Manorbier Castle, South Wales

From its beginnings as a fortified manor house, Manorbier Castle (roughly translated from ancient Welsh to mean "the estate of the Lords") was destined to become an important and famous residence. Now standing within the Pembrokeshire National Park, the old 'castle' was created over a number of years by the 'De Barri' family. When lands were granted to Odo in the last decade of the 11th century, he erected nothing more than a wooden hall on the site, surrounding it with earthworks, but his son began building the stone castle. A great square tower was constructed, together with a fine hall block and, by the end of the 12th century, these buildings were enclosed by two high stone curtain walls with towers, and a strong gatehouse.

Manorbier Castle was owned by the De Barri family for over 250 years and its appearance has changed little since their time. Perhaps the most noted member of the family was Gerald who, as Gerald of Wales (a priest and renowned author), became one of the finest Latin writers of the Middle Ages. During the 14th century Manorbier Castle was sold by David De Barri family, and ownership subsequently passed through many Royal hands, although few ever actually lived at the house. By 1670 most of the buildings were derelict, and the Crown eventually sold Manorbier Castle to a local family who retained ownership into the 20th century. But it was a tenant of that time that left Wales with a monument to show off to future generations.

Remarkably well preserved, the buildings consist of a 12th century gatehouse, a keep, two 13th century towers, and a vaulted chapel. Although moderate in size, the gatehouse is an impressive defensive structure, topped by an observation tower and still showing part of the workings for the drawbridge and portcullis. The square keep rises to three storeys, with an entrance on the first floor, and the great hall occupying the first floor but extending through two storeys. Even by medieval standards Manobier must have been quite a dark, damp and thoroughly uncomfortable place to live. But it never had to be put to the test as a fortress, even though it prepared for military conflict on a couple of occasions. Possibly through family connections, or good luck, trouble seemed to bypass Manorbier Castle, leaving it totally unscathed by the weapons of war.

Consequently, with a relatively peaceful history, and the dedication of the 19th century tenant, J R Cobb, Manorbier Castle has been able to retain much of its delightful character. Cobb had carried out several restoration projects at castles and churches throughout Wales, and when he came to Manorbier Castle in the 1880s he immediately undertook a massive programme of renovation. He was also responsible for building the modern house adjoining the old barns. The present owners have continued to restore this picturesque castle, and develop the beautiful gardens.


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