Raglan…A castle and its gardens, David Elms, 1995

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HORATIA DURANT MEMORIAL PRIZE ESSAY COMPETITION 1995

RAGLAN – A CASTLE AND IT'S GARDENS

BY - DAVID ELMS

The castle of Raglan stands on a mount which is said to have been called Twyn-y-ceirios or the cherry tree tump. Historical records suggest that there was a Castle at Raglan in the 11th and 12th century. Castles of this time were known as Motte and Bailey Castles. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 by William the Conqueror, this type of castle may have been built by another William, William Fizt Osbern.

Peasants from the village were ordered up the hill with wooden ploughs to dig the ditch.The earth they dug out would be used to form the mound on the inside. A wooden tower would be built on the mound or motte; this could have been as tall as sixty feet.

The site known as Fountain Court was ideal for this as the ground falls away steeply, allowing the soldiers to see the enemy approaching from all directions.

The soldiers lived in the Bailey which was the area surrounding the motte. Here there would probably be workshops, granaries and huts which would supply the need of the garrison.

There were no “gardens” as such at this time – only small plots of land to supply vegetables and fruit and grazing for live stock.

The Castle was held by the Bloet family. A Norman called Ralph Bloet succeeded to the estates of William Fitz Osbern and it is thought that he lived in the Manor of Raglan.

It was a custom to reward soldiers for Military Service and Raglan became a “Knights Fee”. Ralph Bloet married Amicia Picard who was an heiress. He carried out repairs after a severe storm up rooted trees from the surrounding park.

The stonework at the base of the South gate is though to be from this time.

Raglan Castle was handed down through the male line of the Bloets during the 13th and 14th centuries and on the death of John Bloet the castle passed to his only daughter, Elizabeth. She married Sir James Berkeley and their son, James, was born at Raglan in 1394.

In 1405 Sir James died and Elizabeth known as the “Lady of Raggeland” married again. This time to a Welshman called William ap Thomas. They lived in Raglan until her death in 1420.

William re-married, this time to a lady called Gwladys Gam acquiring social status and wealth. He began to build Raglan into a residence worthy of his wealth and power.

William ap Thomas was nick-named the “Blue Knight of Gwent” because of the colour of his armour. He had 12 children 7 by Gwladys.

William ap Thomas built the Great Tower which was hexagonal in shape, sixty feet high, each side being thirty-two feet broad with walls ten feet thick, all made from square stone. This was to protect his family from possible attack.

The Tower was also known as Sir William Thomas Tower and the Yellow Tower of Gwent. It was originally surrounded by water and only approachable across a draw bridge. It was a self-contained fortified dwelling. The Great Tower contained a large room on each floor. The ground floor was the kitchen and had a well and a large fireplace. The best room possibly used for entertaining was on the second floor.

By this time manors and farms had gardens and William created one at Raglan with an orchard in keeping with his magnificent castle. In the orchard grew all kinds of fruit including pears, plums, figs, grapes and cherries.

The kitchen garden would probably have had strawberries and peaches and a plot for herbs such as Garlic, Mint, Saffron and Fennel. Vegetables such as Onions, Leeks and Cabbage also grew there.

Gwladys ap Thomas would probably have had a Flower garden and flowers such as Irises,Lilies, Columbines, Pinks and Roses grew there together with wild flowers.

Stables and barns were built to the East of the castle and three parks with Oak and Beech trees and well stocked with Red Deer.

William ap Thomas died in 1445 and his son William carried on the work of the Castle and Gardens that his father had started.

The third Earl of Worcester created the magnificent fountain in Fountain Court; this was a white horse rearing up with water pouring out of it's mouth day and night.

In the gardens long terraces were built with paths and low growing fragrant shrubs in between. The terraces still remain today.

There was a large lake below the terraces called the “Great Poole”. This was a fish-pond covering many acres and in it were freshwater fish such as carp and pike.

At the head of the Great Poole a rectangular area was divided into triangular islands, forming the magnificent formal Water Gardens. Water gardens were very fashionable at this time in high court circles.

To the South West side of the Castle there was a square garden plot with a raised walk around two sides. Below it, reached by steps which are still there was a large garden terrace overlooking a hop yard and an orchard.

The Bowling Green was also created at this time and thought to be the work of the third earl. It is said that King Charles I played bowls, a popular game of this time, here in the summer of 1645.

The 4th Earl of Worcester, Edward Somerset added to the refurbishments. Summer houses were built on the terraces. A walk was made around the moat, it was used for fresh air and exercise.

In the wall were 15 Niches, Statues of Roman Emperors stood in these Niches. The Statues have long gone but the Niches are still there and remains of the coloured plasterwork and shell patterns can still be seen.

Raglan was the home of one of the richest men, Henry Somerset, the fifth earl of Worcester.

The Siege in 1646 ended active life at Raglan Castle. On the 19th August 1646, LORD CHARLES SOMERSET, 1st Marquis of Worcester, surrendered to Thomas Fairfax.

The Manuscripts and Books were lost in the fire of the siege.Later villagers destroyed the trees in the Parks and the wood was used to rebuilt Bristol Bridge.

The Great Tower was battered with pick axes and the timber burnt, the roof collapsed in a heap.

The villagers drained the fish ponds, took the fish and excavated the moat, in the hope of finding treasure.

The Castle was left to decay and some of it's stones were taken by the villagers needing to repair their houses. Many houses around can still be seen today with moulded and dressed stones taken from the Castle.

The 5th Duke of Beaufort put a stop to any further plundering and in the 19th century the ivy covered castle was a picturesque ruin.

Today Raglan Castle still dominates the village landscape, magnificent even in ruins. Thousands of visitors come to see the Castle that was the last to hold out against Oliver Cromwell's army, after the siege that lasted 13 weeks.

The Castle today is preserved and looked after by Cadw (which means to care). Visitors come from all over the World to enjoy the views from the Great Tower and picnic in the grounds which were once the splendid gardens. They can only imagine what life was like here and listen to stories of secret tunnels that were said to lead from the Castle to St. Cadoc's Church and the Beaufort Arms. Maybe they hope to get a glimpse of “The Ghost” said to walk on the top of the Watch Tower, wearing long white robes.

We are lucky to have such an historical important building on our doorstep and we must help to preserve this castle for future generations to enjoy.


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