Caernarfon Castle by Turner

Caernarfon Castle by Turner


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Caernarfon Castle

Edward I conquered Wales in 1277 and set about fortifying the rebellious area of north Wales. He began work on the strategically important Caernarfon Castle in 1283, when the Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, mounted an uprising.

The site enabled Edward to control traffic along the Menai Strait - a very important objective for his continued supremacy in the area. It had existed originally as a Roman fort, and an earlier Norman motte and bailey castle.

Its majestic, imposing form took shape and building work continued until 1323, in a complex, sophisticated version of the linear form. It wasn't actually finished, however - and still today examples of the incomplete structure are visible.

The cost of the building work was astonishing - £22,000, more than the Treasury's yearly income.

Caernarfon came under attack in the uprising of 1294-5, and again by Owain Glyndŵr in 1403-4, and both times stood up to the attacks. It was only in the Civil War that the garrison surrendered to the Parliamentary forces in 1646.

A popular, possibly aprocryphal, story arose concerning the investiture of the Prince of Wales - a tradition which was started once more in the twentieth century. Edward I, after subjugating the Welsh, promised the Welsh "a Prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English".

The Welsh were apparently taken aback when the Prince put forward his infant son, who indeed was born in Wales during Edward's military campaign, and due to his youth did not speak any word - English or not.

In 1911, the future Edward VIII was invested at Caernarfon Castle, and Prince Charles was invested there in 1969.


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Joseph Mallord William Turner

Turner visited thirteenth-century Caernarvon in North Wales in 1798, and made lively colour studies in his Academical sketchbook (Tate). This oil sketch was an intermediate step towards a large watercolour version which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799. As a young man Turner is said to have wept when he saw a seaport painted by Claude Lorrain ‘because I shall never be able to paint anything like that picture’. However, the Claudean model of a central sun over water flanked by buildings and shipping served him well in numerous paintings of classical history and myth.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

28. [ N01867 ] Caernarvon Castle c. 1798

THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (1867)
Pine, 5 15/16 × 9 1/16 (15·1 × 23) a bevelled edge along the bottom leaves a painted surface of 5 13/16 ×9 1/16 (14·8 × 23)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 transferred to the Tate Gallery 1905.

Exh. Welsh Landscape in British Art Arts Council Welsh tour, August 1947–February 1948 (40) Cardiff 1951 Brighton 1957 (33) Swansea 1964 (154) R.A. 1974–5 (45) Llandudno and Swansea 1984 (63, repr.).

Lit. Gage 1969, pp. 29–30, colour pl. 6 Wilton 1979, p. 57 Kitson 1983, pp. 5, 15 n.24 Andrew Wilton, ‘La technique de l'aquarelle chez Turner’, exh. cat. Paris 1983–4, pp. 156–8, fig. 19.


After Joseph Mallord William Turner

One hundred and ten etchings and line-engravings by various engravers and in various states, comprising sixty-nine subjects out of a total of ninety-six (see also T05081 - T05104 below) various papers and sizes some annotated in pencil with names of collectors
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Prov: . N.W. Lott and H.J. Gerrish Ltd, from whom bt by Tate Gallery (earlier provenance given in individual entries where known)
Lit: Andrew Wilton, Turner in the British Museum, exh. cat., British Museum 1975 Eric Shanes, Turner's Picturesque Views in England and Wales, 1979 Picturesque Views in England and Wales by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., exh. cat., N.W. Lott and H.J. Gerrish Ltd 1982 Eric Shanes, ‘New Light on the England and Wales Series’, Turner Studies, vol.4, no.1, Summer 1984, pp.52–4 Eric Shanes, Turner's England 1810–38, 1990

Picturesque Views in England and Wales was the most ambitious of the engraving projects with which Turner became associated in the 1820s and 1830s. The project was the idea of the engraver Charles Heath, who had first worked with Turner in 1811 when he engraved the figures in John Pye's translation of Turner's oil of ‘Pope's Villa at Twickenham’ (Butlin and Joll 1984, no.72). From the 1820s, however, Heath began to devote his energies to publishing: besides England and Wales, he launched a number of popular illustrated annuals and the ‘Rivers of France’, for which Turner was also engaged to make designs (see T05105 - T05109 and T04678 - T04726 ).

A recently discovered letter from Charles Heath to the Yarmouth banker and patron of the arts, Dawson Turner, dated February 1825, throws much light on the genesis of the project (see Shanes 1984, pp.52–4):

I have just begun a most splendid work from Turner the Academician . he is making me 120 Drawings of England and Wales - I have just got four and they are the finest things I ever saw they cost me 30 Gins each and I have been offered 50 Gins each by two or three different Gentlemen. The Drawings, what is very unusual they will yield a Profit as much as the Plates, they will be engraved the size of the coast work of Cookes [Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England, see T04370 - T04427 ], any one who has seen them says it will be the best and most lucrative speculation ever executed of that description. I mean to have them engraved by all the first Artists. Messrs Hurst & Robinson are to have half the work on condition they find all the capital necessary - so that I have half the Drawings and half the Profits at no risk - I shall send you fine Proofs of course of the whole work

It is clear from this letter that Heath's original intention was to publish 120 subjects, although in the event only ninety-six appeared, published in twenty-four parts of four prints each between 1827 and 1838. Turner's fee is stated in the letter to have been 30 guineas for each drawing, which confirms the suspicion amongst recent writers that Rawlinson had exaggerated when stating that Turner received ‘sixty to seventy guineas apiece’ (Rawlinson I 1908, p.xlvii). Turner apparently received thirty proofs of each print (Alaric Watts: quoted in Shanes 1979, p.10).

According to Rawlinson (I 1908, p.xlviii), the engravers received between £80 and £100 a plate. Altogether, nineteen engravers were employed on the project, some of whom already had experience of working with Turner over the previous ten to fifteen years: Edward Goodall, John Horsburgh, William Miller, William Radclyffe and Richard Wallis had all contributed plates to the Southern Coast (see under T04370 - T04427 ) William Raymond Smith and John Charles Varrall engraved plates for the History of Richmondshire (see under T04439 - T04484 ) and Thomas Higham (1795–1844) executed a plate of ‘Wilton House’ in 1825 for Hoare's History of Modern Wiltshire. The remaining eleven new recruits were: James Baylis Allen (1803–76), Robert Brandard (1803 or 1805–1862), William John Cooke (1797–1865), Samuel Fisher (early to mid nineteenth century), J. Henshall (active 1820s–40s), Thomas Jeavons (born early nineteenth century, died 1867), James H. Kernot (active 1820s–40s), James C. Redaway (active 1818–57), William Tombleson (born c.1795), Charles Westwood (died 1855) and James Tibbitts Willmore (1800–63). According to Eric Shanes, the prices of the prints varied from a guinea and a half per part for proofs on India paper to fourteen shillings per part for ordinary prints (Shanes 1979, p.11). Rawlinson stated that he had been told by the publisher Henry Graves that ‘the plates were usually engraved as fast as Turner supplied the drawings, so that the date on each print always corresponds within about a year with that of the drawing’ (Rawlinson I 1908, p.117). However, Shanes has argued that this may not always have been the case (Shanes 1979, p.11). Only one watercolour for the series, ‘Saltash’, is dated, to the year 1825, and this was not engraved until 1827 (it appeared in part III) - although since it seems to have been among the first drawings made by Turner for the series, the delay which ensued before it was engraved may have been caused by the project getting off to a slow start.

The letter from Heath to Dawson Turner also indicates that Hurst and Robinson were initially intended to be co-publishers with Heath for the series, and to put up all the capital. In January 1826, however, the country suffered a severe economic downturn, and Hurst and Robinson were bankrupted in the resulting ‘crash’. The first part of England and Wales was not published until 1 March 1827 by a City firm of print-publishers, Robert Jennings & Co, who had taken over from Hurst and Robinson as co-publishers (although the financial responsibility seems still to have been shared with Heath: see Shanes 1979, p.10) Jennings also took on marketing and distribution. This was to prove but the first in a number of changes (or realignments) of publisher, with the result that Picturesque Views in England and Wales has one of the most tortuous publishing histories of any series in this period.

Jennings remained publisher until 1831, although towards the end of this period he went into partnership with William Chaplin whose name appears alongside that of Jennings on the publication line for a number of the early plates. Finding the venture a financial burden, however, early in 1831 Jennings and Chaplin sold out their share to a larger concern, the Moon, Boys and Graves Gallery of 6 Pall Mall (Shanes 1979, p.13), with Heath apparently still retaining his previous holding. In 1832 Moon, Boys and Graves had the first sixty plates (the projected first volume) bound in a single volume, with accompanying text by Hannibal Evans Lloyd (1771–1847), a philologist and translator in the Foreign Office and the author of a successful English grammar used in several German universities (Herrmann 1990, p.119). Shanes (1979, p.14) equates ‘the original advertised prices’ ‘per vol.’ listed by Rawlinson (I 1908, p.118) with the prices for the sixty prints in this 1832 first volume these ranged from £48 for India proofs before letters on Colombier folio issued together with the etchings (or £40 without the etchings), to £24 for India proofs with letters on Imperial Quarto (or ordinary proofs of thesame for 15 guineas), to 10 guineas for Royal Quarto prints.

However, not long afterwards Sir Francis Moon found himself in financial difficulties, and split with Boys and Graves, being replaced by Hodgson. Within a few months, Hodgson and Graves quarrelled, Graves departed, and Hodgson decided to sell off his share in the project in 1835 to Longman Rees, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman (who already had a large share in Heath's other enterprises such as The Keepsake and The Rivers of France, see T05105 - T05109 and T04678 - T04726 ). It was Longmans who decided to terminate publication in 1838. That year they reissued all ninety-six plates in two volumes of forty-eight engravings each (with additional letterpress by Lloyd) and, according to Shanes, issued them at the same prices as the Moon, Boys and Graves volume which had appeared in 1832 (Shanes 1979, p.14). Heath was by now financially ruined, although he was never officially declared bankrupt (in April 1840 he sold his own set of proofs for the series at Sotheby's these are now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, see Herrmann 1990, p.139 and n.95). Shanes (1979, p.15) estimates that the entire project cost in the order of £14,000–18,000, figures which, if anything, are likely to be on the conservative side.

In 1839, in an attempt to recoup some of their losses, Longmans decided to sell the entire stock of prints and plates from the series, and put them up for auction at Messrs Southgate & Company in Fleet Street. Just before the sale started, Turner himself managed to purchase the stock privately at the reserve price of £3,000, much to the consternation of all the prospective purchasers. One of these was H.G. Bohn, the dealer in cheap reprints who had had his eye on the ninety-six copper plates, and to whom it is recorded that Turner triumphantly announced: ‘So, sir, you were going to buy my England and Wales, to sell cheap, I suppose - make umbrella prints of them, eh? - but I have taken care of that. No more of my plates shall be worn to shadows’ (Alaric Watts quoted in A.J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, 2nd ed., 1961, p.374).

The engravings and plates for England and Wales were still in Turner's London house in Queen Anne Street when he died, and were disposed of as the Fifth Portion of the massive Chancery sales of ‘The Valuable Engravings of the Works of the Late J.M.W. Turner, R.A.’ held at Christie's in 1873 and 1874. The prints from England and Wales were sold on 27 May 1874 and 23–4 July 1874 (Herrmann 1990, p.140, mistakenly says 24 May 1874), but the plates themselves were destroyed just before the sale (Rawlinson I 1908, p.117). There were 222 lots of prints from this series alone, totalling over 52,000 engravings and including more than five hundred bound volumes since the entire total of prints sold in the Turner sales was 76,000 (in over 1,850 lots), it is clear that the prints from England and Wales must have accounted for a considerable proportion of the £40,000 raised by the sales (see Herrmann 1990, pp.140, 248).

