Penybont and District Local History Group 3rd November 2014 – Notes Main Topic – Castles of the Ithon Valley – Dr Marion Evans

Geraint welcomed an almost full room to the session. New members Richard and Jenny were welcomed. Otherwise members had been before.
Geraint reminded everyone that the next session, the last one of the year, 1st December, would be on Farming Practices including childhood and Christmas experiences.
Mary, Derek and Geraint would meet in the meantime to prepare the programme for next year. He encouraged members to submit ideas.
Derek said that he had a visitor to the Thomas Shop by Brian Canvin who had for many years rigged up the speaker system for the Trotting Races. His father was Don Canvin who was well known to members as the commentator for many years. He was also remembered as a DJ at local events when he also played the drums.
Marion introduced the topic of the day by giving us some background information on herself. She has recently moved from London and purchased a house in New Radnor , the process of moving has taken over three years but she is now settled, with her husband and dog, into the local community. She has been a Civil Servant and worked extensively in Eastern Europe. While she has a Doctorate in Social History and Economics she has had to approach today’s topic, not as an expert, but as a challenging opportunity.
Her ‘challenge’ has been to try and obtain information on the castles that were built after the Norman conquest of 1066. Little is known and it has been quite difficult to delve into the history of this fascinating and changing history.
Marion pointed out that, for historians, castles begin with the Norman invasion in 1066 and that to understand the huge change that they represented it is important to look at what happened before that date.
Before 1066 there were fortified places in England , and that these were particularly well organised in the south western and central kingdom of Mercea . Here the plan was that that no person should be more than ten miles from the protection of public defences. These were very important as protection from Viking raids and, along the Welsh border, from the marauding Welsh. Hereford, for example, was fortified town of that kind. The key point to note was that these were public defence – designed to protect rather than oppress.
In Wales the situation was slightly different as few people lived in settlements, there were few towns, and the majority of people were out in the landscape. (Interestingly the population of Powys today has a higher number of people living in isolated homesteads than West Scotland.) Administration centres were compounds on lowland sites surrounded by ditches. These ‘commotes’, such as at Llys Rhosyr on Anglesey, provided protection to the population ( as well as strongholds for kings and princes). Where people could not reach these areas of protection, they are likely to have found shelter in churches. Most churches at that time are thought to have ditched and banked churchyards. Again the emphasis was on public protection, not oppression.
Norman Conquest
This was a very brutal period in history – a land-grab on a massive scale. The Normans were descended from Vikings who had settled in Northern France. Duke William II of Normandy (William the Conqueror) gave land to French noblemen on the basis that they defended their territory, as well as paying taxes and providing fighting forces. As a result of this over a 1000 Motte and Bailey castles were built with a particular density along the Welsh Marches. Unlike the older lowland castles which were built to protect the people the new castles were built on high ground with an ability to dominate the area. These early castles were built up to provide fortification through a wooden keep situated on a raised earthwork which was called the motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. This strategy was very effective and most of the country had been subdued and under Norman control within 4 years. Any revolts were put down .b living quaters. As the country settled the wooden structures were, if found suitable for a home, converted into stone castles. Many however were not ideal and they were abandoned. However it was on the Welsh borders that the Normans had most difficulty. A map of the distribution of castles throughout England and Wales shows a significant density all along the Marches.
Castles of the Ithon Valley
1. Castell-y-Blaidd near Llanbardan Fyndd (Wolf’s Castle)
There is some uncertainty about the origin of this site it could be the remains of a Norman castle or, possibly more likely, an older hill fort. As there are signs of prehistoric settlement close by. For more information see:
2. Buddugre (Hill of Victory) Near Llandewi, Ystradenny – or Tomen Bedd-Ugre
The alternative name for this castle ‘bedd-ugre’ or giant’s grave is a misunderstanding of the earlier Welsh. Its Hill of Victory name is significant because this is a Welsh castle and marks the acceptance by the Welsh princes that they would have to adopt the tactics of the enemy. Prior to this the Welsh had always preferred to fight out on open ground. It is a big site but there has been very little archaeology carried out. It is thought that the Castle was wooden but there is evidence of quarrying although this might just be the quarrying of small stone to shore up the embankments.( This small onsite quarry was in the past mistakenly thought to be along barrow – and hence the name Giants Grave). There is a well formed motte, a bailey and a community area. Recent archaeology has found evidence of a building that may have been a llys – a possible administrative centre and court. For pictures and more info see:

