Penybont and District History Group Notes 2nd July 2018 Meeting Main Topic: A Walk Around Cefnllys Castle – Led by Rev. Geraint Hughes

About 20 people gathered at the Thomas Shop and Geraint gave a short introduction to the history of the Castles at Cefnllys.

Dinieithon Castle, the Citadel above the Ithon, or even the Old Cefnllys Castle, was, according to the historical records at a site a 1 mile north of Cefnllys.  Built by Ralph de Mortimer, in 1090, one of a long line of Mortimer Marcher Lords, it was destroyed by Madog ab Idnerth around 1130. There was some discussion about the use of the term ‘Citadel’ for this site, when this word would better describe the aspect of the Cefnllys site. There are also questions that can be raised about whether, or not, there had been older castles on the Cefnllys site.

An understanding is however that the early castle having been destroyed might have been rebuilt in 1165, as there was a reference to the Castle in 1179.

The alternative view is that there may have been an older castle at Cefnllys, and that the early name for this castle was Dinieithon. Certainly the Cefnllys site located high up above the Ithon, and almost surrounded by the river, and it is much more suited to the name than the site that is marked on the map as Dinieithon.

In 2006 the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales published their findings on Cefnllys Castle.

In this document Brown and Pearson give considerable detail about the Geography and History of the site with many diagrams and pictures. Also worth reading is:


The Cefnllys Castle site is situated on a mound known as Castle Bank in what was considered quite a strategic position high up above the Ithon at about 1000 feet. The river swings around Castle Bank on three sides with steep slopes up to the top. It would appear that the site might have been popular with the Welsh prior to the 12th century but it was the English, the Mortimer’s, a Norman family and Marcher Lords, that made the most use of it in trying to tame the ‘marauding Welsh bands’ as referred to in a letter written by the Bishop of Hereford to King Henry lll, in 1263.

It was however in 1241 that Ralph Mortimer, having been given rights over Maelienydd by King Henry lll in the previous year, and following the death of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, who began to assert his authority over the area. This move away from Welsh Princes’s authority in Maelienydd did not go down well with local inhabitants and a rebellion was led by Dayfydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd.  This attempt to restore Welsh sovereignty failed. As part of consolidating his hold over Maelienydd, Ralph built the first of the Cefnllys castles in 1242.

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd did not consider this the end of the matter and by 1267, having regained, and destroyed, Cefnllys Castle, after a siege, from Roger Mortimer, Llywellyn had control over Maelienydd, agreed with the new King Edward l, Roger was allowed to repair the Cefnllys Castle. This only led to further friction as Roger interpreted this act of conciliation as an opportunity to build a much more substantial castle.

By 1282, when Roger died and his heir Edmund took over control of the castle, there was considerable dissatisfaction with the meddling of the Mortimer’s in lives of the people in Maelienydd. In 1297 Edmund decided to try and reduce tensions by allowing for the traditional rights of the area to be managed under the court at Cymaron, provided that there was no future dispute over the demesne of the castles at Cefnllys. Edmund died in 1304 allowing his son Roger, a minor, to take control. Roger however lost his rights 1322 when he backed a rebellion against King Edward ll by Thomas Earl of Lancaster. At this point the King turned to Gruffudd ap Rhys. Roger was imprisoned in the tower, sentenced to death, then given life imprisonment, and subsequently escaped. In 1326 Roger defeated the King and regained possession of his lands. This was short lived when he in turn was defeated and beheaded in 1330.

In 1331 the King gave back Cefllys to Roger’s son Edmund, who promptly died by 1332. His widow Elizabeth was, with her subsequent new husband William de Bohun, then took over the management. Under Elizabeth’s patronage there is reference to Cefnllys town and a blacksmith making shackles for the prison. She died in 1356 and everything past to her son Roger, who in turn died by 1360 in France.

Philippa, Roger’s mother, was given charge of Maelienydd later in 1360, and she held this until her death in 1381. Roger’s son, Edmund, also died in 1381, in Ireland. Edmund’s son, Roger was a minor and was unable to take over the responsibilities until 1394. By 1398 he had also met his death in Ireland.

The twisting fortunes of the Mortimer family continued with Roger’s son Edmund being a minor. In 1401 the Welsh rebels were again active with Owain Glyndwr leading the way. There were reports of Cefnllys being burned and wasted but this is not clear. Edmund died of the plague in 1425 leaving no heirs. The castle then came under Richard, Duke of York, a nephew, and yet another minor.