One of the reasons sometimes quoted for the commercial failure of the England and Wales project is the fact that copper was used (apparently on Turner's insistence) in preference to the more hard-wearing and economical steel (see Shanes 1979, p.14 and Herrmann 1990, pp.127–8), and hence that the prints were over-priced. In fact very little had been published in line on steel as early as 1824 and 1825 when the project was first conceived (except for images on a much smaller scale), so whether steel was actually considered a realistic option at this date is not know. Certainly, however, the series does seem to have suffered serious competition from a variety of similar, cheaper publications flooding the market over the same period, reproducing the work of such popular artists as Samuel Prout, Clarkson Stanfield and David Roberts (see A.J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, 2nd ed., 1961, p.375). Herrmann makes the perceptive point that, towards its close, England and Wales must have appeared rather old-fashioned (Herrmann 1990, p.139), whilst Rawlinson speculates that the public may have seen too many Turner prints of a topographical nature over the previous twenty years, and perhaps have wearied of the irregular appearances of his previous serial issues (Rawlinson I 1908, p.xlviii). What is fairly sure is that the series did not founder due to lack of publicity, for repeated attempts were made by the various publishers to promote the project by holding exhibitions of the watercolours (sometimes alongside the engravings) -in 1829 at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in 1831 at the Freemasons Tavern, and in 1833 at the Gallery of Moon, Boys and Graves in Pall Mall.

Although Picturesque Views in England and Wales was not a commercial success, today the series is regarded as one of the finest and as one of the most important made from Turner's work. Andrew Wilton has described the subjects ‘as modern “history pictures” in which the common man is the hero’ (introduction to Shanes 1979), and certainly it is the relationship of man to the landscape which is the series' constant theme. Unlike previous engraved series, Turner himself selected the subjects, which fall into a wide range of categories covering almost every aspect of his work as a landscape painter - coastal subjects, urban and industrial views, English pastoral scenes, and views of cathedrals and abbeys. Many of the subjects were adapted from extant sketches or watercolours, although thirteen were based on new material gathered by him on a tour to the Midlands in 1830 undertaken especially for the project. In the variety and richness of its subject matter, and in the breadth and universality of its vision, Picturesque Views in England and Wales surpasses all the other series in which Turner had hitherto been involved. And the engravings are some of the most sophisticated and accomplished ever made after his designs.

The group of prints catalogued here comprises mainly etchings and first published states. The open etchings seem to have survived in fairly plentiful numbers, no doubt because they were issued to subscribers together with the ‘India proofs’ at little extra cost (see above). Rawlinson does not catalogue the etchings, although sometimes they appear to correspond with his engraver's proofs nevertheless, for clarity's sake, they are given here as ‘etchings’. Rawlinson catalogues the first published states as before title, publication line and printer's name, and his system has been followed here-although it seems likely that most of the so-called ‘first published states’ listed here correspond to the ‘India proofs’ with which the etchings were originally advertised as being issued. No touched proofs are included in this group, although a number of such proofs have survived for this series (there are examples in the British Museum).

Collectors mentioned in the provenance include: Henry Harper Benedict (b.1844 Lugt 2936), a manufacturer who lived in New York and collected Old Master and modern prints G.E. Blood (d. c.1923 Lugt Suppt 265c) George Cooke, the engraver (see under T04370 - T04427 ) the unidentified collector William Prior, who received a number of presentation proofs from various engravers who worked on England and Wales and Charles Stokes (1785–1853 Lugt 2758 and Suppt), antiquary, geologist, lithographer and Turner's stockbroker, who formed a celebrated collection of Liber proofs and of touched proofs of the Richmondshire and England and Wales series (see Gage 1980, p.288). For Guy Bellingham Smith, see under T04370 - T04427 .

T04603 Caernarvon Castle, Wales engr. W. Radclyffe, pub.1835

Line-engraving 165 × 241 (6 1/2 × 9 1/2) on India paper laid on wove paper 283 × 346 (11 1/8 × 13 5/8) plate-mark 240 × 308 (9 7/16 × 12 1/8)
Engraved inscriptions: ‘J.M.W. Turner R.A. del.’ below image b.l., ‘W. Radclyffe Sc t ’ below image b.r. Turner studio blind stamp stamp of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on back (‘MFA | H.D.P. coll.’ Lugt 1870)
Prov: Artist's sale, Christie's 27 May or 23–4 July 1874 . Harvey D. Parker collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Lit: Rawlinson I 1908, no.281, first published state

Published in part XIX, no.1. Original watercolour: British Museum (Shanes 1979, no.65, repr. in col. Wilton 1979, no.857).

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996


Romans First

It has long been suspected, but never proven, that the Romans had constructed a fort at the Caernarfon Castle site sometime after they completed their conquest of Wales in 78 AD. Finding pottery and other artifacts that can be traced back to that approximate time adds strong confirmatory evidence to this hypothesis.

In addition to these discoveries, the archaeological team also unearthed some foundation stones in the castle’s lightly-explored Lower Ward that may provide evidence for an intriguing hypothesis. Rather than dating to the 13 th or 14 th centuries, these foundation stones may have been part of a motte-and-bailey fortification installed by the Normans, which would have likely been constructed at the site in the early 12 th century, when the Norman presence under King Henry I reached its deepest advance into Welsh territory.

Motte-and-bailey-style castles were introduced in England and Wales by the Normans shortly after their arrival in 1066. They featured a stone built on top of an elevated mound of earth (a motte), surrounded by a walled courtyard (a bailey) which in turn was enclosed by a deep ditch and a wall or palisade made from iron or wooden spikes.

Arial shot of last year’s excavations at Caernarfon Castle. (Cadw)

If the Normans did indeed install such a fortification at Caernarfon, it would provide further confirmation that Edward chose a site for his castle that had a long history of being used for defensive purposes.

“Excavation is essentially a data-gathering exercise, and our next task will be to analyze all the records we’ve created and closely examine all the artifacts discovered,” Ian Miller explained. “We’re confident that once this analytical work has been completed, we will gain a far greater understanding of the historical development of the site. We may not rewrite the history of Caernarfon Castle, but we will certainly enhance it.”


6. The octagonal towers of Caernarfon give away its lofty status

Caernarfon Castle was meant for great things from the very moment of its birth: and its 12 magnificent, multi-angled towers indicate that it was a castle designed to be ‘a cut above’ the rest.

The style of these towers (some of which are octagonal, others hexagonal, and others are ten-sided) is significantly different to the gentler, more rounded profile of the towers on Edward I’s other ‘iron ring’ castles built in the same period – and these towers would have been much harder to build.

It’s thought that the design was deliberately chosen to evoke Constantinople (and the towers were said to have been constructed of multicoloured stone, too).

This unusual formation multi-angled turrets displays the intended might of Caernarfon. Credit: Joseph Echeverria, CC-BY-SA-2.0.

Some of the towers are phenomenally large – including the ten-sided Eagle Tower, which is more than 10m across at its base. The tower would have had more than three floors and numerous annexes and was originally decorated with stone eagles (which have since weathered away!).

Legend has it that Edward of Caernarfon was born here in a small-ante room, but don’t believe it – it’s more likely he was born in the main rooms of the tower.


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Caernarfon Castle and the Princes of Wales

It is under a leaden overcast sky that I cross the “Pont yr Aber” and look back at the red dragon flags proudly fluttering on Caernarfon Castle’s turrets, catching the gentle breeze of the Menai Strait. The formidable solid walls match the colour of the drizzling rain, they are immutable and permanent, symbolic and functional, the castle has stood in this place for over seven hundred years.

In the Thirteenth Century, Edward the First of England fought and defeated the last of the independent Welsh Princes and established English rule with the building of these powerhouses of Norman control, and today Wales has some of the finest surviving examples of medieval castles in all of Europe.

Besides leaving Wales with his iron ring of castles, Edward also, according to legend, promised the people of Wales, a prince born in Wales and who could not speak a word of English. The people of Wales understood this to mean a prince who like them, spoke Welsh. He then presented them with his son, born in Caernarfon Castle and still as a baby, not yet able to speak any language at all.

Whether this story is factual is unknown but Edward’s son, the future Edward the Second, was born in Caernarfon and like his father probably spoke Norman French rather than English. He became the first English Prince of Wales the title conferred on him at age sixteen in Lincoln. The next Prince of Wales was Edward’s grandson, known as the Black Prince, because of the black armour he wore at the battle of Crecy. Another origin for this sombre monicker is the cruelty he inflicted upon the French during the Hundred Years War.

