Conwy and Welsh Castles
Conwy is one of the country’s most important, and most popular historical towns. It is most famous for its castle, which was one of the many built by King Edward I of England, shortly after he conquered Wales. This group of fortresses were designed to intimidate and subdue the Welsh people. Conwy castle finally saw completion in 1289 AD. It stands on top of a tall outcrop of rock, next to the river, which gave it a distinct military advantage. The rugged, worn appearance of its stonework gives an insight into just how many wars and battles this fortress has seen. It has been involved in many of Britain’s most well-known periods of conflict, including the War of the Roses, and the English Civil War.
Directly beneath the castle’s south wall is a railway line, which then crosses the River Conwy using one of the three bridges, which stand right next to each other. Three may seem excessive, but they are each intended to carry different cargo – trains, cars, and pedestrians. From these, the original is the central suspension bridge, which was designed by the architect Thomas Telford in 1826. Along with the nearby Menai Strait Bridge opened the same year, it was one of the first of its kind to ever be built.
Extending from the other side of the castle, away from the river, is Conwy’s other large military construction: the walls. For years, this was a garrison town, populated entirely by English civilians and soldiers. They used the walls to keep out the Welsh, who weren’t even allowed to visit! These fortifications are around 9 metres high, with 22 defensive towers that reach up to 15 metres. The walls extend for around a kilometre, surrounding the central section of the town. Defences like these were built in most of Edward I’s castle towns, but Conwy’s are undoubtedly the best preserved. Almost all of their circumference can be walked by the public.
Several other buildings give a further idea of the local history. Plas Mawr, for example, is a 16th-century Elizabethan townhouse that is arguably the best of its kind in the whole of Britain. It’s a perfectly restored example of what a wealthy merchant’s home would have looked like. The interior is so extravagantly decorated that even the ceilings are a work of art. If you look closely at the plasterwork, you can see that the initials “R.W.” have been worked into the design. This stands for “Robert Wynne”, who was the original owner of the property. He wanted everyone to see just how wealthy he was.
A more modest example of a medieval merchant’s home can be found at Aberconwy House, which dates from even earlier, in the 14th century. The building is estimated to be the oldest townhouse in Wales, but there’s no doubt that it’s the oldest in Conwy. It has been restored to represent life as it would have been, through several different stages of the house’s past.
There’s a third house in Conwy that can lay claim to a long history – but you’d be forgiven for not noticing it. This is the smallest house in Great Britain, which measures around 3-by-2 metres. It was built in the 1500s, and at times, it has been lived in by an entire family!
It’s actually a surprise that buildings like this have managed to survive the town’s battle-filled history. On more than one occasion, the place was torn apart by war. But somehow, Conwy has emerged intact, complete with several well-kept exhibits of its old life.