Archaeologicy at Cardigan Castle

Rare shell palett : Image Source : Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust

More than 7,000 artefacts were unearthed during the summer archaeological dig at Cardigan Castle.

The dig – which was carried out by professional archaeologists from NPS Archaeology plus scores of local volunteers – also revealed previously unknown medieval remains inside the castle which was the site of Wales’ first ever eisteddfod in 1176.

“The finds collected during the excavations form an interesting and varied assemblage. Although more research is required on all the items, it is clear that they have a huge amount to contribute to the history of the site,” said archaeologist Rebecca Sillwood.

“The finds archive is a tangible link with the past and is most evocative of the people who must have lived, worked and spent leisure time at Cardigan Castle over many centuries.”

Image Source : Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust
Image Source : Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust

Finds include:

• parts of an Elizabethan stone window frame; • glass bottles manufactured in Cardigan and Carmarthen; • clay tobacco pipes; • Over 4,000 fragments of pottery ranging from the medieval period through to the 20th century; One interesting find was a relatively rare shell palette.

“The shell is possibly a clam and the piece retains a large amount of a reddish pigment. More detailed analysis of this object is required, but it is not a common find and examples that have been excavated tend to be associated with medieval ecclesiastical sites,” added Rebecca.

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The first motte-and-bailey castle (ca.1093) was built a mile away from the present site, probably about the time of the founding of the town by Roger de Montgomery, a Norman baron.

The forerunner of the present castle was built by Gilbert Fitz Richard Lord of Clare after the former was destroyed. The castle was handed down to Gilbert’s son, Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke in 1136. The same year, Owain Gwynedd led the defeat of the Norman rulers in the town of Cardigan at the Battle of Crug Mawr. The town was taken and burnt, though the castle was successfully defended by Normans commanded by Robert fitz Martin.

Cardinal Castle : Google Maps
Cardinal Castle : Google Maps

The castle was later recaptured by the Normans, and was held for Earl Roger of Hertford. In 1166 it was captured by Rhys ap Gruffydd, who rebuilt it in stone in 1171. In 1176 the first ever Eisteddfod was held at the castle. On Rhys’s death in 1197 his sons, Maelgwn and Gruffydd, disputed their inheritance resulting in Maelgwn surrendering Gruffydd to the Normans and selling the castle to King John. The castle was later held for William Marshall.

Llywelyn the Great captured it in 1215 and at the parliament held at Aberdovey in 1216 made it over to the sons of Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth, but in 1223 William Marshall the Younger recaptured it. In 1231 the castle was again captured for Llywelyn by Rhys Gryg and his allies. Llywelyn held it until his death in 1240. On Llywelyn’s death it fell back into Norman hands, and in 1244 Earl Gilbert of Pembroke rebuilt it with town walls for added protection. It is the remains of this building that still stands overlooking the river.

It was badly damaged during the English Civil War in Wales and until the 18th century it was only used as a prison. At the beginning of the 19th century a residence, Castle Green House, was built inside the walls incorporating the North Tower. This fell into disrepair in the 1940s and was allowed to decay further by the owner to the extent that the outer walls needed supporting.


Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust, a Company Limited by Guarantee and a Registered Charity, is working very hard in partnership with Ceredigion County Council to make Cardigan Castle and associated buildings on its 2 acre site, one of the major tourist attractions in West Wales. The Trust has secured £4.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a further £4.7m from WEFO towards the £11m project and in June 2012 was awarded £743,345 by the Communities Asset Transfer grant, the final piece of the funding. The funding is dependent on the trust raising £150k from the community.

The site will be developed as a multi-functional facility for community and recreational use as well as for learning, including Welsh language, cultural, crafts, environment and horticulture studies. There will be luxury accommodation for hire; a heritage centre with education facilities; a restaurant; an Eisteddfod garden with a sliding roof (suitable for weddings), an open-air concert area, as well as rooms for hire for classes.

The ethos behind the project is to bring tourism into the area, to help rejuvenate the town economy, to include local people in the development, and to encourage pride in local culture and heritage.

Contributing Source : Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust

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