Since then, the title of Prince of Wales has been given to the heir to the British Crown and is the position currently held by Charles, the eldest son of the present reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth the Second.

Over the centuries the Princes of Wales did not have a public investiture, they usually performed the ceremonial pomp in front of members of the houses of Parliament using the former coronet of the Welsh Prince, Llewellyn the Last, until that headpiece became too old and fragile.

It wasn’t until the twentieth century that it was decided to make the investiture of Prince Edward (the future Edward the Eighth) a public occasion, and it was a decision that owed much to the schemes of the politician David Lloyd George.

Lloyd George, ever concerned about his popularity persuaded King George the Fifth to agree to a public ceremony for the king’s son to be held at the castle of Caernarfon in Lloyd George’s parliamentary constituency and the same place where the first English Prince of Wales had been born. Edward had to endure the display of his investiture as Prince of Wales wearing robes and silk breeches, which he considered ludicrous. Perhaps that was something that contributed to putting him off a coronation ceremony. Edward the Eighth was never crowned king and so avoided the spectacle of a coronation in Westminster abbey. He avoided a ceremony which he would have hated because he fell in love with someone the Royal Family and the British establishment considered wholly unsuitable. He had to choose between an American divorcee or the Crown. Some attitudes don’t seem to change.

Over fifty years later, in 1969, Charles, now the oldest and longest-serving heir apparent in British history, had his title ceremoniously invested at Caernarfon Castle. The pomp and circumstance of the ceremony whilst seeming to come from a long historical tradition were, in fact, spectacle and pageantry designed by the princes’ uncle, Lord Snowden, specifically with a television audience in mind.

Within the ranks of the Welsh Nationalist community the investiture of a new English, Prince of Wales caused disagreement. In his position as a lecturer at Aberystwyth University, Edward Millward, a former Vice President of the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru and a founder of the Welsh Language Society took on the role of tutoring the Prince in the Welsh language and culture.

After nine weeks of studying, Charles was able to deliver his speech in both Welsh and English and perhaps gained understanding and sympathy for the independence aspirations of some people he met. This was a sentiment he expressed in his speech, part of which translated to English states:

“It is with a certain sense of pride and emotion that I have received these symbols of office, here in this magnificent fortress, where no one could fail to be stirred by its atmosphere of time-worn grandeur, nor where I myself could be unaware of the long history of Wales in its determination to remain individual and to guard its own particular heritage.”

There were others with a more republican leaning such as the folk singer Dafydd Iwan, whose satirical song “Carlo” mocks and pokes fun at Charles’ attempts to learn anything about Wales when, according to the song, he would rather play polo. Then some responded to what they saw as a symbol of the subjugation of the Welsh dating right back to Edward the First, with a far more extreme riposte.

On the evening before the investiture, Alwyn Jones and George Taylor, who have been dubbed the Abergele Martyrs, are believed to have been planning to plant a bomb near the railway line in Abergele which was carrying the prince to his investiture. We know them as the “Martyrs” because the bomb they were carrying exploded prematurely and killed both men.

There were also other bombs, one planted in a Caernarfon police constable’s garden which went off and two others, including one on Llandudno Pier designed to stop the Royal Yacht Britannia from docking, both of which failed to explode. A few days after the investiture a boy suffered leg injuries and was disabled, after he mistook one of the unexploded bombs for a football and kicked it, causing it to detonate. Modern warfare would consider him to be “collateral damage.”

Over the centuries since Edward the First, none of the Princes of Wales has been Welsh. Although in the mixed melting pot of populations such as there are in the British Isles, what are the terms by which we ascribe a national identity? Is it the place of birth? The first Norman Prince was born in Caernarfon but was not Welsh. Is it language? Charles learned some Welsh but could not be described as Welsh. Perhaps it is the love and appreciation of a place and culture, but you can have all that and still be an outsider. Maybe it is ancestry, tracing back through generations for a long line back into the mists of time to some Celtic roots, but how far back must we go to belong? The future Henry the Eighth became Prince of Wales on the death of his brother Arthur and he was the great-grandson of Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur from Ynys Môn in North Wales, but did such antecedents mean he was therefore Welsh?

