Carew Castle is an immense ruin that dominates the landscape around it. The castle, with its 2000 years of history, has much to fascinate the visitor. Built over many years, it is seen at first glance as a medieval fortress with its walls and towers sitting across a field on the edge of the water. It was the site of the last medieval tournament in Wales, held in 1507.
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The site was first home to an iron age fort, thought by archaeologists to be the location of a major celtic power centre. It has not been excavated as it lies underneath the present ruins. The Norman motte and bailey castle was built by Gerald of Windsor c1100 after the Normans arrived in this area in 1093. All that survives of this castle is the old rectangular tower.
Gerald married Nest, a direct descendant of the celtic kings of the area and daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr. Legend says that when the castle was raided by a distant cousin of hers, Owain ap Cadwgan, that she became a willing captive. She lived with him and bore two children by him. After her return to Carew, Gerald killed Owain. Her friendly ghost is supposed to haunt the castle today.
Gerald died in 1116 and his grandson, in the 13th century, added an east wall to enclose the inner ward, corner towers, and a stone great hall. Remaining from this time are a chapel and three towers.
In the late 13th century the castle was completely rebuilt when it came under the ownership of one of Edward I’s officers, Sir Nicholas de Carew. The east range was remodeled, adding a hall and a chapel tower. The outer ward was walled and developed. The entire west range was added during this time. This consisted of two huge drum towers with private apartments and a new great hall, 80 feet long.
By 1480 changing times forced the de Carew family to mortgage the castle to Sir Rhys ap Thomas, later to become a powerful figure in Wales. He supported Edward IV and Richard III in the War of the Roses, then later changed sides and supported Henry Tudor. Sir Rhys was responsible for modernizing the castle. He added Bath stone windows, a gatehouse, and new apartments.
Between 1558 and 1594 an Elizabethan mansion was created by the new owner, Sir John Parrot. He added the three storey north range with a 150 foot long gallery. It was at this time that the village of Carew was created. The Crown confiscated the castle when Sir John was accused of treason and imprisoned in the Tower.
The castle and land was finally returned to the Carew family in 1607. In 1642 during the Civil War, the castle was taken over by the Royalists, then besieged and taken by Parliamentarians. They destroyed much of the castle. It was abandoned by the Carew family in 1686 after the war settlement had restored it to them. In the 18th and 19th centuries the castle became a “romantic ruin” and was painted by J. M. W. Turner.
The early 19th century tidal mill—the only tidal mill in Wales—located beside the castle has a 16 foot in diameter wheel. Gates were built as a causeway to form a 23 acre millpond to control the tide that enters the Pembroke estuary and heads up the Carew river. They retained the water at high tide, and when milling began, the sluice gates were opened to turn the wheel.
On view inside the mill are the milling stones including a French burr stone, winnowing machinery, floor graders, grain bins, oat grinders, and cattle food crushers. The French burr stone was a manufactured stone built up of shaped segments fitted together with cement and plaster and bound with iron hoops. One floor of the mill was used for drying the grain. The mill was used to grind wheat, barley, and oats. It ceased operation in 1937.
The Christian Carew cross sits to the east of the castle on the edge of the field by the main road. Considered to be one of Wales’s finest celtic crosses, the 13 foot high cross commemorates Maredudd, an 11th century ruler of the Kingdom of Deheubarth in south-west Wales. This may be an indicator that Carew was a royal residence of the celtic kingdom. The top section of the cross is wheel shaped with a short neck and is fitted into the bottom shaft. Celtic and Scandinavian patterns are incised in the stone.
Carew near Tenby, Pembrokeshire
Tel. 01646 651782
Open: daily April-end Oct, 10am-5pm
Managed by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Carew Cross under the care of Cadw.
Web: Carew Castle