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.

1108: Norman colonists built banks and motte with wooden palisades and tower

Turmhügelburg. – Photo: Wy / Wikipedia

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.

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It became an important hub with impressive stone buildings, battled over by Welsh and Normans

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.

More about the buildings

1196: Burned to the ground after ninety years. Has been farm land ever since

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.

More about the people

1980: Nevern Community Council bought the site for the benefit of the community

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.

2008-2018: Archaeological digs uncover the varied history and changing structure of the castle

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.

More on the archaeology

Now a space of peace and tranquillity

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!

Visit Nevern Castle

What you can see today

The Square Tower

The Square Tower [PCNPA]

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.

The bailey

The bailey

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.

Stone buildings in the bailey about 1190

The motte, banks and ditches

The motte and Round Tower [PCNPA]

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

  • Nevern’s Apotropaic Slates
    Chris Caple
    by 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 30/3/2022
    Nevern Community Council
    Inaugural 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 Hall
    Rob Anthony
    The brief life and times of the Great Hall, Nevern Castle
    Fig 1 Artist’s impression of Nevern Castle:

     

  • My Dig Memories
    Gaynor Bussell
    Gaynor 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, PCNPA
    Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority
    The 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’ Oath
    Rob Anthony
    The 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 Anthony
    Were 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.

     

  • A decorated key
    Chris Caple
    An object that has come up recently in the research on Nevern is the shaft of a key, a slide key for a padlock, with inlaid spiral decoration.
    Keys like this only turn up on 12th century sites such as York, Winchester, Castle Acre. Unnecessarily decorated and expensive, they were probably mainly owned by aristocratic ladies safeguarding things which they wanted to keep safe: perhaps documents, jewellery, clothes or shoes.

     

  • Family feuds
    Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority

    Delun Gibby tells the story of Rhys' imprisonment in his own castle. (Delun was Community Archaeologist for Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.)

     

  • Archbishop Baldwin 1188
    Rob Anthony
    Dr Robert Anthony
    Monday, 28 March 1188: it is not often in medieval history that an event can be dated with such precision, especially when concerning Wales, and we have Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), scholar, canon of St David’s and Archdeacon of Brecon, to thank for this. The event in question is described in his book: The Journey Through Wales (1191), an account, almost in diary form (although with lavish digressions), of the six week mission to south and north Wales by Baldwin Archbishop of Canterbury to preach the Cross in support of the Third Crusade.

     

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Images © Dr Chris Caple except where noted otherwise.

[PCNPA]: © Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority