Driving the roads from Beer to Cardiff on the beautifully sunny last day of August was a breeze. The sky was blue and the roads were clear and uncrowded. The next part of my journey took me to Wales for 9 full days to explore its’ hidden treasures.
Once I arrived in Cardiff and stashed my things at the modern looking hostel, I couldn’t think of anything better I’d rather do than visit the local castle. What an impressive castle and significant one it proved to be!
According to the castles’ website, ‘Cardiff Castle is one of Wales’ leading heritage attractions and a site of international significance. Located in the heart of the capital, within beautiful parklands, the Castle’s walls and fairytale towers conceal 2,000 years of history.’
First, it was in the hands of the Romans from about 45 – 500 AD. They started building forts here on a strategic site with easy access to the ocean nearby! Archaeological excavations made during the 1970s indicate that there were four forts built over time, each a different size. Remains of the Roman wall can be seen today.
Fast forward another 566 years – after the Norman conquest in 1066 – the Castle’s keep was built, re-using the site of the Roman fort. The site was also divided into inner and outer wards, separated by a huge stone wall. The Inner ward was used by the Lord and his family; the Outer Ward contained the Shire Hall, a chapel and houses for the lord’s supporter, the “Knights of Glamorgan.”
This early view of the Castle and Green shows what it looked like before 1777 as well as ancient walls and buildings that were built.Below, a present-day view of the greens with the castle ‘Keep’ in the center background.
The first Keep on the motte was erected by Robert Fitzhamon, the Norman Lord of Gloucester, concentrating the defensive works into the western half of the site, which became the ‘inner’ ward.
At the northern end of the ward, Fitzhamon built a ‘motte’ 40 feet high. This Keep was surmounted by a timber stockade giving shelter and protection to the wooden buildings which housed the lord, his household and his garrison.
The Castle passed through the hands of many noble families. This is where it gets particularly interesting for me personally. Yep, you guessed it – another ancestral connection – or two, or three…Henry I “Beauclerc” King of England (1068 – 1135) was my 24th great grandfather. He had several children, including a son named Robert, who, as luck would have it, eventually married Lord Robert Fitzhamon’s daughter, Mabel.
Lord Robert Fitzhamon died of wounds received in battle in 1107, and his heiress daughter, Mabel, married King Henry I’s son, Robert (my 23rd great uncle.)
Afterward, King Henry elevated his son, Robert, to the title of “Earl of Gloucester,” and made him “Lord of Glamorgan,” in 1122. He was lauded on all sides as a brave soldier, a wise statesman and patron of the arts, and is also credited with having built the first stone keep of Cardiff Castle.
Over the years the castle changed hands down through the heirs eventually ending up with the next significant person in my lineage, Gilbert de Clare, in 1217. Gilbert was my 21st great grandfather and the descendant of a noble family which claimed kinship with William the Conqueror. Below is the lineage through my paternal grandfather, William Rose Frew II.
son of Gilbert Magna Carta DeClare
son of Richard IV De Clare Eighth Earl of Clare, sixth Earl of Hertford, Seventh Earl of Gloucester
daughter of Sir Gilbert Red De Clare Earl of Clare, Earl of Hertford, Earl of Gloucester
son of Elizabeth DeClare
daughter of William 3rd Earl of Ulster De Burgh Lord of Connaught
son of Elizabeth Countess of Ulster DeBurgh
son of Thomas Richmond
son of William Richmond
son of William Richmond
son of William Richmond
son of Edmond Richmond
son of Henry Richmond
son of John Richmond
son of Capt Edward Richmond
son of John Richmond
son of Cyrus Richmond
son of Sylvester Richmond
daughter of Ichabod Richmond
son of Sarah Richmond
daughter of Hiram Brundage
son of Nancy Anne Brundage
son of William Rose Frew II
You are the daughter of William Kenneth Frew
Once inside, and past the Keep to the inner courtyard, it appeared larger than I had imagined it would be; actually quite spacious.I started climbing the steps and exploring the rooms of the castle, making my way to the very tip top, thinking to myself as I made my way, that my great grandfather many generations ago, stepped through that doorway, hung around in this room, looked out that window…climbed those stairs!
The Keep’s rooftop provided outstanding views of the acreage below and I could just imagine Gilbert standing up here surveying his lands.
Back down the steep stairs, past the well, and down into the inner ward.
The next section of the castle to explore would be a guided tour through the Apartments’ interior! I was looking forward to this.
