Originally built as part of a network of fortifications designed to ensure Norman control of the Lordship of Glamorgan, Castell Coch was later neglected and in ruins by the sixteenth century. Nevertheless it was rebuilt in the nineteenth century as an impressive fairytale folly for the Marquess of Bute.
The Normans had invaded England in 1066 but, although they quickly overran that country, Wales was a separate entity and there was no centrally co-ordinated Norman campaign to conquer all or part of the Principality during the late eleventh century. However, William I did advance into South Wales in the early 1080s and shortly afterwards Cardiff Castle was founded on the site of a former Roman fort. To secure the new facility, a series of fortifications were built in the surrounding area including Castell Coch which was specifically raised to dominate the high ground over-looking the River Taff. Probably initially just an earth and timber fortification, it would have remained an important facility when Robert FitzHamon, Baron of Gloucester attacked the Welsh Kingdom of Morgannwg in South Wales in 1089. Supported by twelve Knights and their retinues, he advanced from Gloucester, built Newport Castle on the River Usk and then moved west into the Vale of Glamorgan where he established his administrative centre at Cardiff. However, as Robert seized more territory in Glamorgan, the frontier between Norman and Welsh forces was pushed further away from Cardiff and Castell Coch was probably abandoned shortly thereafter.
Castell Coch was rebuilt in the mid-thirteenth century probably by Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester who raised Caerphilly Castle at this time and would have wished to secure the land access between that facility and Cardiff. The new castle was dominated by a round Keep overlooking a small courtyard and hall. Built from sandstone rubble, it was the colouring of this that gave the castle its medieval name - Castrum Rubeum, literally 'red castle'. Later two additional towers were added and the curtain wall strengthened. The newly built castle was attacked in July 1314 by Welsh rebels with some evidence to suggest they undermined the structure. Either way it fell into ruin and was not rebuilt until the nineteenth century.
In 1871 the castle, which had long since become an abandoned ruin, was resurrected by John Crichton-Stuart, Marquis of Bute who commenced a full scale rebuilding of the castle in a Gothic fantasy design. He commissioned William Burges, an architect with whom he had worked closely in the regeneration of nearby Cardiff Castle, to draw up plans to rebuild the structure. Although aspiring to conform to the original design an imaginative approach was taken to some elements with the conical roofs added on flimsy historical justification. The build was started in 1875 and continued until 1891, concurrent with the massive Victorian Fort building programme that was fortifying British dockyards.
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Castell Coch is a nineteenth century folly designed to represent a fairytale castle. Whilst it is an historically inaccurate representation of the original Castell Coch, the conical roofs and vibrantly coloured wooden structures perhaps give a glimpse of what some castles, particularly those built to a continental design, may have looked like in their heyday.
Castell Coch. It is unlikely the Medieval Castell Coch had conical roofs as this was not common for castles in the Welsh Marches despite being a feature seen on many continental castles. The unique nature of the rebuilt castle has seen it feature in many TV shows including Doctor Who.