Penhow Castle is a fascinating architectural adventure through the ages. It has evolved from its beginning 860 years ago as a stronghold for nearby Chepstow Castle’s knights into a home still lived in today. It was the duty of the knights who once lived here to give advance warning to the Normans should the Welsh decide to rise up against them.
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Over the centuries buildings were added in random fashion around the inner bailey, but within the curtain wall. The style of architecture changes dramatically from the medieval keep to the 15th century hall block to the late Stuart house.
Penhow was the first home of the famous Seymour family, of which Jane is one of the better known members. In 1129 they spelled their name de St Maur, being of French origin. The castle was originally the home of a Welsh prince from whom they appropriated it. It stood as a stone Pele tower in those days, but soon was fortified with a curtain wall, battlements and lookouts. Today they provide a splendid view over the countryside. Other fortifications included a drawbridge over a moat and a square guard tower.
In the 14th century there was no male heir to the castle and lands. A John Bowles married Isabella Seymour, and his family adopted the Seymour coat of arms. During the War of the Rose a descendant, Thomas Bowles, was knighted for his services. He married the daughter of Sir Thomas Morgan and adopted his coat of arms which you can see today carved in stone on the outside of one of the great hall’s windows. In 1674 the ownership passed to a family by the name of Lewis, but within 40 years the castle belonged to absentee landlords. It was tenanted as a farm.
More than 200 years later, in 1973, the castle came under new ownership when Stephen Weeks moved in and began its ongoing restoration. Today’s visitor crosses the drawbridge and enters the lower hall to wend their way up a spiral staircase to the Great Hall of the 1480’s. There’s the customary minstrel’s gallery above the Great Hall. You can explore the Norman bedroom, a Tudor moat room, a beautiful Charles II panelled dining room, an 18th century kitchen, a Victorian housekeeper’s room and more.
You can go at your own pace through the castle with the self-guided audio tour. Choose from the Grand Tour (I recommend this for starters), the cook’s tour or the concert tour (for music lovers). There are special candlelit evening and Christmas tours. Even the children have their own version of the self-guided tour.
This fortified manor house is well worth exploring from its battlements right down to the kitchen.
Penhow Castle is located in south Wales just off the A48 close to the Severn Bridge between Newport and Chepstow.
Note: Penhow Castle is no longer open to the public.
Tel 01633 400800 for details.
Photos © by Barbara Ballard