Trust Regional Historic Environment Record
Castell y Bere, Llanfihangel-y-Pennant
Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 4931 Trust : Gwynedd Community : Llanfihangel-y-Pennant Unitary authority : Gwynedd NGR : SH66750854 Site Type (preferred type first) : Medieval CASTLE Status : Scheduled Monument , Cared for by the State
Summary : The building of Castell y Bere was begun in 1221 when, it is recorded, Llywelyn Fawr took control of Meirionnydd back from his son Gruffudd. Located in the Dysynni valley, on the southern border of Gwynedd, the castle was beseiged by an English army from Montgomery in the war of 1282-3 and ultimately fell. Edward I had plans for founding an English borough at Castell y Bere and many alterations to the castle interior may date to this time. The castle was recaptured by the Welsh in 1294 and does not appear again in the royal accounts, suggesting that it was abandoned.
Description : A large 'Welsh' castle of irregular plan, with rectangular keep, two apsidal towers, one round tower and a large triangular barbican; probably the castle which Llywelyn ap Iorwerth began to build for himself in 1221. Architectural details found when the site was explored in 1851, now preserved in the NMW, are consistent with a date in the second 1/4 of the C13th, and the ground plan displays features which are common to other native castles in North Wales. The castle was remodelled after its capture by Edward I in 1283, and was granted a charter as a borough town in 1284, but no further mention of it occurs after its siege during the rebellion of 1294, and it was probably destroyed and abandoned at that time. Early Iron Age and Roman finds from the castle site, presented to the NMW, include four coins of Gallienus and Carausius and fragments of the rim of a late mortarium, all discovered during conservation work in 1951 on a well near the round tower. It seems probable that the coins came from a hoard and were accidentally incorporated into the mortar-mix of the walling. <1> <2> <3> <4> <5> <6> <7> (Boon, 1961)
The castle has two adjoining keeps. The larger overlies a rock-cut ditch suggesting that it had the adjoining apsidal tower are additions to the original castle. Otherwise no change. <8>
Among the mountains of Meirionnydd, there were four Welsh castles. Only one of these - Castell y Bere, lying at the foot of Cadair Idris - has any significant remains. Even here the remains are not very extensive, despite the fact that Edward I later repaired it for his own use. The high quality of the carved stonework at Bere shows, however, that it was one of the most richly ornamented as well as one of the largest of the native castles. Built by Llywelyn the Great as his headquarters in the early C13th (c.1221), it must have been, in its heyday, a very impressive structure. The fortress was built on an isolated rocky outcrop, with a precipitous south face, high above the Afon Dysynni.
A triangular barbican, built across the rocks and overlooked by a round tower, defends the entrance behind which is a large courtyard with the residential quarters and, on the highest point, a rectangular keep. The castle was further defended by formidable D-shaped towers soaring above the cliffs at either end of the site. As in so many of the Welsh castles the ground plan at Bere is directly related to the ground itself and hugs the contours, emphasising the topography of the hill. <12>
A Welsh castle, built probably in 1221, when Llywelyn the Great is said to have built a castle in this part of Wales.
It stands under the southern slopes of Cader Idris, in the valley of the Dysynni, on one of the numerous rocky crests, probably formed in the Ice Age, in the valley bottoms of North Wales.
This is a very strong position, but the plan of the castle is dictated by the shape of the summit - long, narrow, and irregular. Along the crest of the ridge there are three towers; those at the ends of the rock are apsidal in plan, while the third, which occupies the summit, is rectangular; it was probably the keep. The fourth tower is round, and overlooks the entrance, which is reached by way of an outer gate and a long stair. Directly inside the main gate, and almost blocking the way, is the castle well, which still holds water. Most of the defences seem to have been built in a single programme, except for two walls joining the tower at the south-west end to the rest of the castle. These were added by Edward I, after his capture of Castell-y-Bere in 1283. The tower stands outside the castle ditch, and there is no evidence to show that there were any earlier walls in this position.
The end of the castle came soon; during the rising of 1294 it was reported to be in great peril, after which no more is heard of it. Whether the garrison was rescued remains unknown; but a great quantity of burned timber was found during clearing of the site, and it is plain that the castle was destroyed.
OS 1" map 116, ref. SH667086. <13>
Old HER refers to part restoration of the site by the Ministry of Works in 1949. No sources given. <17>
Geophysical survey carried out showed positive evidence for the Medieval burgh to the north of the castle. (Gaffney, 1992)
Boon, G. C. , 1961 , Roman Coins, Castell-y-Bere , Archaeology in Wales : Vol. 1 : p. 6
Brodie, H. , 2015 , Apsidal and D-shaped towers of the Princes of Gwynedd , Archaeologia Cambrensis : Vol. 164 : P.231-243
Gaffney, C. F. , 1992 , Report on Geophysical Survey at Castell y Bere
Taylor, A. J. , 1986 , The Welsh Castles of Edward I
, 1952 , Council of University of Wales , <1>
Cathcart King, D. J. & Hogg, A. H. A. , 1967 , Archaeologia Cambrensis , <2>
Brown, R. A., Colvin, H. M. & Taylor, A. J. , 1963 , History of the Kings Works , <3>
Hemp, W. J. , 1943 , Archaeologia Cambrensis , <4>
Butler, L. A. S. , 1974 , Archaeologia Cambrensis , <5>
, 1962 , Annual Report National Museum of Wales , <6>
Boon, G. C. , 1962 , Bulletin for the Board of Celtic Studies , <7>
Ordnance Survey , 1972 , SH60NE 1 , <8>
Wynne, W. W. E. , 1861 , Archaeologia Cambrensis , <11>
Morris, J. E. , 1901 , The Welsh Wars of Edward I , <12>
, PRN 4931 , <13>
Lewis, J. M. , 1978 , Medieval Pottery and Metal-ware in Wales , <14>
Hood, A. , 2000 , Heritage in Wales , <15>
Taylor, A. J. , 1951 , The Archaeological News Letter , <16>
Steele, N. , 2009 , PRN 4931 , <17>
Avent, R. , 1983 , Castles of the Princes of Gwynedd , <18>
Cathcart King, D. J. , 1983 , Castellarium Anglicanum , <19>
Avent, R. , 1994 , Chateau Gaillard , <20>
Johnstone, N. , Town, Llys and Maerdref , <23>
Butler, L. A. S. , 1975 , Medieval Pottery from Excavations in the North West , <23>
Events : 43204 : Castell Y Bere Meirionethshire (year : 1850) 44388 : Geophysical Survey: Castell y Bere (year : 1992)