Richard did not gain responsibility until 1432 but when he did it was through Edmund he increased his claim on the throne of England, a claim that in part triggered the War of the Roses. Richard failed to become King and has his lands and titles withdrawn in 1459. However, his son became Edward IV in 1461, just after Richard died the previous year, and Cefnllys, along with the other estates, became Crown Land.

It was during Richard’s period that the management of Cefnllys castle and the responsibilities for local courts changed from ‘English’ imposed system to a system managed by ‘Welsh’ people. Wooden Halls were built onto, or adjacent to, the Castles for administrative purposes. The constable of Cefnllys and receiver of Maelienydd, Ieuan ap Phylip and his wife, Angharad had had such a Hall added to Cefnlys and the poet Lewys Glyn Cothi wrote a poem in praise of this facility. The actual date of the poem is uncertain and it could have been written any time between 1432 and 1483. He describes a white building with eight sides, suggesting that there was an octagonal or multisided tower.

With Cefnllys becoming Crown Property it was not long before the castle was being described as ‘ruinous’ in 1493, and ‘now done’ in the early part of the 16th century.

The Walk

It was a gloriously hot day in July when we set off, almost too hot. Geraint had gained permission, although not strictly necessary, from Ray Collard, and Phillip Kendrick (known to Geraint as The Squire).

Stopping just short of the Neuadd we went through a gateway on our right. Evidently the path, which originally went close to the Neuadd but now deviates and goes around the house and garden. The Neuadd had itself been a place where courts were held in a period between the Castle, as the centre of administration, and the court sessions being held in Penybont.

Across the fields and down in a valley was a house with a bell-tower, this had previously been a private school. Access to it was very limited, only tracks seem to go there. The school was run by a Rector in the 1700’s.

The walk to the Castle was not very far and gentle to begin with before rising steeply to the castle. We approached it from the north-east and came to the site of the older castle first. This is described as having a bailey and a keep with three rooms. Drifting over to the newer castle with its more dramatic features in the area where there had been an octagonal tower exposed fantastic views across the whole basin enclosed by the hills around. Penybont, Llandegley, and the Radnor Forest. It was very difficult to get your bearings as the River Ithon winds its way through. The Neuadd, which seemed quite far away from the Castle, turned out to be very close to the acknowledged settlement around St. Michael’s Church. This gives credence to Geraint’s view that the settlement of Cefnllys Town extended round to the Neuadd.

Penybont was almost obscured by trees and so and this led to lots of questions about the 360 degree landscape. It was very easy to see why this position provided a vantage point that was easy to defend. Conversely it did lend itself to siege as obtaining water was clearly a  challenge. On top they had to rely on rainwater or else carry it up  from a well at the bottom of the slope. In 1403 there were 12 spearmen and 30 archers defending the Castle. Happy Valley, or Bluebell Valley could be easily seen to the south west where an old road would have taken travellers to Builth.

Despite the fact that access was a challenge two stories were recounted:

Cattle were driven up to the Bailey of the Castle to protect them from rustlers;

Geraint, in his younger days, led processions up to the Castle on Palm Sundays when a cross was carried from St. Michael’s Church. A couple of the members had very happy memories of these events.

The lands associated with the Castle were known as the Park and they extended quite widely out from the Castle. A map showing the extent of the Park can be seen at:

Radnorshire Society Transactions 2016 has also got diagrams of the Castle, Park, and Fishpools.

The Borough of Cefnllys is discussed in:

Geraint’s owns a piece of land in the edge of the Park and it was almost possible to see his sheep from where we were sitting. Close to this land were the old fish ponds that would have produced food for the Castle. This was our next stop on our tour of the area. We went by car as there was no easy direct route to walk. Just as the road through Bryn Thomas branches to New Radnor, and on the higher side, there is a large dip in the ground for the holding pool, and then on the other side of the road a series of small depressions in the ground for the fisheries. It was muted that there may be funding available that could restore the fishpools.

All were extremely grateful to Geraint for leading such a great walk and for arranging to have such wonderful weather!

There is no meeting in August, so out next session will be:

“The History of Rock Baptist Chapel” with Revd John Davies on 3rd September 2018 at 10.30 a.m. in the Thomas Shop.