Tucked away in the west-end of the modern town of Barry are the remains of Barry castle; it makes for an incongruous sight to see its ruined gaunt-grey edifice cramped in amongst the roomy late Victorian/Edwardian mansions that proliferate the area. The castle, although a ruin, is still an impressive structure and appears to have had all the hallmarks of a strong military stronghold complete with drawbridge, port cullis and murder holes, despite being in essence a fortified manor house that in reality could probably not have held off a prolonged siege for any great length of time. It may not have been the home of a marcher lord, and there are certainly larger and more impressive castles in South Wales, but Barry castle nether the less is a fascinating place that represents a world and existence long vanished, a world steeped in legend and romance, a feudal world that would seem very alien if one were to step back in time.
The remains of Barry castle constitute the only visible remnants of the medieval village of Barry. During the medieval period there were in fact two settlements called Barry; to distinguish them they have had the prefixes ‘east’ and ‘west’ ascribed for clarity with west Barry being a sub-manor of the contiguous Penmark and East Barry (Cadoxton) a sub-manor of Dinas Powys. It is likely that the origins of the village of Barry lie with the coming of the Normans and their establishing of a fief for a knightly incumbent lord as Barry was designated as one knights fee. Barry, being a sub-manor, was smaller in size than its larger and more profitable relation at Penmark, which was worth four knight's fee.
(The remains of Barry castle)
The de Barry family acquired the manor of Barry around the early Twelfth Century, probably not long after the Norman conquest of Glamorgan C 1093. Members of the de Barry family later migrated towards west Wales and settled in Manorbier during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), and eventually onto Ireland during the latter part of the Twelfth Century. The name of Barry is most likely derived from the nearby shrine of St Barruc, located on Barry Island; this religious shrine had been in existence long before the Normans arrived in Glamorgan.
The first recorded member of the de Barry family was one William de Barry (1180–1234). In 1225 William saw military service in Ireland fighting for King Henry III and during the years 1232-4 William de Barry was involved in Richard Marshal’s rebellion; he also witnessed charters being granted at the comitatus at Cardiff in 1201 and again in 1208. William had a son named Lucas.
There is recorded another William de Barry as resident of Barry castle during the mid-Thirteenth Century. This William is also recorded as being a witness to charters being granted at the comitatus at Cardiff in 1247 and again in 1249; William was also witness to a land grant relating to Cogan. By the end of the Thirteenth Century Barry was in the hands of a second Lucas de Barry (1287–1323), who was present on one of Edward I Scottish campaigns. The de Barry's during the Thirteenth Century were clearly busy people who not only lived up to their feudal obligations on a local level but were actively engaged in national affairs of consequence.
Gerald of Barry, aka Gerald of Wales (1146-1223), a famous relation of the de Barry family, had opportunity to record for posterity the origins of his family's Christian name when accompanying Archbishop Baldwin on his Welsh tour in 1188; Gerald states "Not far from Caerdyf is a small island situated near the shore of the Severn, called Barri, from St. Baroc, who formerly lived there, and who's remains are deposited in a chapel overgrown with ivy, having been transferred to a coffin", further stating, " From hence a noble family, of the maritime parts of South Wales, owned this island and the adjoining estates, received the name of de Barri".
(The de Barry family were well connected people, this picture depicts a prominent relation, uncle of Gerald of Barry, Maurice Fitzgerald (1105-1176), a cambro-Norman baron who spearheaded the Norman invasion of Ireland)
In common with many castles within the Vale of Glamorgan however, Barry castle most likely began its existence as a simple ring work structure. Interestingly, an estate map commissioned in 1622 by the St. John’s depicts the castle within a possible enclosure. An external ditch beyond the west wall was also discovered during trench digging for electricity cables in 1960 and 1979. It is possible that these ditches might have formed a part of a defensive enclosure that surrounded the early building.
By the late thirteenth century Barry castle exhibited at least two substantial stone constructed buildings located on the east and west sides of Barry castle respectively. These buildings, although no longer visible above ground, were uncovered by chance during trench digging in 1960 and 1979.
The present remains date to the early Fourteenth Century and consist of a gatehouse adjoined to a hall, the foundations of a south-west tower, and the curtain wall to the west, north and east.
Architecturally, the gatehouse is the most intact and visually impressive survival at Barry castle. The resident lord of Barry manor at the time the gatehouse was built was John de Barry (1300-40) whose father Lucas de Barry granted John the manor upon his marriage to Isabelle, daughter of Philip de la More, before he left to embark on Edward I Scottish campaign, It is likely that it was he who commissioned or at least oversaw the construction of this imposing building.
