Page images

Dyserth Castle: North Side. (Sketch by E. W. Cox, kindly lent by Chester Archaeological Society)

bastion or outwork, commanding the road from the vale. The south side has an external oblong court, with a projecting angular bastion, at the east end of which is the well, which, as at Denbigh, appears to have had a tower of its own, forming part of the external defences. These outworks surround and prevent access to the main court, the ground external to them being precipitous and difficult, and giving no foothold to an enemy. These outworks protect the weakest side of the inner court, which has a separate curtain wall of its own, defended by towers, and the hall and domestic buildings, all of which are turned towards the part of the hill naturally the strongest.

The main defences of the inner court are on the north side. Here the main walls are from 5 ft. to 8 ft. thick, and, inclusive of the north-east gate tower, are defended by three strong closed bastion towers, so skilfully planned and placed as not only are the north ditch and external approaches (every part being covered by at least two of them) commanded, but their own walls and angles are effectually flanked each by the other, while they cover the interior of the court against missiles from almost any point of attack save one. On this one point is concentrated the fire of five main defences of the Castle and outworks and the whole length of the north wall, while each main tower is capable of separate resistance if the others are taken; and any enemy approaching the north side closely is taken in front and both flanks. The range is calculated for a distance of 80 ft., at which the powerful and heavy crossbows and fixed engines on the towers (with which we know from the list of stores at Carnarvon in 1306 the Welsh castles were furnished) could pierce and destroy any armour. The fact that the great outer trench is just 80 ft. beyond the inner defences seems to indicate that both formed one plan of the same period.

Although the interior of the Castle is still partly buried in its ruins, enough has been excavated to dis

close the probable uses of its buildings. The round tower on the proper right was most likely the prison; and on the left the guard-room, over which most likely was the chapel. The bases of the gates and doors remain ; jambs have been plainly chamfered, with two orders for the main gate.

The double tower, with a salient angle to the field, which is divided into two by the curtain-wall passing through it, seems to have formed the kitchen. The wide fireplace is only indicated by the smoked wall, the details are destroyed; but a beautifully moulded base of a circular chimney shaft that has been set on a square chimney breast was found near here. The outer portion of the tower may have been the Constable's apartments.

The west half-hexagon tower has the appearance of having been a stable; the wide window has in the sill the sockets for a permanent grille such as were used for such buildings. In the wall, on the left, is a curious square recess, the purpose of which is not apparent. From this tower externally the foundation of a wall ran northwards into the moat, forming a traverse. At the point of junction with the tower is a triangular external chamber with two loop-holes. This defence was built after the tower, and doubtless forms part of certain repairs and strengthenings recorded to have been made to the Castle.

Between the centre tower and the south wall is a pile of formless ruins. On this site lie the pantries and butteries crossing the court. At the south-west angle the foundation of the hall shows it to measure 48 ft. in extreme length, and 25 ft. in breadth; it is furthest withdrawn from the lines of attack, and is covered effectively by the three towers. The door is at the eastern end of the north side, where it would pass behind the screens; the dais at the west end. As there is no trace of a fireplace, we may conclude that there was a central hearth.

Mr. Cox was of opinion, "from the peculiar form of

the walls at the west side of this court in front of the hall, that a kind of cloister or verandah of wood was carried round three sides of it as a shelter from arrows shot over the walls at a high elevation, and that a portion on the left was an open shed for the protection of the lord's horses, the curtain wall protecting the fourth side without any pent roof; also that another apartment or two, of two stories, existed behind the hall for the withdrawing room and chamber. The hall has very thin walls, and was, with the chambers, most likely built of oak in the upper portion. This is not at all unusual for the internal offices of a castle. Conway (1286) hall was of timber. The character of the lower walls of the hall at Dyserth are fitted only as the base for timber superstructure. There are some valuable details of the windows and battlements among the fragments, the former showing how the glass was fixed in moveable wooden frames. We know that when castles were not occupied by their owners, the glass was removed and stowed away. The loophole from the battlement is cruciform, with circular oeillets and triangular foot. A beautiful moulding, either from the kitchen fireplace or some fragment of the chapel, was also found.

"When the excavations opened the various chambers, they were found to be whitewashed on the stone; very little plastering was used in the interiors. Thus we have an exactly dated instance of the use of whitewash. The fact that the domestic buildings are withdrawn towards the south or Welsh side of the Vale, and that the strongest points of resistance are turned towards the road to Flint and Holywell, to prevent a foe marching round the flank of the Vale by these or the low ground, are (in addition to its abandonment. as a base of operations by the English) strong presumptive evidence of the defensive purpose being the main

1 Llywelyn Fardd 1230-80; Myv. Arch. 249; Towyn Church "Eglwys wen wyngalch wynhaed."

object of this strong fortress. In the character of its military engineering, but not in its office and use, its analogies are strong with Denbigh; so much so as to suggest a common designer. The angular and polygonal bastions, the separate well-tower, and the system of outworks, have much in common with the larger castle. The grouping of the towers towards the line of attack also recalls the arrangements of the older portion of Chester Castle, also built by Henry III.”1

The excavations have shown a large quantity of charred timber. Through part of the north wall the gallery of a mine has been run, but its use is uncertain. The larger portion of the débris appears to have been taken down by manual labour, as will later on be verified. The metal gratings have been wrenched out of the windows. The floors of the tower are unpaved, and are made of beaten clay, well laid and hard. The window, door casings, and quoins, are of a fine white freestone, probably brought from Storeton near Birkenhead by sea. The masons' marks are identical with many in Bebington, though of a later period, and might indicate the employment of Wirral masons, several of whom are named in the succeeding reign as master masons and contractors employed at Conway and Carnarvon Castles.


It has been suggested by Pennant that a Welsh port existed on the site of Dyserth Castle, prior to this fortress built by Henry III, but I have not yet met with any real evidence relating to it. We learn from Domesday (1086) that the berewicks of Dicolin, Rahop,3 and Wicestan (Bay Town), were a waste in the time of Edward the Confessor, and no mention whatever is made of a castle or post; yet in the immediate vicinity, we have Ruestoch (together with Prestetone), a name clearly indicating the former existence of a stockade."

1 Cox, "Diserth Castle," Chester Arch. Journ., 1895.
2 Dyncolin, the berewick in which Dyserth Castle stood.
3 Y Gop.
4 Domesday.

5 Welsh Rhiw-y-stoc; and Rustock in an Agreement of 1272 A.D.

« PreviousContinue »