Notions of what constitutes a national identity are always contested and when people are marginalized by a more powerful neighbor, then a robust challenge to injustice should be expected. How far should one go when making a stand? To quote the next king of Britain, Wales has a “determination to remain individual and to guard its own particular heritage.” However, some would question, is it ever worth causing “collateral damage” when fighting to preserve that heritage?


Caernarfon Castle by Turner - History

Only open at certain times

One of the best castles in Wales. Take plenty of time to explore all of the towers and the corridors built into the thickness of the walls. I highly recommend a visit to Caernarvon Castle and the town itself where remains of the town wall can still be explored.

Only open at certain times

One of the best castles in Wales. Take plenty of time to explore all of the towers and the corridors built into the thickness of the walls. I highly recommend a visit to Caernarvon Castle and the town itself where remains of the town wall can still be explored.

aernarvon Castle was built by Edward I and his master castle builder, James of St George, who started work on the new castle in around 1283. The site was previously occupied by a Norman Motte and Bailey castle and before that a Roman fort. The castle walls are dominated by thirteen polygonal towers, some large and some small. Normally the towers in the castles constructed at the time were circular. The motte was not removed by Edward and was incorporated into the eastern section of the castle although it has been removed since. The castle is elongated in the east-west direction, with the main entrance on the northern side protected by two of the towers and known as the King's Gate. This entrance would have been defended by up to six portcullises and if the castle had been finished would have led to a large octagonal area that would have provided access to the east and west sections of the rest of the castle. Two of the towers are large enough to be thought of as keep-towers and both are in the eastern section of the castle. The Eagle tower is positioned so that it can be resupplied by sea and could be used as a place of safety even if the rest of the castle had been captured.

History Points

This jail, in Gothic style, was built in stages from 1868 onwards on the site of a 1793 prison and nearby houses. The main prison block runs north-south, behind the frontage on Shirehall Street. The police station and courts were close by.

The medieval town walls behind the prison include the Hanging Tower &ndash where convicts were executed.

Mayor Llewelyn Turner argued in May 1867 that the new jail should be on the outskirts of town, as the old site was cramped and overlooked by Caernarfon Castle. He was backed by a doctor who said cholera had raged at the jail in the 1830s. They were too late &ndash builders had been invited early that month to bid for the first contract to demolish part of the old jail and build anew on the site.


The jail's frontage in 1950, courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

In 1869 Caernarfon jail&rsquos daily average occupancy was 36 prisoners. The cost per head was less than £26 per year, below the Welsh average of over £33. Caernarfon jail made over £84 profit from sales of goods made by prisoners in 1869.

Francis Ashby escaped from the jail in 1893 while awaiting trial for burgling the home of a Holyhead Presbyterian minister. In a Caernarfon solicitor&rsquos house, he exchanged his prison clothes for a respectable suit. He was arrested later in Colchester, Essex, for multiple thefts. His police photograph enabled Holyhead officers to confirm Ashby&rsquos identity by post.

By 1899 Stephen Jones of Bethesda had spent 42 prison terms in Caernarfon jail, and clocked up 72 convictions in various Glamorgan courts!

The prison governor&rsquos 1904-1905 annual report noted a reduction in women prisoners. In the last quarter of the year, the jail had received only 15 females. &ldquoThis, I think, may be fairly attributed to the influence of the Welsh Revival,&rdquo wrote the governor, referring to the recent upsurge in Christian worship.

The prison closed in 1921. The building became offices for the county council, based in the neighbouring County Hall, in 1930. Some prison features, including cells, remain intact. The old photo, courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales, shows the jail&rsquos frontage in 1950. It is from the National Monuments Record of Wales.

The tower and archway over the site&rsquos vehicular entrance display the coat of arms of Gwynedd County Council, formed in 1974. The council was replaced in 1996 by the unitary authority Gwynedd Council, which has its headquarters here.


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