Sunday, 11 November 2012

Graffiti at Old Beaupre

Standing isolated on the bank of the river Thaw between the green hilly pastures of Llanfair and St Hilary are the sprawling remains of Old Beaupre castle. Despite the fact that the majority of Old Beaupre castle is a well preserved ruin this once grand and imposing gentry house still has the power to awe and impress even in its derelict state. The vast majority of the remains of Old Beaupre were built in the sixteenth century but incorporate earlier medieval buildings into its structure. Constructed around two courtyards, with the rear building and courtyard still inhabited and privately owned, this rambling and semi-fortified gentry mansion was the seat of the powerful and wealthy Basset family from the fourteenth century through to the early eighteenth century. 

Much of Old Beaupre was undoubtedly built for show but there was still a very real need for security as sixteenth century Glamorgan could be a violent place and disputes between members of the Glamorgan gentry were common. Most of the windows at Old Beaupre face the inner courtyard while a crenellated curtain wall connects the gatehouse, which bears the family motto in Welsh GWELL. ANGHAY. NA. CHWILLYDD (Better death than dishonour), to the main residential blocks, to deter any would be attackers, although these features also had the dual purpose of showing off the social standing and power of their owner. 

                          (The Bassett coat of arms above the entrance to the gatehouse)

Perhaps the most striking and well known feature of Old Beaupre is its celebrated Renaissance porch. Constructed in 1600 by Richard Basset this porch was an ostentatious symbol of the Bassets power, wealth and taste, incorporating classical decorative motifs which would not become commonplace in domestic architecture in Glamorgan until the eighteenth century.  The Bassett family motto in Welsh is repeated and a Heraldic shield with six quartering's surmounted by a helm are also incorporated into the centre of the porch for all to see. 

                                                         (The porch at Old Beaupre castle)

The porch at Old Beaupre is also fascinating for its interesting array of historical graffiti which can be seen by those diligent enough to notice it carved all over the inside of the porch. The people who carved their names into the porch at Old Beaupre were ordinary people making a bid for immortality by setting their name in stone. 


       (These examples took some skill to carve, the oldest being D.T., (1660) and others such as E.B.,                        J.H.,John Jem, D.W., (1789) and the date 1791 are prominent)

The carvings date from the mid seventeenth century and span into the twentieth and are no doubt the product of local and perhaps more distant visitors. Some names include John Jem, D.W., 1789, D.L.M,. 1840, and D.T., 1660. The relatively early date of 1660 would suggest that the house was neglected even at this period, unless Mr. Bassett gave his consent to D.T., defacing his property. These carvings reveal the identities of those who's names (or initials) we would have never otherwise have known. Sadly, given the porous nature of sandstone the classical motifs and heraldic devices, along with the graffiti are wearing away.

 (Some later examples include J.E., (1911), D.L.M (1840) and also undated examples from W.J., and

It was during the English Civil War that the Bassets fortunes were to wane. Richard Basset, who was sheriff of Glamorgan in 1643 and governor of Cardiff in 1645, supported the Royalist cause and after Charles I was executed in 1649 paid dearly for his loyalty to the king when he was fined £753 by parliament. Soon after  Richard moved out of Old Beaupre to a smaller residence although Richard's family continued to reside at Old Beaupre in his absence. Times however were hard with insolvency looming and blocked fireplaces and windows indicating an avoidance of paying both hearth and window tax.        

The house and manor were eventually sold in 1709 whereby the rear kitchen range became a farmhouse and the front wing was left to decay. The porch contains an interesting array of graffiti from this time.  Old Beaupre is now in the care of the Welsh Monuments Agency CADW. 

Old Beaupre is well worth a visit if you don't mind dodging the cows which invariably seem to be in the fields one has to pass through to get to the ruin.


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