Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Castle Behind

I feel priviliged to have Usk Castle next door

I find it exciting to live next door to a real castle!

The very steep garden behind my house in Usk rises up to meet the walls of Usk Castle. My house deeds state that I 'must not do anything to undermine or cause damage to the castle walls or their foundations'.

The castle is a very special place for me, I feel that it is guarding and protecting me living under its ancient walls.

In the photo above, taken from my garden, you can see the rear of the Garrison Tower and below views of the same tower from the inner ward of the castle.

Plate showing the Garrison Tower from: "The Castles & Abbeys
of Monmouth J.S. Prout. 1838

The Garrison Tower today

Built on the site of a Celtic Iron Age fort overlooking the Usk Valley, the ruins of Usk Castle behind my house are Norman, dating back to around 1120. The best surviving feature of the 12th Century castle is a Norman gatehouse, probably built by the de Clares. The first historical record of Usk Castle dates from 1262, when it was owned by Richard de Clare. It seems probable that it was in the possession of the de Clares from the time that the first Normans arrived in South Wales. 

The defences at Usk were strengthened by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke. The Garrison Tower, with a wall walk that bypasses the tower itself, is similar to the one at Pembroke Castle also built by William Marshall.
The castle passed through numerous hands during the 14th century, including the notorious De Spensers, favourites of Edward II, and was for a time owned by Edmund Mortimer, Earl of the Marches. When Edward II died the castle reverted to Elizabeth de Burgh, who put a lot of money into rebuilding and remodelling the castle.

Grisly Events 

When nearby Grosmont Castle was sacked in 1405 by Owain Glyndwr, the English garrison took shelter in Usk Castle. Usk was itself beseiged, but the defenders, led by Lord Grey of Codnor captured over 300 of the Welsh. In a brutal act of reprisal the prisoners were slaughtered en masse just outside the castle walls. This infamous 'Battle of Pwll Melyn' in 1405 is commemorated with a stone. 

In 1431 the castle passed to William ap Thomas, and then to his son, William Herbert, later named the 18th Earl of Pembroke. Herbert refurbished Usk Castle to create a much more comfortable residence, but he did not live long to enjoy it, for he was killed at the Battle of Edgecote in 1469. The castle fell into disuse after Herbert's death, and local people started taking stone from the castle for their own building projects. The castle passed to Edward IV, and remained a crown possession until Henry VII died in 1507, at which time it passed to the Earls of Pembroke.

The gatehouse was transformed into a town house and in 1933 the castle underwent a gradual program of excavation and 'beautification' by the Humphreys family. New gardens were planted among the ruins to create a very beautiful,  tranquil spot much at odds with the long and turbulent history of the medieval castle.

Usk Castle Today

The spectacular  'Battle and Banquet' show in 2005
Owned by the Humphreys family since 1908, these days Usk Castle is a popular venue for events and weddings. In 2005 a spectacular sound and light show was held at Usk Castle, to commemorate the Battle of Pwll Melyn in 1405 and to promote awareness of Usk Castle and it's historical importance. Since then several large scale outdoor theatre productions have been staged at Usk Castle,  of which I have been proud to be part. The Usk Castle Players group is currently taking a break from productions but I'm sure they will be back in action again soon! For more info on Usk Castle see the links on the right.

Me up on the North Tower of Usk Castle as the 'wicked 
Green Witch in ''The Wonderful Wizard of Usk in 2009

View from Usk Castle across the town with Wentwood in the far distance

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