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Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle was among the last of the great castles erected by Edward I as part of his campaign to control north Wales. Its name means 'Beautiful Marsh' and it was built on low-lying ground on the eastern side of the Isle of Anglesey, specifically to control traffic along the Menai Strait.

Beaumaris Castle is one of the finest examples of concentric fortification in Britain and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Work Starts at Beaumaris

Work commenced at Beaumaris in April 1295 under the direction of Master James of St. George and most of the castle was built by the end of 1296. Unfortunately the castle was never finished. Edward's wars in northern France and Scotland had severely strained the Exchequer and the initial building work was brought to an abrupt halt.

Beaumaris was left incomplete and probably indefensible. Large sections of the outer curtain wall hadn't been started and the portcullises and gatehouses were not properly in place.

Building resumed in 1306, because of the threat of invasion from Scotland, and continued until 1330 when work on the castle came to a gradual stop. The outer curtain wall was completed and the inner curtain was finished, after a fashion.

The flanking towers were originally designed to be three stories high, but the top storey was never completed and the watch turrets that should have sat on top were never built. A parapet was added instead, but it's barely higher than the curtain wall around it.

The two keep-like gatehouses were also left two stories high. Two U-shaped towers flank the outer gateways and the gatehouses extend into the inner courtyard.

An Unfinished Vision

From the outset Beaumaris was designed to have a wide moat, high walls and strong towers. Master James' vision was to build a castle that was not only impressively strong, but also very luxurious. The inner buildings and towers had extensive accommodation, numerous fireplaces and an attractive chapel in its own tower.

It is also likely that Master James planned a suite of royal apartments along the eastern wall, but these were never built.

Even though it remained unfinished in 1330, Beaumaris castle's defences were still formidable. Attackers would have had to cross the moat, breach the outer wall and even then would face the inner walls, deadly murder holes and a hail of arrows from the hundreds of arrow slits and towers.

In 1403 it was taken by Owain Glyndwr's forces as part of a Welsh revolt against English rule. Royal forces retook it in 1405.

The royal household never came here and with the threat from the native Welsh all but gone Beaumaris was poorly maintained and allowed to fall into decay. By 1609 it was thought that the castle was utterly decayed.

Despite its decay Beaumaris saw action again during the English Civil War. It was in an important strategic location controlling part of the route between the King's bases in Ireland and England. Thomas Bulkeley, 1st Viscount Bulkeley, whose family had been constables for the castle for some time, held the castle for the king and spent a considerable sum upgrading and repairing its defences.

Beaumaris castle was not taken in battle, but surrendered without a fight to Parliamentary forces in 1646. It was involved in a small uprising in 1648, but again was surrendered after brief resistance.

Restoration and Tourists

After the war the Bulkeley family were restored as castle constables and, unusually, Beaumaris was spared the slighting that critically damaged so many other castles.

In 1807 Thomas Bulkeley, 7th Viscount Bulkeley, bought the castle from the Crown and incorporated it into a park around his main residence at Baron Hill.

The romantic revival in the early 19th Century saw Beaumaris become a destination for travellers and painters and it was even visited by Queen Victoria in 1832 and painted by Turner in 1835.

In 1925 Richard Williams-Bulkeley gave the castle to the Commissioners of Works who carried out an extensive renovation programme. Today Beaumaris Castle is looked after by Cadw and it is open to the public as a tourist attraction.

Beaumaris hosts a number of events throughout the year including concerts, events during the National Storytelling Week as well as various displays and films within the castle. Facilities available include portable induction loops, a gift shop and picnic tables.

Status: Visitor Attraction / World Heritage Site
Owner: Cadw
Tel: 01248 810361
Opening Times: March to June Daily 9.30am to 5pm, July & August Daily 9.30am to 6pm, September & October Daily 9.30am to 5pm, November to February Daily 10am (11am Sundays) to 4pm

Moat and outer curtain at Beaumaris Castle
Moat and outer curtain at Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle's Gatehouse and Dock at night
Beaumaris Castle's Gatehouse and Dock at night

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