Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Barry Castle

Tucked away in the west-end of the modern town of Barry are the remains of Barry castle; it makes for a somewhat 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 present remains)

The remains of Barry castle constitute the only visible remains 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 two knight's fee. 

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.

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 present remains date to the early Fourteenth Century and consist of four buildings which include the hall (south building), the gatehouse, the south-west tower, (also vanished), and the curtain wall to the west, north and east.  There has never been any extensive excavation of Barry Castle so its early antecedents are a bit of a mystery; in fact, we have little idea of what Barry castle looked like before the construction of the present remains.  The most compelling archaeological evidence for early occupation of the site comes in the form of a hearth and waste pit along with associated Twelfth Century pottery, all of which were excavated when the council cleaned-up the site in the 1960’s.   

What shape and form Barry castle took during this period is a mystery, although it is quite probable that any early structure would have been made of perishable materials such as wood.  It is also worth noting that 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 buildings.  

Despite our lack of knowledge regarding Barry castle during its formative years, we are however fortunate to have a record of Barry's earliest known knightly incumbents, the first of which 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.  It would appear that William had a son named Lucas (1200 – 1237).

There is recorded another William de Barry as resident of Barry castle during the mid Thirteenth Century. He 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 actually 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.

(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)

Despite a good deal of documentary evidence existing archaeological evidence relating to Barry castle during its initial phase, and for much of the Thirteenth Century is unfortunately rather slim; however, part of the vanished west building was discovered during trench digging in 1960 and 1979 when the South and East wall sections were uncovered. The archaeology suggested that this building was a substantial structure measuring 7.3 metres by 14.5 and was a part of the late Thirteenth Century phase; it is possible that this structure could also have formed a part of the north-west side of the perimeter wall.

Architecturally, the gatehouse is the most intact and visually impressive survival at Barry castle; this structure dates to the early Fourteenth Century.  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 main entrance, which was typical for this 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. 

(View of the interior of the gatehouse taken in 1910)

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 (south building) has had most of its walls robbed of their stone, with only the north and east walls surviving to any length, and was located directly adjacent to the south of the gatehouse.  The hall was the largest building in Barry castle and also 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.  

(Conjectural illustration of Barry castle during the Fourteenth Century)

The chapel, which was located contiguous to 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.  The east building itself however has completely vanished. Barry castle reached its zenith during the early to mid-fourteenth Century with no more further building work being noted architecturally or archaeologically, although interestingly during this period 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.

It would seem that the second half of the Fourteenth Century saw the slow decline of Barry castle. Archaeological evidence supports the castles decline and comes from clearing work undertaken by the local council during the 1960’s.  A clay medieval floor was discovered within a large northern chamber which contained pieces of broken pottery dating to the late Thirteenth and early Fourteenth Centuries.   In a corner of this chamber were two waste pits which contained limpet shells and also more pottery also dating from around the early Fourteenth Century.  This medieval clay floor also contained fragments of Cornish slate which had been used for roof tiles as well as glazed ridge tiles indicating that this structure was neglected and abandoned sometime during the Fourteenth Century.  The tiles and pottery were sealed beneath an 18th century lime-mortared floor.
After nearly 200 years of occupancy Barry Castle left the de Barry family via one Thomas Marshal (1340-86), the son of Joan (1331-51) who sold it to the St. John’s of Fonmon, who were at this time joint lords of Penmark.  Oliver St. John was lord of Barry until 1373, although it appears he did not reside here as he leased Barry for life to John Andrew of Rhoose. 

By the early Sixteenth Century Barry castle was partially ruined as Tudor antiquary John Leyland noted in the late 1530s that "This castle stondith on a little hil, and most of it is in ruine. Master St John of Bedordshir is lorde of it".  It was during the late Sixteenth Century that one William 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.

The castle and presumably the manor of Barry was in the hands of the St. John's until 1660 when it was finally sold on by Oliver St. John for the sum of £1,740 to Evan Says of Boverton.  Throughout the late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries the gatehouse of Barry castle was in use as a meeting place for manorial courts which probably contributed to its relative good state of perseveration.  William Wilkyn's cottage was pulled down in around 1800 and the remains of Barry castle were left pretty much as we see them today. 

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