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BY THOS. EDWARDS, BRYNTEG, CHESTER
The purposes of Dyserth Castle, though capable of being made one of offence or invasion, are mainly those of defence. It commands the lands towards the sea, and also the entrance to the Vale of Clwyd. On the north-east and south-east it commands the roads on the land side, closing Newmarket effectually, and bars the passage of any army by the low lands between the hills and the sea, which were then far more extensive than now.
The Castle is situated on the Rock of Maelan (now known as Graig Bach). The south and west sides are “dyn” or escarped, and the east side is joined by a narrow neck to the inclined ground in the rear. The latter is therefore the weakest side, and is compensated by the stronger defences of the Castle on that side of the fortress. Mr. E. W. Cox, whose description of the purposes and orientation, etc., has been freely quoted in this article, says there is an entrenched, nearly square, outer court, with a deep but not very wide ditch on the westward side, and a deeper and wider ditch is carried for about two-thirds of a circle round the north and west sides, till it ends at the precipitous face of the rock. This line of ditch is about 80 ft. from the wall of the inner court of the Castle. There is a peculiarity’ about this entrenchment which at first sight might lead to the supposition that the great earth work was earlier than the Castle, as it follows the old British precedent of placing the vallum or bank outside the fosse. As a military work this is less strong than the plan of placing the ditch
1 E. W. Cox, Chester Arch., v, New Series, 365.
exterior to the vallum. Notwithstanding this feature, it is evident that the Castle and entrenchments were planned together at one time.
The purpose of placing the ditch within the vallum in British forts was, in most cases, dictated by the
need for driving the cattle within the enclosure in times of peril, and the inner ditch acted as drainage for the area which otherwise would have become an untenable quagmire if banked in like a pond. The same consideration has most likely prevailed at Dyserth; the deep and wide ditches were for the protection of cattle brought together in time of attack, and they were thus kept from inconveniencing the garrison.
There are precedents for this in some of the castles of the north border (Norham, for instance), and in the entrenched farm of Irby Grange (a mediæval manor of St. Werburgh's, exposed to raids from Wales) the large vallum is also external to the ditch as in British examples. This provision for collecting the live stock is a collateral proof of the defensive character of Dyserth. The entrenchments bear scarcely any vestiges of masonry, and were doubtless strengthened with a palisade of cleft oak, as usual in such works.
The outer court of the Castle was entrenched and no doubt stockaded, and would contain the penthouses and farm buildings and rick-yards, and, when strongly occupied, rough quarters for troops, or tents would be pitched in it. The buildings, judging from the scantiness of masonry remains, and the thin walls which were fitted for only a light superstructure, must have been made of timber or of wattle and daub, a material that resists fire much better than might be supposed. A bridge, probably a draw-bridge, crossed the moat to the great gate of the Castle. At the far side of the ditch there must have been some barrier to protect the well-tower on the left of the gate.
This gate was flanked on the proper right by a semicylindrical tower, and on the left by an irregularlysided polygonal tower, the arrangement of whose faces seems to indicate a preparation for a machicolation over the gateway. These towers are now broken down to less than half their original height and lie buried in their own débris to some depth, and the gateway passage is partially choked with rubbish.
Mr. Leonard #ughes, in his excavations, has disinterred the lower parts of the inner gateway, which was of two orders, with an acutely-pointed arch.
There is a large crescent-shaped court, whose wall, embracing the west side of the Castle on the verge of the rock, terminates on the north-west in a square
6TH SER, VOL. XII,
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
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