The gatehouse would have been entered via a gothic segmented pointed arch which was typical for the period and contained a variety of defensive features to deter any would be attackers. There would have been a drawbridge and portcullis, of which the grooves still survive, there would have also been two large inner wooden doors. Above the gatehouse was a vaulted gate-passage with the above room acting as a chapel or oratory with a small alter set within the sill of the east window; this room also contained the portcullis and was directly connected with the main hall. Directly above the main entrance was a large splayed lancet window, of which the left jamb survives, as well as an eroded head which would have formed one of two, possibly depicting a knight and his lady. The window would also have had iron bars inserted and is dated at around 1310-50.
(Conjectural illustration of Barry castle during the Fourteenth Century)
It is possible that the quasi-military image projected with this gatehouse could have been pure medieval swank as it seems superfluous given that this was in essence a manor house with muscles; however, there may have been a genuine need to improve security as this was a turbulent time politically. For example, there was a serious rebellion by the dispossessed Welsh lord Madog ap Llywelyn, led in Glamorgan by Morgan ap Maredudd (son of the dispossessed former lord of Machen Maredudd ap Llywelyn) which affected all of the Glamorgan area as it had popular support amongst the Welsh. Gilbert de Clare, the then marcher lord of Glamorgan, was ultimately unable to subdue the rebellion and Edward I had to intervene to bring it to an end in 1295.
The hall has had most of its walls robbed of their stone, with only the north and east walls surviving to any length. The hall was the largest building in Barry castle and formed a part of the south perimeter wall with the building consisting of two levels; the upper floor acted as the main hall and the lower level served as a cellar or storage basement.
One would have gained access to the basement storage area by a door from the courtyard. The upper hall would also have been accessed from the courtyard but by a flight of stone steps. The hall itself would have been the grandest room in the castle; its interior walls would have been rendered and perhaps had imitation ashlar, heraldic emblems, religious scenes or those from everyday life painted onto the plaster as can be viewed at other castles, such as at Chepstow, or even at lowly cottages, such as the wedding lady painting painted on a plaster wall at Cold Knap Farm sometime during the 1560s. In fact, it would have probably been a fairly colourful place. The hall would have had wooden beams which would have had rested on stone corbels, some of which survive, as well as having carved and painted timber work and dressed-stone embellishments. There would have also been a grand fireplace in the north wall, some of which also survives.
(View of the hall at Barry castle)
The chapel, which was located adjacent to the upper level of the hall would have had a slightly higher floor level, and would probably also have had painted walls, perhaps depicting biblical scenes as was common in medieval churches. Just to the right of the chapel entrance was another door; this is speculated to have led out onto a wall-walk. Medieval halls tended to have garderobes (toilets) but this facility appears to have been absent at Barry, which is not to say it didn’t exist. An interesting feature of this building is that its north-east corner is rounded to facilitate the passing of carts into the courtyard.
Of the wall sections the east wall is the best surviving example although its walk-way has vanished. There survives however a damaged loop with a segmentally pointed rear-arch. Another splayed loop with a pointed rear arch also survives in the east wall. Barry castle reached its zenith during the early to mid-fourteenth Century with no more further building work being noted architecturally or archaeologically. At around this time one John de Barry was complicit in the baronial uprising of 1321 and managed to get all his lands confiscated for his pains, although they were restored to him in 1327.
The latter half of the fourteenth century saw the beginning of the decline of Barry castle as a lordly residence. It is likely that the disasters of the middle of the fourteenth century such as plague and famine contributed towards this decline. The archaeology of nearby Barry village confirms that these disasters hit the locality hard as not one of the excavated buildings show any signs of occupation into the later fourteenth century or the fifteenth century. It was during the latter half of the fourteenth century that Barry castle left the de Barry family and ended up in the possession of the St John's of Fonmon who were to retain ownership of the manor of Barry for centuries to come with its land being leased to a succession of tenants.
(View of the interior of the gatehouse taken in 1910)
By the time John Leland visited Barry castle in the 1530’s it had become ruinous as Leland records 'this castle stondith on a little hil, and most of it is in ruine. Master St John of Bedfordshire is lorde of it'. It was during the late sixteenth century that one Willian Wilkyn erected a cottage within the shell of the old hall which doubled as an ale-house. In the year 1583 William was indicted for selling ale without a licence and for keeping suspected prostitutes.
In the year 1666 the manor of Barry was sold by the St John's to Evan Says of Boverton for £1,740. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the gatehouse of Barry castle was in use as a meeting place for manorial courts which probably helped to contribute towards its relative good state of preservation. William Wilkyn's cottage was pulled down in around 1800 and Barry castle was left pretty much as we see it today.