Caerphilly - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
CAERPHILLY, a market-town and chapelry, in the parish of Eglwysilan, union of Cardiff, hundred of Caerphilly, county of Glamorgan, South Wales, 7 miles (N. by W.) from Cardiff, and 159 (W.) from London, on the old turnpike-road from Newport to Neath and Merthyr-Tydvil; containing 634 inhabitants. This place was originally called Senghenydd, from St. Cenydd, who is said to have founded a monastery here, of which nothing more is known than what occurs in the Chronicle of Caradoc of Llancarvan, who records that, "in the year 831, the Saxons of Mercia came unexpectedly in the night, and burnt the monastery of Senghenydd, which stood on a spot where there is now a castle." To the erection of this castle the town, which appears to have been anciently much more extensive than at present, was principally indebted for the importance it held among the towns in this part of the principality. The early history of the castle is involved in very great obscurity, neither the time of its original foundation, nor the name of its founder, having been at all satisfactorily ascertained; and the different names under which the place is spoken of, in the Welsh histories, have contributed materially to perplex the antiquary in his researches. No mention of Caerphilly, by its present name, occurs previously to the time of Henry III.; and the attempt to ascribe to it a Roman origin, from the import of the syllable Caer, rests in a great measure upon the vast extent of its fortifications, which have been proved to be of much later date; therefore its supposed claim to be considered the Castrum Bullæi of the Romans, from an affinity to the name of that station, which some writers have fancied to exist, appears to be destitute of sufficient testimony for a favourable reception. The original castle was of much smaller extent than the sumptuous edifice which was afterwards erected on its site, and the magnificent and stupendous ruins that now arrest the admiration of the observer are the remains of a structure of still more recent origin, the work of successive periods.
In 1215, a Welsh chieftain, named Rhŷs Vychan, led his forces to this place intending to attack the castle, which at that time belonged to Reginald de Breos, lord of Brecknock; but the garrison, informed of his approach, set fire to the town, and retired within the walls of the castle, which they prepared resolutely to defend; this probably discouraged the assailants, who did not make any serious attempt upon it. Two years afterwards, Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, aided by the Princes of Powys and South Wales, succeeded in the reduction of the fortress, but shortly restored it to de Breos: he, however, retook it in the following year, and committed it to the custody of Rhŷs Vychan, who not long afterwards, dreading that it might fall into the hands of the lords marcher, who were threatening hostilities, dismantled it, together with some others in the neighbouring districts, of which he had the custody. It was rebuilt and more strongly fortified, in 1221, by John de Breos, with the consent of his father-in-law, Llewelyn ab Iorwerth; and was besieged and taken by Llewelyn, last Prince of North Wales, in 1270: in recording this circumstance, its modern name Caerphilly, of which no satisfactory etymology has been given, occurs for the first time in the Welsh annals. Caerphilly soon afterwards came by purchase into the possession of Gilbert, Earl of Clare, who was then lord of Glamorgan; and his widow afterwards conveyed it by marriage to Ralph Mortimer, by whom the castle, almost ruined by repeated attacks, was rebuilt. In 1315, a formidable insurrection broke out in Glamorganshire, under Llewelyn Bren, a descendant of the native lords of Senghenydd, who is said to have mustered a force of 10,000 men, with which he assaulted and took by surprise the fortress of Caerphilly, of which his ancestors had been dispossessed by the Normans under Fitz-Hamon. To suppress this insurrection, all the forces of the lords marcher were assembled, under the command of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford; and, although the details of the campaign are unknown, the result was the capture of the Welsh chieftain and his two sons, who were sent prisoners to the Tower, where they remained for some time in confinement.
In the reign of Edward II., Hugh le Despencer the Younger, the favourite of that monarch, being invested with the lordship of Glamorgan, greatly enlarged the castle of Caerphilly, and extended and strengthened its fortifications. The proceedings of Spencer exciting the indignation of the barons, at that time in revolt against Edward, they placed Roger Mortimer, whom they considered the rightful heir of Caerphilly, at the head of 10,000 men, with which force he besieged the favourite in his castle; but from the great strength of its fortifications, the number of the garrison, and the ample supply of provisions with which it had been stored, the fortress held out for a long period.