3. Castell-y- Gaer, Llandewi-Ystradenny
Castell-y-Gaer is situated opposite Buddugre and is an example of a Hill Fort that predates the Norman Conquest with circular ditches and banks. Pictures of this Fort can be seen on the same site as Buddugre.
4. Cwm Cefn-y-Gaer, Llandewi-Ystradgenny
Also a Hill fort, and not a Norman Castle, it covers a huge area much bigger than the Norman Castles. It was a place where tribal rituals would be performed, act as a compound for animals, and offer storage for crops. It is unlikely that people lived in them for any significant time. To see a picture:
5. Castell Cwmaron, Llandewi-Ystradenny
This is a very attractive site of an early Norman castle probably built in 1093 by the Mortimer family. There is some suggestion, but no specific evidence that this might have been Cadwallon’s main base (Prince of Maelienydd) and it is certain that the Welsh held this on two occasions. Roger Mortimer was a strenuous Lord Marcher, and in 1195 drove the sons of Cadwallon out of Maelienydd, and restored Cwmaron Castle. (
The castle was destroyed in 1215 and rebuilt by Roger Mortimer in 1250. There is evidence of a manor house and deer park. These indicate that this was a site where the Mortimer’s felt comfortable and wanted to build a home. However by 1300 it had faded from usefulness. Pictures of the site can be seen on the website for Buddugre above.
Recent archaeology has found evidence of two siege towers in the fields around the castle. This is a unique find in the Ithon Valley.
6. Castell Tynboeth, Llananno (Burning Citadel)
Also featured on the website associated with Buddugre is this late castle, 1282. It is a good site with a commanding view and it is thought that this castle was built on the site of an earlier Welsh hillfort- associated with Cadwallon. The clue is in its name – the ‘tyn’ being a mutation of ‘din’ the Welsh for citadel. It is clear that this was to be an ambitious development as it had circular stone walls and gatehouse towers.( No mottes by this time.) However it never had flanking towers and seems to have been abandoned fairly early on. Perhaps because it has such an exposed site. It disappears from the literature around 1322.
7. Cefnllys Castle(Court Ridge Castle) at Shaky Bridge or Dinieithon (i.e. Dinas Ieithon “Citadel of the Ithon’)
While the site can be seen in the website for Buddugre above there is a more detailed article:
There are two castles within the site. In 1240 Roger Mortimer built the first castle in stone. This castle sits on a high bluff and has no motte. On such a site no motte was necessary but in any case by this time castle architecture had moved on and mottes had been superseded by stone gatehouse and towers. Twenty years later however after a siege Lleweleyn took the castle and burnt it down. Following the Treaty of Montgomery, 1267, the Mortimers were given permission to rebuild at Cefnllys. A new much more fortified castle was built in 1272 causing much consternation to Llewelyn who saw this as a breach of ‘planning regulations’ by the Norman invaders. There is evidence of an intention to settle there as there appears to be a deer park and plantations, and it is thought that a planned town was laid out there, although there is no evidence now on the ground. But certainly Cefnllys was granted a Market Charter in 1297.This is important because market charters were a ‘licence to print money’! A planned town would have had walls and gates and this control of access meant that market traders could easily be charged for entrance and correctly taxed. Howver, Cefynllys appears not to have been a success. In 1304 there were 25 burgesses and a Mill but this declined to 20 burgesses and ten years later 10 had been abandoned. No one knows why the town failed. It could have been that the site was unsuitable for expansion, or the land too poor or even that the site was too isolated. The reasons are now lost to history. However, we do have a local example of successful planned town and this is New Radnor. Here the grid layout, line of town walls and motte and bailey layout can be clearly seen to this day.
In its heyday though, Cefynllys must have presented a spectacular sight. We know from some 14th century poetry that there was a hall built of white oak and that the castle was rendered and painted white.
Glyndwr finally took Cefynllys in 1406 and burnt it down. The heritage lasted into the nineteenth century with Cefnllys returning an MP as one of five in Radnorshire. Edward Price who came to Penybont in 1730 to set up, what has now become known as the Thomas Shop, was described as a Burger of Cefnllys.
Marion also pointed out that there is likely to have been an even earlier wooden motte and bailey castle on this site. Diniethion castle is now associated with a position further along the river. But , as at Tynboeth, the ‘din’ indicates citadel and it likely that this castle was also on the high site at Cefynllys. The citadel name also indicates that there was an early hillfort on this site. Most historians believe this to be the case, but the amount of building and rebuilding on this site makes that archaeology uncertain.
8. Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
By contrast to the Welsh Castles this castle is a rich man’s play thing. The marauding Welsh were not a problem in Sussex. See:
Marion finished at this point but took questions from members:

Social Organisation: The economy of building castles was centred around being in a position to feed the people. For example Stonehenge necessitated a sophisticated economy. Things have to come together to make things happen. The local geology of Radnorshire with very poor stone meant that the early churches ended up looking like barns. An exception at Cefnllys was that the rock there was of much better quality.
Members wondered about access to the sites that Marion talked about?
Marion said she had little trouble getting to each of the sites. While some did not have specific public access she simply asked the farmer.
To a question about planning Marion indicated that there was no central planning system. Generally ‘might’ was ‘right’. Roger Mortimer, as with other landowners, often changed sides.
William the Conqueror really had little interest in Walesbut he found them to be a nuisance and had to do something about them. It was not simply that they fought over the border territory there was a history of cattle thieving across the border.
Geraint thanked Marion for her most excellent talk hoped to see everyone in December by which time hopefully there might be a new programme for 2015.