Prior to the 13th century invasion of Wales by Edward I of England, the crossing of the River Conwy was guarded by the Prince of Gwynedd from his wooden hillfort of Deganwy on the eastern bank of the estuary. On the western bank, on the site where Edward was to build the new town of Conwy, stood the Cistercian monastery of Aberconwy Abbey.
Considered to be one of the finest examples of late 13th century fortresses in Europe, Conwy Castle stands at the crossing point near the mouth of the River Conwy, built largely with grey stone quarried from the rocky outcrop on which it stands, with contrasting yellow sandstone for finer work being brought in from the nearby Great Orme, and over the border in England, although originally the castle would have been whitewashed.
The architecture resembles that found in the Kingdom of Savoy, where its main architect James of St George came from, and may have been because he used craftsmen from Savoy. He was appointed Master of the Royal Works in Wales by the king in 1285, and was responsible for designing many of Edward I’s other castles including Beaumaris, Harlech and Caernarfon. The Master Mason was also involved in the construction of the castles at Aberystwyth, Builth, as an engineer and Flint and Rhuddlan as Master Mason, which had been started earlier. In 1290 John was appointed Constable of Harlech Castle, where he remained until 1293 before going to Scotland with Edward I in 1298 to oversee the defences of Linlithgow and Stirling.
The castle has a rectangular but slightly “V” shaped plan, to conform with the shape of the ridge on which it is built. It has inner and outer wards guarded by eight 70 foot towers. It has two barbicans, the western one being the main entrance, reached over a drawbridge up a sharply inclined ramp from the town and protected by a portcullis, containing in its walls the earliest examples of murder holes in Britain.
The gate opens between the north west tower, used as the porter's lodge and stores, and the south west tower occupied by the Constable, into the Outer Ward surrounded by six of the towers, the Bakehouse Tower, the Prison Tower containing a debtor's chamber and dungeon, the Kitchen Tower and the Stockhouse Tower. Along the southern wall was built the Great Hall, a smaller hall with accommodation rooms, and an adjoining chapel, all built over cellars, whilst running along the northern wall and backing onto the Kitchen Tower used for accommodation and storage, was the service block, containing a kitchen, bakehouse, brewhouse and stable blocks.
The Inner Ward, containing what have been described as the best preserved medieval royal apartments in England and Wales, was originally separated from the Outer Ward by a rock cut ditch spanned by a drawbridge and a gate. Alongside the gate the castle's 90 foot deep, spring fed well can still be seen.
The isolated and self contained Inner Ward, offering additional protection in event of attack, held all the necessitates for supporting the royal household and their staff. The royal rooms running around the courtyard were designed as a miniature palace. The two towers on the eastern wall dividing the Inner Ward from the eastern barbican were the King’s Tower and the private Chapel Tower for the use of the royal family. All four towers surrounding the Inner Ward have additional watchtower turrets for added security, and display of flags in a prominent place. The arrangement was similar to that at Corfe Castle, allowing extra guards to be available without prying eyes. The royal apartments were on the first floor of the buildings around the ward, but the two lots of apartments were later combined into a Great Chamber, with inner and outer chambers.
Beyond the Inner Ward, the eastern barbican led down to a postern gate and a small dock on the river, so visitors could arrive and the castle could be provisioned by ships, allowing the royal palace to be sealed off and provisioned indefinitely in times of trouble. This enclosed the castle gardens which could be seen from the royal apartments, and over the centuries reflected the different lifestyles of the times. Originally just lawned, by the end of the 14th century vines had been introduced, an orchard in the 16th century, and by the 17th a formal ornamental flower garden.
The Main Gate
Chapel and Towers
South West Battlements
Chapel and Great Hall
Entrance to Great Hall
Great Hall Fireplace
Dungeon Below PrisonTower
(Not a Real Body!)