Grid Ref: ST 155 872
Dates: 21 August 2019


Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle and moat with clouds looming
Moat and Curtain Wall

Entrance spacer Holding the wall
Entrance   Damaged wall with supporting figure

Caerphilly is situated at the southern end of the Rhymney Valley, within the historic borders of Glamorgan and on the border with Monmouthshire. The town lies 7.5 miles from Cardiff. There was a Roman fort from around AD 75 which was occupied until the middle of the 2nd century. The name of the town in Welsh, Caerffili means the fort of Ffili but the identity of Ffili is uncertain. There is a tradition that a monastery was built by St. Cenydd, a Christian hermit on the Gower peninsula, but there is no evidence to support the claim. Following the Norman Conquest of England, the Normans moved into Wales in the late 11th centry. Caerphilly was still in Welsh hands in the middle of the 12th century under the local chief Ifor Bach. His grandson, Gruffy ap Rhys was the last lord before Gilbert de Clare, the so called Red Earl, arrived in 1266.

The Clare family were prominent Anglo-Normans who held at various times the earldoms of Pembroke, Hertford and Gloucester in England and Wales as well as playing a prominent role in the Norman invasion of Ireland. They were descended from Richard Fitz Gilbert, Lord of Clare (1035-1090), a kinsman of William the Conqueror, who accompanied him into England. As a reward for his service, Richard was given lands in Suffolk centred on the village of Clare. As a result, Richard and his descendants carried the name of ‘de Clare’ or ‘of Clare’. There influence is still notable for the names of County Clare in Ireland and Clare College in Cambridge. From this family came Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford, 7th Earl of Gloucester, 3rd Lord of Glamorgan, 9th Lord of Clare (1243 – 1295). He was also known as "Red" Gilbert de Clare or "The Red Earl", probably because of his hair colour or fiery temper in battle. He held the Lordship of Glamorgan which was one of the most powerful and wealthy of the Welsh Marcher Lordships as well as over 200 English manors. The marcher lords were given lands in the Welsh Marches (borders) and generous privileges to protect England from the Welsh. During the 2nd Baron's War of April 1264, he led the massacre of Jews at Canterbury, as other supporters of Simon de Montfort had done elsewhere. In May, both de Clare and de Montford were denounced as traitors by King Henry III. Simon de Montford's forces then won the battle of Lewes and were in effect in command of England. The Pope, Clement IV, excommunicated de Clare and his associates. Later, Gilbert de Clare fell out with Simon de Montford and was on the king's side at the Battle of Evesham where de Montford was killed. In October 1265, as a reward for supporting Prince Edward, the son of Henry III, Gilbert was given the castle and title of Abergavenny and honour and castle of Brecknock. On 6 October 1265 he received the papal absolution of his excommunication, and on 9 October that year the pardon of the King for his former support of Montfort.

From this very brief account we see that Marcher Lords had to be ambitious and aggresive to survive and Gilbert de Clare was one of the most ruthless in England, Wales and Ireland. "Woke" undergraduates have not yet decided that Clare college and County Clare should be renamed and Gilbert expunged from the record but this is real history and needs to be seen in the context of its times.

Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle is one of the finest in the British Isles and the second largest after Windsor. The castle was constructed by Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century as part of his campaign to maintain control of Glamorgan, and saw extensive fighting between Gilbert, his descendants, and the native Welsh rulers. Surrounded by extensive artificial lakes, it occupies around 30 acres. It is famous for having introduced concentric castle defences to Britain and for its large gatehouses. Gilbert began work on the castle in 1268 following his occupation of the north of Glamorgan, with the majority of the construction occurring over the next three years at a considerable cost. The project was opposed by Gilbert's Welsh rival Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, leading to the site being burnt in 1270 and taken over by royal officials in 1271. Despite these interruptions, Gilbert successfully completed the castle and took control of the region. The core of Caerphilly Castle, including the castle's luxurious accommodation, was built on what became a central island, surrounding by several artificial lakes, a design Gilbert probably derived from that at Kenilworth. The dams for these lakes were further fortified, and an island to the west provided additional protection. The concentric rings of walls inspired Edward I's castles in North Wales.

The castle was attacked during the Madog ap Llywelyn revolt of 1294, the Llywelyn Bren uprising in 1316 and during the overthrow of Edward II in 1326–27. In the late 15th century, however, it fell into decline and by the 16th century the lakes had drained away and the walls were robbed of their stone. The Marquesses of Bute acquired the property in 1776 and under the third and fourth Marquesses extensive restoration took place. In 1950 the castle and grounds were given to the state and the water defences were re-flooded. In the 21st century, the Welsh heritage agency Cadw manages the site as a tourist attraction.

Caerphilly Cheese

According to Wikipedia, the town is perhaps best known outside Wales for Caerphilly cheese. During the Second World War, production stopped locally as the cheese did not keep as well as Cheddar. Most Caerphilly cheese is now made in Somerset and Wiltshire but it does not have the same properties as the pre-war farm house product. By the late 1990s, there were no makers in Caerphilly making the cheese for which the town is known. Realising this, Castle Dairies began making the cheese shortly after they opened in the town. Rather than using factory methods, they use the pre-war hand-made production techniques. They won a gold and a bronze award at the British Cheese Awards in 2000. Caerphilly cheese was one of nine Welsh products considered by the British Government in July 2015 as candidates for name protection under the Geographical indications and traditional specialities in the European Union rules. When I visited the town in 2019, I asked a waitress at a cafe opposite the castle where I could buy Caerphilly Cheese. She had never heard of it but suggested I try Morrisons!


Wikipedia articles on Caerphilly, the castle, Gilbert de Clare and Caerphilly Cheese

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