The Castle passed through the hands of many noble families until, in 1766, it passed to the Bute family.
The tour lined up outside the doors to the apartments offering close-up views of the gargoyle rainspouts fashioned as various types of animals along its inner roofline edges.
The 2nd Marquess of Bute was responsible for turning Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port. The Castle and Bute fortune passed to the 3rd Marquess of Bute, who by the 1860s was reputed to be the richest man in the world.
From 1866 the 3rd Marquess employed a genius architect, William Burges, to transform the Castle lodgings. This is where the guided “House Tour” took us. Within the gothic towers, we saw the lavish and opulent interiors, rich with murals, stained glass, marble, gilding and elaborate wood carvings which William Burges created. Each room has its own special theme, including Mediterranean gardens and Italian and Arabian decoration.
First stop of the tour was the Men’s Winter Smoking Room.
Every inch of this room was elaborately painted with astrological signs and suns, and figures depicting tales of yore.
As one leaves this room, a scary monster guards its entrance above your head in the ceiling; supposedly to scare the woman away from this man cave!The next room we visited was the Nursery. As in the previous room, childhood tales are depicted on the walls and carvings throughout its interior.
Just carving this one little intricate corner of the fireplace mantle must have taken awhile to accomplish! Every inch is ripe with characters, animals, nuts, leaves…
We also visited the Banqueting Hall…
The Lord Bute’s Bedroom…A very ornate bedroom, with an equally ornate and “blingy” ceiling of crystals and mirrors!
The Lord’s bathroom was also pretty darned fancy!
We went up to the rooftop to appreciate it’s beautiful garden and was shown a picture of what it looked like in its heydey when full of lush foliage and flowers. The ornately painted tiling was incredibly detailed and exquisitely artistic.
The last room we visited was the Library…
Following the death of the 4th Marquess of Bute, the family decided to give the Castle and much of its parkland, known as Bute Park, to the city of Cardiff. For 25 years, the Castle was home to the National College of Music and Drama. Since 1974, it has become one of Wales’ most popular visitor attractions.
When the tour was finished, there was a great gathering of people outside in the inner courtyard. As luck would have it, about 80 Zulu players along with Queen Mantfombi Dlamini, and her son His Royal Highness Prince Bambindlovu Makhosezwe Zuluabout, Prince Buza, and Princess Nqobangothando had travelled to Cardiff to take part in a re-enactment of the Battle of Isandlwana which occurred around 1879.
This re-enactment marked the 135th celebration of King Cetshwayo’s capture. After his capture, the king was brought back to England where he met Queen Victoria and was reinstated back to KwaZulu-Natal as the King.
It was quite fun to watch the re-enactment, get up close to the Zulu Royalty, and enjoy the festivities.
What a great spectacle that was! Afterwards, I decided to head back outside the castle walls and walk down their length to the entrance to Bute Park, passing the great corner Tower along the way.
Just past the tower, stone statutes of animals began appearing along the top of the wall, as if they were escaping their environs. That’s when I learned about the “animal wall!”
According to the sign below, “The Animal Wall is one of the most delightful and photographed historic features in Cardiff. It was designed by architect William Burges for the 2nd Marquess of Bute. Burges died before even the structure of the wall was completed and the carving of the animals was not begun until the late 1880s. Architect William Frame brought the animal wall to completion, based on the sketches by Burges. The original wall was located directly in front of the Castle and was decorated with just nine animals.
Later, the castle road needed to be widened and aligned with the new bridge, so the wall was relocated to its present position. Six additional animals were added to its length and are stylistically different than the original 9, which have the characteristic glass eyes.
As I strolled along the length of the wall photographing each critter, a young local girl of about 18 or so noticed me. She stopped to chat and stated that although she has walked this way many a time, she hadn’t actually noticed the animals along its top until she saw me stopping at each one to get a picture! She thanked me for drawing her attention to them and relaying their history. Amazing how one doesn’t notice the things in their own neck-of-the-woods, ‘eh?
At the end of the wall, the main gate to Bute Park appeared and I stepped through to wander through its pathways.
I saw a lot of beautiful trees, flowers and riverside views…
That was some introduction to Wales! The history lessons of my ancestral connections to this interesting place are also quite intriguing! It made me wonder with delight of what was yet to come over the course of the next 8 days!
Next, I headed toward the most westerly portion of Wales in Pembrokeshire to explore its reaches, but, as usual, that’s another story for another day… Until the next time! Thanks for reading and following along on my adventures with me ~ Claudia