Last weekend I visited Conwy’s beautiful and yet formidable late 13th-century castle. It was built by order of King Edward I of England and established with its own walled borough. As an English colony, it was situated to snub the pre-existing monastic landscape of a Cistercian foundation patronised by the princes of Gwynedd – Aberconwy Abbey – which was moved upstream 8 miles. Castle and town equally frowned across at the site of the ancient hilltop fortress of Degannwy to its north-east across the River Conwy.
The castle was constructed of eight towers, two barbicans and a postern gate allowing entry from the water. It has had a long history as a military structure, built rapidly in 5 years from 1283 and 1287, it was besieged in 1294/5 by Madog ap Llywelyn’s forces.
The castle was used for negotiations between Richard II and Henry Percy in 1399. The castle was taken by two of Owain Glyndwr’s relatives in 1401 during his revolt. It was a royalist stronghold during the English Civil War and it was slighted by Parliament in 1655.
It has had almost as long a duration as a sublime ruin and tourist attraction, attracting artists and poets in the 18th century (J.M.W. Turner among them). During the later 19th century, the castle was subject to serious and sustained renovations and became a protected scheduled monument.
Today, the visitor experiences at Conwy one of the ‘Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd’ World Heritage Sites. Moreover, there are some spaces with more elaborate displays. as the projected fire in the fireplace and the reconstitution of stained glass into the chapel window, but otherwise it is kept a relatively stark ruin for exploration.
Under the stewardship of Cadw, Conwy Castle has adequate parking, a large castle shop, snappy sign boards and, of course, high-quality heritage jam. On this particular visit, I acquired some very tasty and much recommended jam: apricot and almond….
We even acquired ice cream on the way out. Indeed, I almost punched a herring gull who tried to steal my daughter’s.
Overall, this was a fun and spiral stair-tastic experience. It was made extra-special this time because me and my twinagers and got to meet up with an archaeological legend and his daughter: Dr Joe and Zoe Flatman.
Looking out, one can view the fortified walled town and estuary. Adjacent to the castle are two striking faux-medieval constructions of the early-mid 19th century. Telford’s suspension bridge: one of the world’s oldest dating from 1826, and Stephenson’s railway bridge dating from 1848/9, both have mock medieval designs including crenellations.
So where’s the archaeodeath angle on Conwy Castle Prof Williams? I’ve previously talked about the experience of walking around Conwy town walls and witnessing ‘dirty heritage‘. I’ve also written blogs about medieval archaeology, heritage, memorials and art within a range of other Welsh castles including:
- Kidwelly here, here and here,
- Castell y Bere,
- Dolforwyn, and here and here
- Castell Dinas Bran here and here
From these examples you might gather that castles are frequently foci of different kinds of commemoration, from public statues and war memorials to past events and people, as well as memorials to heritage itself. Still, Conwy Castle is a bit of an archaeodeath death-zone: I struggled to find anything mortuary or memorial interest, although I have recently written about the ‘We are Seven’ memorial.
However, in Conwy Castle there is only a single, prominently placed sculptural guardian: a seated solider resting on his spear. Beyond that, it is memorial free! What can I say? I tried archaeodeathers but Cadw were keen to deny me a memorial dimension with this visit! Do you think they saw me coming and therefore read my blog?