There’s not much to see now of the castle at Nevern. But for almost a century, a complex and dramatic story of treachery, prosperity, family feuds and celebrations was played out on this promontory in north Pembrokeshire.
Forty years after the 1066 conquest of England, the Normans were still trying to subjugate Wales. Norman King Henry I authorized Robert FitzMartin to take control of Cemaes, the north of what is now Pembrokeshire. FitzMartin chose Nevern at which to build a stronghold for his forces.
Conquering the Welsh wasn’t easy. After Henry I died, the Normans were distracted by a long feud over the English crown. At the Battle of Crug Mawr in 1136, the Welsh decisively took back control, and occupied the castles at Cardigan and Nevern. Gruffydd, and later his son Rhys, were prominent leaders.
Eventually the Normans returned. An uneasy truce was established when William FitzMartin married Rhys’ daughter Angharad. But as soon as William went off to fight in the crusades, Rhys re-occupied Nevern. He and his sons then fought between themselves, finally destroying the castle.
Together with Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, and Cadw (the Welsh Government’s historic environment service) Nevern Community Council has worked hard to look after the site and open it up for all to enjoy.
Join the Friends of Nevern Castle to help conserve and manage the site.
Dr Chris Caple of Durham University led the excavations. Many artefacts were discovered, providing a fascinating glimpse of life in the castle. The findings also showed the development of the buildings and walls and their construction by Norman and Welsh techniques.
A few people have lived and farmed here over the centuries. Now it is home to walkers and wildlife. Little can be seen of the castle except for the banks, ditches, and the motte. Trees grow where there were once fine halls and commanding views over the countryside. Come and enjoy the peace; and remember our history!
What you can see today
The Square Tower
On a rocky outcrop at the eastern side of the castle, you can see the remains of a square stone tower. This was the most securely defended part of the castle, with steep slopes all round. But it was only built in the later years of the castle’s life.
Protected by banks and walls on two sides, and steep slopes on the other two, the castle’s bailey – the flat area watched over by the towers – was where the daily life of the castle took place.
Halls, houses, stables, and workshops occupied this space. At first they were made of wood, but later more strongly built in stone.
The motte, banks and ditches
The first part of the castle to be built was the motte, a mound of earth with a lookout tower on top. Defensive banks and ditches surrounded the motte and the bailey. Later in the castle’s life, this round tower was rebuilt in stone and used also as living quarters.
Now only the base of the tower can be seen.
Latest news and articles
BBQ Aug 29thadmin15 Aug 2022Bank holiday Monday 29th August 5:30pm
Join us for a barbecue in the castle bailey!
Nevern Showadmin11 Aug 2022Friends of Nevern Castle had a stand in the craft tent at Nevern Show on 10th August. Gaynor, Mike, Kath and Alan chatted to show goers about the castle.
The aim was to raise awareness of the existence of the site and the importance of the castle in the 12th century. We told visitors how the castle's history, with its alternation between Norman and Welsh control, encapsulated that pivotal period in the history of Wales.
Trail guide updateadmin8 Jul 2022Nevern Trail Guide leaflet was published in 2016 by Nevern Community Council and Pembrokeshire National Park Authority. It's now due for a reprint, and so there's an opportunity for updates and improvements.
Friends of Nevern Castle recently had a meeting with other residents of Nevern to discuss changes to the leaflet. We've also had discussions with representatives of St Brynach's Church, the Village Hall, and the Trewern Arms.
Nevern’s Apotropaic SlatesChris Caple11 Apr 2022by Dr Chris Caple
In 2011, we unearthed a series of slates forming a threshold in the gateway of the southern entrance to the castle. A number of these slates contained faint scratched designs. As the slates were bedded on their edges, these designs could not be seen by the people passing over the threshold; only by supernatural forces. The designs were almost certainly incised into the slates by the workmen building the gateway (constructed circa 1170-1191).
Friends’ Meeting – Trewern 30/3/2022Nevern Community Council1 Apr 2022Inaugural meeting of the Friends of Nevern Castle
Enthusiasts for Nevern Castle met on Wednesday 30/3/2022, kindly hosted by the Trewern Arms. We created a formal association, with a constitution and the usual officers. We’ll be able to open a bank account, apply for grants, etc.
The Great HallRob Anthony4 Mar 2022The brief life and times of the Great Hall, Nevern Castle
Fig 1 Artist’s impression of Nevern Castle:
My Dig MemoriesGaynor Bussell6 Feb 2022Gaynor Bussell, Volunteer at Nevern Dig 2009-2018
After working over 30 years in London, in June 2008 I decided to give it all up. I was not sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life; I was not quite 50! But I had developed hiraeth for the lands from where my family had come and where many of my relatives still lived.
Podcast: Tomos Jones, PCNPAPembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority10 Jan 2022The Archaeology of Nevern Castle
Tomos Jones, Community Archaeologist at Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, talks about the archaeological excavations at Nevern Castle between 2008 and 2018.
The Lord Rhys’ OathRob Anthony1 Jan 2022The broken oaths of the Lord Rhys would have put him at risk of eternal damnation, according to the tenets of the 12th century.
Dr Robert Anthony
Was Nevern really a borough?Rob Anthony15 Dec 2021Were there really 18 burgage plots within the castle? Can we believe the claim by George Owen, 16th/17th century antiquarian and lord of Cemais, that Nevern was once a borough, with special privileges?
Dr Rob Anthony explains, and examines the evidence.
Images © Dr Chris Caple except where noted otherwise.
[PCNPA]: © Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority