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Help and advice for Penllercastell

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Penlle'r Castell

Ancient Norman border castle, or what ?

Penlle'rcastell is situated on the northern end of the ridge known as Mynydd y Gwair in the parish of Llangyfelach [afterwards Rhyndwyclydach]. OS grid ref. SN665096.

This is one of those obviously ancient sites whose mysterious history has fascinated both local children and adults alike for generations. It can be reached after an undulating walk up from the Caegurwen area over the flank of Mynydd y Betws. My more frequent memories of it are after driving up there by taking the minor road off the main Pontardawe road from Cwmgors, opposite Nant-y-gasseg farm, passing Baran chapel in its splendid isolation, and seeing the site above one just to the left of the sharp left turn south towards  Morriston Hospital and Swansea.

Research has thrown up the following facts regarding its history which only serve to enhance the appeal of the place, readers are recommended to refer to the source books for the full story and reach their own conclusions as to when it was built and by who ...............

" An enigmatic structure, three miles south-east of Ammanford, at the extreme north of the county. On very exposed ground, 1226 feet above sea level, it is the highest site [castle] in the county. It dates from the third quarter of the thirteenth century. It consists of an oblong enclosure with straight long sides of about 220 feet each, and one of 140 feet at its north end, which is at the brink of a steep slope down to the county boundary...............the uneven disposition ......suggests that the castle was never finished................" [ Glamorgan County History, ed T B Pugh, 1971]

The following notes are based on a reading of the excellent article 'Penlle'rCastell ' by J Beverley Smith in Morgannwg;  (the full article can now be seen on the NLW's site)

"Ller castle now in utter ruine" is how it was described by Rice Merrick in a list of castles of Gower.

"......in Parcell Mawr stood the old castle called......now in utter ruine upon a mountain call'd ler Castell" appears in an account of Llangyfelach parish [R H Morris, Parochialia, 1909-11].

In the survey of Gower 1650, the commons claimed by the tenants included that of Penka'er Castle [Francis/Baker, The Lordship of Gower in the Marches of Wales, 1861-70]

A description and plan were published by Bernard Morris  at the annual meeting of the Cambrian Archaelogical Association in 1960 at Swansea.

"The site has never been thoroughly examined and the question of its origin never fully treated............it is certainly not a motte-and-bailey structure.........it stands at what was in the latter medieval period the boundary between the lordship of Gower and the commote of Iscennen.............a survey of Iscennen made in 1609 traces the boundary from east to west from the River Amman...[mentioning] ........Garnant brooke.....Corse Visagh........Nant y Gevile brooke.....Lletty Crydd.........Ller Castell.........Cathan brook......ryver Aman/ryver Lochor...........................

.........a survey of Gower in 1764 traces the boundary between Glamorgan and Carmarthenshire and refers to a small path under Penllyr Castell which divides the counties of.........

..........the boundary described in these surveys was not the original frontier of Gower [Lordship of]..........there are thirteenth century documents associated with the aftermath of the rebellion of Rhys ap Maredudd which contain  a description of this boundary which implies that at some date the frontier of Gower  was withdrawn southwards from the Aman to a point immediately beneath Penlle'rcastell.........the land thus subtracted from Gower, to be thereafter part of the commote of Iscennen, was the parish of Betws......a territory which became known as Stryveland.........

........Penlle'rcastell is sited upon a scarp which overlooks this area of strife....evidently constructed by one who appreciated the need for a defensive structure built well into the original boundary of the lordship and control the approaches from the north......constructed at a commanding position upon what remained until modern times an important routeway.......

.......one of the several  incidents which demonstrated the strife which characterised the border between Gower and Iscennen was..........  in 1252  when there was discord between William de Braose [Lord of Gower] and Rhys Fychan [Lord of Dinefwr]....a quarrel between an Anglo Saxon lord and a Welsh prince....a dispute over who owned certain border lands.......and it was undoubtedly this  general border strife which occasioned the building of Penlle'rcastell......

........a confident dating of Penlle'rcastell must await a thorough examination of the structure itself............a Mr D J C King stressing the oddity of the castle, noted that it was utterly unlike normal thirteenth century work........and must be ' either a wildly atypical castle of early date or, much more likely, a hasty fortification, more or less temporary of the thirteenth century or later'.......

.........there is another theory which involves the recorded fact that Rhys Fychan burned a castle of de Braoses's referred to as  the 'New Castle of Gower ' whose location is uncertain.....could this castle have been Penlle'rcastell ?  
Which was after all sited on a border which was particularly disturbed in this period...............in which case it was probably built by William de Braose in the third quarter of the thirteenth century."