History

Along with Denbigh, Holt, Hawarden and Chirk , Ruthin was one of a series of formidable and palatial castles raised by Edward 1st's  allies in the wake of his final conquest of Gwynedd, complementing the more famous Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech. 

It was begun in 1277 after Edward's first defeat of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd and in 1278, along with a new Marcher Lordship carved from the Welsh commote of Dyffryn Clwyd, it was given to Llywelyn's brother Dafydd, who had sided with Edward during the invasion. In 1282  Dafydd rebelled against the Crown, resulting in Edward's conquest of Gwynedd, Llywelyn's death near Builth and Dafydd's capture and execution. Ruthin was then given to Reginald de Grey, Justicar of Chester, and all of the visible medieval walls are almost certainly the work of him and his successors.

Ruthin was attacked in 1400 at the start of the Owain Glyndwr rebellion, provoked by a dispute between Owain and the 3rd Earl de Grey.

It was a royalist base in the Civil War and withstood a siege in 1646 for 11 weeks. It was then partly demolished with the stone finding other uses locally.

In 1826 Harriet Myddleton built a Gothic mansion on the site, with the ruins being incorporated into a romantic garden adorned with follies and grottoes. In the 1850s Frederick Myddleton-West buried parts of the castle ruins and the gardens with his extensive Victorian building. The house was later a hospital before becoming a hotel in the mid-20th. Century.

Ruthin Castle

Will Davies

CADW

October 2017

and with acknowledgements to

Fiona Gale

Plan and Guide

The castle was built on a low sandstone ridge, from which great ditches were cut to provide some of the stone while creating a dry moat. Some stone was also brought from Hirwaun. A central ditch D separated two Wards of unequal size. 

Upper Ward / 'Italian' Garden

This pentagonal ward was built from 1282, of local sandstone. It contained accommodation and administrative buildings, the foundations of which were buried under the Italian garden. There was also a well, and a 16thC. drawing shows a chapel with tower.

Between the Gatehouse 2 and the North East Tower 5 fragments of these buildings survive, having been incorporated in the 19th.C. into grottoes and tunnels, confusing the medieval pattern.

1826 mansion 1

The limestone mansion , before the 1850's rebuild, extended over the Lower Ward across the covered 'bridge' wing over the central ditch, At the same time some of the medieval walls were dug out and 'improved' as part of the present garden scheme.

Great Gatehouse. 2.

The main entrance to the castle, between two D-shaped towers. While the cellars are largely intact, the upper floors of the towers and all traces of a gate or portcullis have gone. The 'battlements', arch and above-ground rooms are 19th,C embellishments.

Chequer (Exchequer) Tower 3.

The tower site is marked by a projection of sandstone from the eastern curtain wall. This may have housed the treasury and records of the castle. The curtain wall is largely a Victorian creation of limestone using uncut blocks to create a rockery effect. A blocked 19th.C arch stands in a recess.

North East Curtain Wall  4.

Ruinous. Inside, a Victorian portal and steps to a long passageway towards the North East Tower. Incorporates medieval fragments including a fine vaulted chamber, maybe an ice house.

North East Tower 5. 

Reduced to its limestone core, with patches of sandstone adjacent to the curtain wall. 

North Curtain Wall 6

.

A sandstone/limestone chequer pattern of re-used blocks from the castle forms the inner face.

North West Tower 7.

Likely to have contained living quarters. It stands to first floor level but the interior has infill which, like the low limestone parapet and window bases, is Victorian. Perhaps two storeys have been lost.

Great Hall 8.

Very large, to impress, and against the western curtain wall. Nothing survives above ground, but there may be buried remains of walls, marked by rockery piles. Pieces of original dressed stone might indicate buttresses.

Cloister / West Curtain Wall 9.

The 'gothic' arcade is Victorian. It is now roofless, but contained windows and fireplaces. It might have been a viewing gallery, and appears to stand on the remains of a medieval passage, maybe between the kitchens and the north west tower.

From below, the impressive curtain wall displays surviving medieval sandstone dressed masonry, capped by Victorian rough-cut limestone. At the northern end both stones were used to create a chequer effect (Victorian).

West Tower and Kitchens 10.

A large D-shaped tower which has lost at least two storeys. A 16th.C drawing suggests the kitchens were behind this, with part of the fine sandstone face remaining, the rest having been replaced by Victorian stairs and landings leading into the ditch. A pit-like shaft nest to the stairs may have been a medieval latrine or drain.

Sally Port 11.

During a siege this would allow a small group of defenders to sneak out for a surprise recce or attack. A spiral stair led down from the kitchens to a small door onto the ditch. Two small medieval windows for the staircase remain. The triangular headed arch is one of the best-preserved features of the original castle.

Lower Ward

There is no evidence as to the early use of this area. Constructed of limestone rubble. An awkward joint with the Upper Ward next to the Sally Port, and details of the western gatehouse in the base of the ditch, suggest a slightly later construction date than the Upper Ward.

West Gatehouse 12 and Drain 13.

This gave access to the deer park. A simple arch with portcullis and corbelled out above. Perhaps early 14th.C. The steps below are Victorian. The opening below and to the north of the west gate seems to be a drain set in the bottom of the ditch between the two wards. It is possible that Upper Ward buildings drained into this ditch and then out of the castle.

South West Tower 14.

A corner tower of the Lower Ward which survived the Victorian constructions. The sandstone parapet and some facings are Victorian. In the curtain wall are a pair of openings were a latrine outlet. This indicates that the wall and tower were at least one storey higher. 

1850s Mansion  15.

Built by Frederick West M.P to a design of Francis Clutton. This period also saw considerable alteration of the old castle ruins, especially in the creation of the Italian Garden, which had a complex underground irrigation system and innovative use of castle waste as fertiliser.

Conservation.

The establishment of the Conservation Trust has been  instrumental in attracting funding. Detailed surveys have been undertaken, including photogrammetry. The initial aim is to preserve what we have. This has required extensive vegetation removal from the ruins. This has had to be carried out carefully as in places the vegetation is binding together some of the masonry. The curtain walls were accessed by abseiling. 

Sections in danger of imminent collapse have been shored up, such as the gallery, which is closed to the public. Loose masonry had been secured by strapping. This is buying time while the options for more permanent conservation are assessed.

To access the Conservation Trust's website: