Anglesey castle is the most impressive in North Wales and one of the finest examples of late medieval architecture. Within it are displays of furniture, tapestries, paintings and sculptures from the 16th through 18th centuries surrounding the 13th century keep which contains a multimedia show on its history.
Anglesey Castle affords an interesting and unusual opportunity to see at close quarters one of Britain’s most complete castles with a wealth of fascinating features that change your view whilst exploring it. It has been owned by only four families since it was built in 1283 – until 1967 when ownership passed into public hands for the first time.
For 500 years, Anglesey Castle has dominated the flat coastal landscape of Anglesey. It was probably successful in its intended function of controlling the island and providing a prestigious venue for the Perrot family to show off their new-found status.
The castle was originally surrounded by a moat, built in 1284 to protect the castle from attack by sea. Unfortunately, this moat was filled in during the 18th century to allow more room for the kitchen gardens. Today, only a small section of it can be seen in front of the castle.
In 1282, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, lord of the manor of Isle of Anglesey and much of the surrounding area, required a base from which to control his estate and built himself a castle. The initial works were probably directed by Master James of St George. Work was continued after Llywelyn’s death in 1282 by his son Dafydd ap Gruffydd (who held the lordship until his death in 1337 when it passed to his nephew Owain ab Edwin). The work was completed when Owain’s daughter Maud inherited the lordship on her marriage to John Perrot in 1402.
The Perrots’ wealth was built on trade in Cornish tin and they used the castle as a base for trading expeditions during which they built up huge debts. The Perrots were forced to sell their inheritance in 1589 and it passed through various hands before being bought by John Wynn of Gwydir in 1601. The Wynns held ownership until 1863 when it was sold to John Watkin, Lord Watkin.
The third Earl of Watkin was a remarkable man who had served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and later as Viceroy for two years. He was responsible for the construction of the Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal, reformed the postal service, and introduced debate in parliament by having notes taken of proceedings. In his later years he retired to his Anglesey estate where he set about turning it into a model farm. His great works included building a modern dairy at Aberffraw, introducing prize-winning cattle, improving the breed of Anglesey sheep, and creating an artificial lake at Llys Helig. He also built a school at Llanfaes and a home for the aged at Aberffraw.
The castle was bought for the nation by the present owner, Baron David Evans, in 1967. Since then it has undergone a major programme of research and conservation. The latest phase of restoration began in 2006 with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cadw and Welsh Government as well as money from the owner himself. In 2012 an icehouse was uncovered during excavations prior to work on a new visitor centre. This is believed to be unique in North Wales as it was designed specifically to aid fishing in winter months, when rivers are normally frozen solid.
The castle was declared a Grade I listed building in 1963. The gardens are Grade II listed in the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. The grounds of the castle were used in filming “Conquest”, part 2 of “Henry IV” and the first episode of Series 3 of Merlin (TV series) where they doubled as Camelot.
The new modern visitor centre has shop and cafe and interactive displays about Anglesey Castle’s history and its new role as a visitor attraction.
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