The king, attended by Spencer, being compelled, in 1326, to flee from Bristol, repaired to the castle of Caerphilly, from which he issued divers commissions, dated October 29th of this year, to his military tenants in the county of Pembroke and other parts of South Wales, and to the vassals of the lordship of Glamorgan, enjoining them to take arms in his defence; but, being disappointed in this project, he sought an asylum in the abbey of Neath. Meanwhile the siege of the fortress was conducted with great vigour and perseverance by the queen's forces; and the assailants, having effected a breach in the walls, forced an entrance. Under one of the towers there is said to have been a furnace for melting iron (or lead), which was thrown in a fluid state upon the besiegers, who, on gaining an entrance, are supposed to have let out the fused metal, and poured water into the red-hot furnace, which exploding with a terrific noise, by the power of the steam thus produced, the tower above was ruptured, and the half of it now remaining was left upwards of eleven feet out of the perpendicular line, supported only by the cement that holds the stones together, and by the depth of its foundations. During the confusion which ensued, Spencer, or his son Hugh, is said to have rallied the garrison, and prevented the further entrance of the besiegers, of whom a great number of those already within the walls were slain. By this sudden turn in his affairs, he was enabled to capitulate on such terms as eventually secured the castle and estate to his son, who succeeded him. Having rejoined the king, he was made prisoner along with Edward, at or near Llantrissent. The quantity of live-stock and provisions which the victors are stated to have found in the castle exceeds credibility, notwithstanding the vast area comprised within its walls. According to an enumeration, which has been copied by nearly all writers on the subject, but which altogether surpasses belief, "there were within the walls two thousand fat oxen, twelve thousand cows, twentyfive thousand calves, thirty thousand sheep, six hundred draught horses, with carts in proportion, and two thousand hogs; of salt provisions, two hundred beeves, six hundred muttons, and one thousand hogs. There were also two hundred tons of French wine, forty tons of cider and wine, the produce of their own estates, with wheat enough to make bread for two thousand men for four years." It is probable that the live-stock were found, not in the castle, but on Spencer's demesne lands, which were very extensive; and that the salted provisions, the wines, and other articles, were really within the walls. From this period the castle and manor appear to have belonged to the lords of Glamorgan, whose chief residence being at Cardiff, it is not likely that the injury sustained by the fortifications in the above siege was ever repaired. In the year 1400, Owain Glyndwr invaded this part of the principality, and gained possession of the castle of Caerphilly, which he garrisoned for some time, but no particular event is mentioned during his occupation of it, nor has any thing of importance connected with its subsequent history been recorded. Indeed, the particulars of its earlier history, and especially of Spencer's connexion with the castle, are variously related, and are not much to be depended on.
The town is pleasantly situated in a broad valley, inclosed by mountains, and, in the descent to it from Cardiff, the appearance of the surrounding country is beautifully picturesque, and in many parts characterized by features of grandeur and sublimity. The houses are in general small and neatly built, but without order or regularity, and are interspersed with a few dwellings of modern erection and of respectable appearance: the inhabitants are abundantly supplied with water from springs which abound in the vicinity. It appears to have been formerly, as already observed, of much greater extent, as is evident from the occasional discovery of foundations of buildings in the adjoining fields. At the close of the last century it had dwindled into comparative insignificance, but it revived about the commencement of the present, and has since been slowly but progressively increasing. Its trade consists principally in the manufacture of woollen cloth, checks for aprons, and linsey-woolsey shirting for miners, in which about one hundred persons are employed. Coal is found in the vicinity, but the mines are worked only for the supply of the immediate neighbourhood; and such of the population as are not engaged in these works are employed in agriculture. The market, which is on Thursday, is well attended, and abundantly supplied with corn, cheese, and provisions of every kind. The fairs are on April 5th, Trinity Thursday, July 19th, August 25th, October 9th, November 16th, and the Thursday before Christmas: at these fairs, which are numerously attended, corn, cattle, and cheese are the principal articles exposed for sale. Caerphilly was anciently a borough, but lost its privileges in the reign of Henry VIII., and is now under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold a petty-session here for the lower division of the hundred. The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £1200 royal bounty, and £400 parliamentary grant; patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Llandaf. The chapel, dedicated to St. Martin, is a small edifice, rebuilt some years ago, in the later style of English architecture. There are places of worship for Baptists, Wesleyans, Calvinistic Methodists, and Independents. A school for the education of girls is supported out of a fund established by Mrs. Ann Aldworth, of Bristol, by will dated Aug. 29th, 1729; the mistress receives £35 per annum, and has a house and garden rent-free. Several Sunday schools are also kept.
