Posted by: marymarthatours | June 18, 2013

Cardiff Castle revisited

Cardiff_Castle vista_view, PD

Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales

One of the places that I will get a chance to revisit on this fall’s Quilts & Textiles of England & Wales tour is Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales.  We’ll spend an afternoon there as we travel to our two-night stay in Llanelli on the south coast.  I have been to Cardiff Castle only once before and that was more than 30 years ago.  So I’m looking forward to visiting again to refresh my memories of this remarkable place with its long history and incredible interiors.

Keep, Wolfgang Sauber, CCASA3.0

Norman Keep at Cardiff Castle

The Romans built a fort here in the first century, and some of the remains of the Roman wall can still be seen today.  The oldest building on the site is the impressive 12-sided stone keep, built in the 12th century.  This stone fortress replaced an earlier Norman motte-and-bailey castle built of wood in 1091 by Robert Fitzhamon, one of William the Conqueror’s followers.  A motte-and-bailey castle was made up of two structures: a motte, a type of mound – often artificial – topped with a wooden or stone structure known as a keep; and at least one bailey, a fortified enclosure built next to the motte.  At Cardiff Castle, the surviving Keep sits upon a 40 foot tall mound or motte.

Cardiff Castle, Wolfgang Sauber, CCASA3.0

Cardiff Castle after William Burges additions

Improvements to the castle continued over the years.  The Black Tower and south gateway were constructed in the 13th century and remain today.  The unique Octagon Tower was added in the 15th century.  After many changes of ownership, the castle passed to the family of John Stuart, Earl of Bute.  The Butes made extensive modifications to the castle’s interiors, but the existing Norman fortress remained mostly unchanged.  The castle’s ultimate makeover fell to the whimsy (and wealth!) of the 3rd Marquess of Bute who began his extensive work on the interior in 1865.

3rd Marquess Bute, PD

John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute

NPG P552; William Burges

architect William Burges

  The 3rd Marquess employed the architect William Burges to transform the castle lodgings.  Within Gothic towers, he created lavish and opulent interiors, rich with murals, stained glass, marble, gilding, and elaborate wood carvings.  Each room had its own theme, such as the Mediterranean garden and the Arabian hall.  The work was continued by the 4th Marquess until the 1920’s.  The result was described by John Newman in Glamorgan: The Buildings of Wales as the “most successful of all the fantasy castles of the nineteenth century”.

Ceiling_arab_room_cardiff_castle, Jvhertum, CCASA3.0

The Arabian Hall ceiling

Cardiff_Castle_Banquet Hall, Wolfgang Sauber, CCASA3.0

The Banquet Hall



During WWII, extensive air raid shelters were build in the castle walls.  These shelters were able to hold up to 1,800 people.  Although Cardiff was heavily bombed during the war, the castle escaped damage.  It was given to the city of Cardiff in 1947.

Our tour of the Castle will visit some of the rooms that were created by the 3rd Marquess.  We’ll also be able to visit the Norman Keep, the wartime shelters, the Interpretation Centre, and, of course, the gift shop.  The quilters on our tour will see much to inspire them as they take in the history, art, and design of this fairy-tale castle.

(by Mary)


Photo credits:  Keep, exterior of main building, and banqueting hall – copyright Wolfgang Sauber and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license; Arabian hall ceiling – copyright Jvhertum and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license; all other photos – public domain.



  1. Amazing what you can do with enough money! After our trip through Versailles a couple of weeks ago, I have a better understanding of the French Revolution. Magnificent displays of wealth and power, but still gorgeous to visit.

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