving Welsh-built stone castles, constructed in the 13th Century by Gruffudd ap Madoc, ruler of northern Powys. . . . Surrounded by a rock-cut ditch and steep drops, [the ruins] include the remains of a gatehouse, keep, and characteristic D-shaped ‘Welsh tower’. A closer look reveals traces of features like wall-plaster, fireplaces and even en-suite toilets, demonstrating that this was once a splendid and well-appointed, as well as well-defended, fortress. Dinas Brân’s active life, however, lasted scarcely 20 years. Begun in the 1260s and abandoned and burnt by its Welsh defenders in 1277, it was then only briefly garrisoned by the English – whose commander remarked “there is no stronger castle in all Wales, nor has England a greater.” But it’s inaccessibility ensured that it was soon abandoned again to the crows which gave it its name.
The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB

The remains to be seen are actually the most recent evidence of fortification. The castle stands on what was once a hillfort, one of a series common to the area. Remains of the original earthen rampart are still visible to the south east. Dinas Bran stands in what was once the Kingdom of Powys. There is some fragmentary evidence that Madog ap Gruffudd, the founder of Valle Crucis Abbey ruled from Dinas Bran. If indeed he did so, there is no archaeological evidence of this. Any fortification he had built would probably have been wooden, and the same fragmentary records claim it burnt to the ground.

The castle of the present ruins was probably founded by Gruffydd II ap Madog in the 1260s, in response to his alliance with Llywelyn ap Gruffud Prince of Wales.  .  .  . On Gruffydd’s death in 1269/70, Dinas Bran probably passed to his eldest son, Madoc. The rise to power in England in 1272 of Edward I, the scourge of both the Welsh and Scots led to war between the Welsh and English in 1276. Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln moved into Wales through Oswestry in May 1277 with an army set on capturing Dinas Bran, only to be informed that the castle had been set on fire by the Welsh and abandoned.
Curious Clwyd: The beauty, the history, the folklore of North East Wales

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Shaky Bridge, Llandrindod Wells, Wales

Shaky Bridge, Llandrindod Wells
Postmarked 1908

Google Street View (approximate).

A former river crossing over the Ithon usually known as Shakey Bridge, but [on this picture] captioned Shaky Bridge. This rather unsafe looking structure, made of planks suspended on wires, was built in the 1890s.
People’s Collection Wales

This is a circular walk of 6.5km (5.5 miles) graded as medium. Halfway round is the popular beauty spot at Shaky Bridge – the original wire bridge across the river Ithon was dangerously shaky. There is a picnic site which can be reached from Town by road and is a setting off point to explore Bailey Einon Nature Reserve, the grass covered ruins of Cefnllys Castle andthe 14th cent. Church of St Michael.
Llandrindod Wells

Harlech Castle, Wales

Harlech Castle
Postmarked 1908
Publisher: Raphael Tuck & Sons, “Picturesque North Wales”series

Google Street View (approximate)

Harlech was completed from ground to battlements in just seven years under the guidance of gifted architect Master James of St George. Its classic ‘walls within walls’ design makes the most of daunting natural defences. Even when completely cut off by the rebellion of Madog ap Llewelyn the castle held out – thanks to the ‘Way from the Sea’. This path of 108 steps rising steeply up the rock face allowed the besieged defenders to be fed and watered by ship.

Harlech was begun during King Edward I’s second campaign in north Wales. It was part of an “iron ring” of castles surrounding the coastal fringes of Snowdonia, eventually stretching from Flint around to Aberystwyth; a ring intended to prevent the region from ever again becoming a focal point of insurrection and a last bastion of resistance. Following the fall of the Welsh stronghold of Castell y Bere, King Edward’s forces arrived at Harlech in April, 1283, and building work began almost immediately. Over the next six years an army of masons, quarriers, laborers and other craftsmen were busily engaged in construction. In 1286, with the work at its height, nearly 950 men were employed under the superintendence of Master James. The final result was a perfectly concentric castle, where one line of defenses is enclosed by another.

Unfortunately, the outer wall is ruinous today and fails to convey the true 13th-century effect. The natural strength of the castle rock and cliff face meant that only the east face was open to possible attack. Here the gatehouse still offers an insolent display of power. The gate-passage itself was protected by a succession of no less than seven obstacles, including three portcullises. On either side of the passage were guardrooms, and the upper floors of the gatehouse provided the main private accommodation at Harlech. The first floor must have been for the constable, or governor, who from 1290-93 was none other than Master James himself. The comfortable rooms on the top floor probably served as a suite for visiting dignitaries, including the king.
Castles of Wales

Imperial Hotel, Tenby, Wales

The Sands & Imperial Hotel | Tenby
Publisher: J. Salmon Ltd

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Originally a terrace of houses of circa 1835, built by Andrew Reed, known as Belmont Houses, with a two-storey range to the E apparently extended and remodelled in earlier C20. An engraving of 1832 by Reinagle shows the roof being put on Belmont Houses. Later they seem to have been known as Belmont Terrace, one being owned by the Earl of Limerick who had the Belmont Arch cut through the town walls for carriage access. No 2 was burnt in 1869. No 1 was known as Belmont Towers in 1904 when offered to let, and this included rooms built into a round tower of the medieval walls. It had 13 bedrooms and an alcoved drawing room. It was sold with Nos 2 and 3 to become the Imperial Hotel in 1905, lavishly renovated by Maples of London for the proprietor, M. Thierry-Mougnard. Further alterations by Maples are recorded in 1907, including a smoking-room in the style of Henri II of France. In 1912 a fire destroyed the roof and upper floors. A lounge over the clifftop was added in 1923.
British Listed Buildings

The Imperial Hotel was originally a terrace of houses, built circa 1835 and were known as Belmont Houses and later Belmont Terrace. An 1832 engraving by Reinagle shows the roof being put on Belmont Houses. In the 1860s the Earl of Limerick had the Belmont Arch cut through the town walls for carriage access. Belmont Arch is also known as Limerick Arch or Imperial Arch.
No 2 was burnt in 1869. No 1 was known as Belmont Towers. All three houses were sold to become the Imperial Hotel in 1905. It was heavily renovated in 1907 by Maples for its proprietor M. Thierry-Mougnard, designed to suit the demand for the highest standards and it was known for a time as Thierry’s Imperial Hotel.11 He had previously been assistant manager of London’s Hotel Cecil. The hotel was later taken over by his son, Mario, as mentioned in the illustrated brochure. A fire in 1912 destroyed the roof and upper floors. A lounge over the cliff top was added in 1923 and the building was heavily altered in the 20th century.

Facebook: Tenby Museum & Art Gallery

Chepstow Castle, Chepstow, Wales

Chepstow Castle.
Publisher: Francis Frith & CO

Google Street View

Chepstow Castle at Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales is the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. Located above cliffs on the River Wye, construction began in 1067 under the instruction of the Norman Lord William FitzOsbern. Originally known as Striguil, it was the southernmost of a chain of castles built in the Welsh Marches, and with its attached lordship took the name of the adjoining market town in about the 14th century. In the 12th century the castle was used in the conquest of Gwent, the first independent Welsh kingdom to be conquered by the Normans. It was subsequently held by two of the most powerful Anglo-Norman magnates of medieval England, William Marshal and Richard de Clare. However, by the 16th century its military importance had waned and parts of its structure were converted into domestic ranges. Although re-garrisoned during and after the English Civil War, by the 1700s it had fallen into decay.

Building was started in 1067 by Earl William fitz Osbern, close friend of William the Conqueror, making it one of the first Norman strongholds in Wales. In turn William Marshal (Earl of Pembroke), Roger Bigod (Earl of Norfolk) and Charles Somerset (Earl of Worcester) all made their mark before the castle declined after the Civil War. These magnates and power-brokers were constantly on the move. Chepstow was just one residence in their vast estates – an impressive shell into which they would bring their gold and silver vessels, rich silk and brightly painted furniture.

In the keep, Chepstow Castle

The store chamber, Chepstow Castle

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Gelert’s Grave, Beddelgert, Wales

Beddelgert, Gelert’s Grave

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A short walk south of the village, following the footpath along the banks of the Glaslyn leads to Beddgelert’s most famous historical feature; ‘Gelert’s Grave’. According to legend, the stone monument in the field marks the resting place of ‘Gelert’, the faithful hound of the medieval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great. The story, as written on the tombstone reads:

“In the 13th century Llewelyn, prince of North Wales, had a palace at Beddgelert. One day he went hunting without Gelert, ‘The Faithful Hound’, who was unaccountably absent. On Llewelyn’s return the truant, stained and smeared with blood, joyfully sprang to meet his master. The prince alarmed hastened to find his son, and saw the infant’s cot empty, the bedclothes and floor covered with blood. The frantic father plunged his sword into the hound’s side, thinking it had killed his heir. The dog’s dying yell was answered by a child’s cry. Llewelyn searched and discovered his boy unharmed, but nearby lay the body of a mighty wolf which Gelert had slain. The prince filled with remorse is said never to have smiled again. He buried Gelert here”.
Beddelgert Tourism

To this day, a cairn of stones marks the place, and the name Beddgelert means in Welsh ‘The grave of Gelert’. Every year thousands of people visit the grave of this brave dog; slight problem however, is that the cairn of stones is actually less than 200 years old!

Nevertheless this story has great appeal. History and myth appear to have become a little confused when in 1793, a man called David Pritchard came to live in Beddgelert. He was the landlord of the Royal Goat Inn and knew the story of the brave dog and adapted it to fit the village, and so benefit his trade at the inn. He apparently invented the name Gelert, and introduced the name Llywelyn into the story because of the Prince’s connection with the nearby Abbey, and it was with the help of the parish clerk that Pritchard, not Llywelyn, raised the cairn!
Historic UK

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

Beaumaris Castle. The Great Hall from the Walls.
Publisher: Valentine

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Beaumaris on the island of Anglesey is famous as the greatest castle never built. It was the last of the royal strongholds created by Edward I in Wales – and perhaps his masterpiece. Here Edward and his architect James of St George took full advantage of a blank canvas: the ‘beau mareys’ or ‘beautiful marsh’ beside the Menai Strait. By now they’d already constructed the great castles of Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech. This was to be their crowning glory, the castle to end all castles. The result was a fortress of immense size and near-perfect symmetry. No fewer than four concentric rings of formidable defences included a water-filled moat with its very own dock. The outer walls alone bristled with 300 arrow loops.