The ancient castle of Caerphilly, forming a stupendous and truly magnificent pile, stands contiguous to the town, in a somewhat uneven tract, bounded on the north and south by lofty hills, and expanding into a beautiful vale on the east and west, skirted by the river Romney on the one side, and on the other by the Tâf. The buildings in the several courts, together with a spacious area, were inclosed within a lofty outer wall of great thickness, strengthened with massive buttresses, and defended by square towers at intervals, between which a communication was kept up by an embattled corridor. In the outer court were the barracks for the garrison, and from it was an entrance through a magnificent gateway, flanked by two massive hexagonal towers, leading by a drawbridge over the moat into an inner ward, from which was an eastern entrance into the court that contained the state apartments, by a massive gateway, strongly defended with portcullises, of which the grooves are still remaining. The western entrance to the last-named court was also over a drawbridge, through a splendid arched gateway, defended by two circular bastions of vast dimensions. This court, in which were the superb ranges of state apartments, is seventy yards in length, and forty in width, inclosed on the north side by a lofty wall strengthened with buttresses, and in the intervals pierced with loop-holes for the discharge of missiles, and on the other sides by the buildings and the towers which guarded the entrances. The great hall, on the south side of this quadrangle, is in a state of tolerable preservation, and retains several vestiges of its ancient grandeur. It was seventy feet in length, thirty-five feet wide, and seventeen feet high, and was lighted by four lofty windows of beautiful design, of which the ogee-headed arches, richly ornamented with fruit and foliage, are finely wrought in the decorated style of English architecture. Between the two central windows are the remains of a large fire-place, the mantel of which is embellished in elegant detail. On the walls are clusters of triple circular pilasters, resting upon ornamented corbels at the height of twelve feet from the floor, and rising to the height of four feet, for the support of the roof, which appears to have been vaulted. The suite comprises various other apartments of different dimensions and of corresponding elegance, in a greater or less degree of preservation. Near the south-east angle of the central buildings is what is thought to have been the kitchen, a circular tower of no great elevation; and almost adjoining is the leaning tower, which forms so conspicuous a feature among the ruins: this consists of one-half of the tower, which is said to have been ruptured by the explosion previously noticed, and which, though more than fiftyfive feet high from the base, was by that means forced into its present inclined position. Regarding the present state of the tower, as it is by no means certain that it was caused by the circumstances above narrated, it has been conjectured that it might have been produced by having been undermined, like the other three, and its entire destruction prevented by a fragment which fell upon its base. Near the supposed kitchen is a spacious corridor, about one hundred feet in length, in the wall of the inner inclosure, communicating with the several apartments. These remains, which form the principal attraction of the place, surpass in beauty and venerable grandeur any that are to be found in this part of the principality; they are the most extensive in all Wales, and present an imposing and august memorial of a structure which in its pristine splendour was rivalled by few in the kingdom, and perhaps only excelled by the royal palace of Windsor.
Besides the ruins of the castle, here are some other interesting remains of antiquity. In a piece of ground called the Burgesses' Field is an ancient earthwork, nearly square, inclosing an area of about half an acre, and defended by two ditches; and at Môrgrig, properly Môrgraig, is another quadrilateral encampment, about eighty paces long, and nearly of equal width, having the angles rounded off according to the Roman fashion. A Roman road, also, seems to have passed through Caerphilly. Numerous coins, chiefly of the reign of Edward II., have been found near the castle. A short distance north-west of the town is the seat called Energlyn, or Genau'r Glyn, formerly the residence of John Goodrich, Esq., which commands a fine view of the majestic ruins of the castle; and to the east, near the banks of the Romney, stands the mansion of Ruperrah, one of the seats of Sir Charles Morgan, Bart., of Trêdegar. This mansion occupies an elevated situation, commanding, southward, fine views of the Bristol Channel, a rich intervening tract of country, and the hills of Somersetshire and Devonshire in the distance: it was built from a design by Inigo Jones; but the interior having been consumed by fire, the outer walls are the only part of the original edifice now remaining. A little lower down is situated Cevn Mably, an ancient seat of the family of Kemeys, once the residence of that distinguished royalist, Sir Nicholas Kemeys, and now the property of C. K. Kemeys Tynte, Esq. Pwll-y-Pant and Pont-y-Pandy are two other old mansions. In the vicinity are numerous springs, the water of which is strongly impregnated with iron, and totally unfit for culinary purposes; when boiled, the colour is changed to black, and the water emits a strong fetid smell.