The central defences consisted of an outer curtain wall augmented by circular towers. An Outer Gate provided access to a fortified dock ensuring the castle could always be resupplied by sea. The inner defences were the most substantial consisting of a tall curtain wall complete with six large towers and two massive gatehouse keeps. Over 1,500 men were employed in the construction of Beaumaris Castle and progress proceeded apace; by the start of 1296 the structure already stood in excess of six metres tall.

However, such construction was expensive and the same year the First War of Scottish Independence started. Although the Scots were swiftly defeated in the field, rebellion and uprisings continued forcing Edward to regularly campaign in the north. When the King sought to secure his new Scottish territories with castles, in the same manner as he did in Wales, he was forced to build his new structures in timber as he could no longer afford such lavish constructions such as Beaumaris. Linlithgow Castle for example was originally as large as Beaumaris but constructed solely from earth and timber. With such financial pressures, work on Beaumaris slowed considerably in Summer 1296 and thereafter virtually ceased. This left significant parts of the structure incomplete including the northern portion of the outer curtain wall and many of the buildings of the Inner Ward.
Castles Forts Battles

Despite this, Beaumaris Castle would play a key military role in the conflicts of the coming centuries. In 1403 it was besieged and captured by Prince of Wales Owain Glyndwr in a rebellion against English rule, before 2 years later being retaken by the English in 1405. During the English Civil War, Beaumaris was held by forces loyal to Charles I as a key strategic base with easy access to both England and Ireland. In 1646 Royalist forces were forced to relinquish it to the Parliamentarian army however, and while it was briefly recaptured in a 1648 revolt, it would soon return into the hands of the Roundheads. Unlike many other Royalist castles taken by the Parliamentarians, Beaumaris escaped the strategic practice of slighting, in which high-status buildings were damaged to prevent further use by enemy forces. The Parliamentarians instead garrisoned the castle, saving it from substantial destruction, yet following the Restoration of 1660 it was left to fall into ruin.
History Hit

Cadw floor plans (from Wikimedia Commons)

The striking thing about the inner ward is its great size. Covering about 3/4 of an acre, it was surrounded by a further six towers and the two great gatehouses. Within, it is clear that there was an intention to provide lavish suites of accommodation. Both gatehouses were planned to have grand arrangements of state rooms at their rear, much as those completed at Harlech. The north gate, on the far side, was only raised as far as its hall level and the projected second storey was never built. Even as it now stands, with its five great window openings, it dominates the courtyard. Another block, of equal size, was planned for the south gate, but this was never to rise further than its footings. Around the edges of the ward further buildings were planned and must have included a hall, kitchens, stables and perhaps a granary. Although there is some evidence of their existence in the face of the curtain wall, it is not certain they were ever completed.
Castles of Wales

Snowdon Railway, Wales

Snowdon Railway Train at Llanberis Station
Postmarked: 1942
Publisher: Valentine

Google Street View (approximate).

The Snowdon Mountain Railway is a narrow gauge rack and pinion mountain railway in Gwynedd, north-west Wales. It is a tourist railway that travels for 4.7 miles (7.6 km) from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. The SMR is the only public rack and pinion railway in the United Kingdom, and after more than 100 years of operation it remains a popular tourist attraction, carrying more than 140,000 passengers annually.

1894-96 Snowdon Mountain Railway was constructed between December 1894, when the first sod was cut by Enid Assheton-Smith (after whom locomotive No 2 was named), and February 1896, at a total cost of £63,800 (equivalent to £6,775,000 in 2016). 150 men with picks, shovels and dynamite laid almost eight kilometres of track up the mountain – all in fourteen months.
1895-96 The technology for safely transporting carriages of people up and down a mountainside had existed in Switzerland for some time, so that was where the newly-formed Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd. went. They purchased five Swiss steam locomotives — L.A.D.A.S, Enid, Wyddfa, Snowdon and Moel Siabod – three of which are still in service today.
1922-24 Three more steam locomotives were built in Switzerland — Padarn, Ralph and Eryri — along with two more carriages. All of the railway’s steam locomotives were built by the Swiss Locomotive & Manufacturing Co. of Winterhur at a cost of £1,525 each (which would have the equivalent purchasing power of around £120,000 today). In 1924, the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd sold the Royal Victoria Hotel and formed as Snowdon Mountain Railway.
1958-63 During the 50’s and 60’s the four original locomotives were sent to Hunslet to be overhauled, No.2 in 1958, No.5 in 1959, No.3 in 1960 and No.4 in 1963, and the original open carriages were remodelled so that they became enclosed, in an attempt to better protect passengers from the elements.

Snowdon Mountain Railway

Conwy Castle & Suspension Bridge, Conwy, Wales

Conway Castle and Bridges
Postmarked 1909
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.
Britain Express

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
Publisher: Valentine

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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