When the Normans conquest of Wales began in the late 60s of the 11th century, their progress towards the west was determined by newly-formed castles. Often they were erected on the sites once occupied by Roman buildings, which brought significant savings of manpower and building materials. So it was the case with the Loughor Castle, which was erected at the beginning of the 12th century on the site of the Roman fort Leucarum, by Henry de Beaumont, the first Earl of Warwick. The castle was strategically important because it controlled the main road running through Gywr (Gower) from the headquarters of Henry in Swansea, protected the crossing on the Llwchwr River, was a valuable port and secured communication and trade routes.
The first half of the 12th century was a period of continuous struggles and Welsh-Anglo-Norman wars in southern Wales. During it, in 1151, Loughor was destroyed, as a result of the Welsh invasion. When Henry II and Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffydd agreed peace conditions, the castle was rebuilt and strengthened. At the end of the twelfth century, due to Earl of Warwick debts, Loughor passed into the hands of the Crown and in 1203 along with all the lordship of Gower, handed over by king John, to the de Braose family. However, as early as in 1208, the relations between the king and William de Braose were broken. William allied himself with the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great, and although he died in 1211, his son, Reginald, continued the fight. King John confiscated Loughor, which in 1215 was captured by Llywelyn’s army, and Reginald was given control over Gower. However, two years later Reginald made peace with the English Crown, and Llywelyn put him away from power, replacing with Welsh prince Rhys Gryg. The castle was returned to the de Braose family only in 1220.
The renewed Welsh-English fighting broke out in the mid-13th century. The attack on Loughor in 1251 led to the strengthening of the castle’s fortifications by another William de Braose and construction of the keep. William was a powerful magnate at the court of king Edward I, served in both Welsh and Scottish wars. He used his influence with the king to overcome the dispute with the Church, in particular with the bishop of Llandaff, and the improvements made at that time at Loughor, could show the status of the de Braose line.
After the Welsh wars of 1276-1277 and 1282-1283, as a result of which Edward I conquered Wales, the significance of Loughor Castle decreased. In 1302, William de Braose granted it for life to his seneschal, John Yweyn, in exchange for an annual fee. After the death of John Yweyn in 1322, Loughor was seized by John de Mowbray, son-in-law of William. John was involved in the rebellion against king Edward II and was executed in 1322, but his daughter, Alice Roculf, successfully appealed to the king and received his lands. Eventually Edward was overthrowned in 1327, and Loughor was awarded to John de Mowbray’s son, John. At the end of the fourteenth century, the castle was already ruined. It did not play any role during the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in the early 15th century or during the 17th century English Civil War.
The castle from the 12th century was protected from the south by a steep slope and marshy terrain stretching along the river. At that time, it was a timber and earth defensive circuit (ringwork) with dimensions of about 21 to 18 meters and 12 meters in height, protected by a 5-meter-wide and 2-meter-deep ditch. Access was perhaps defended by some form of an early stone or timber tower with a gate on the north side. It is not known what buildings fit into the small circumference of the fortifications, but it could not be too extensive due to the lack of free space. Perhaps because of this, in front of the ditch, on the west side near the parish church, there was yet an outer bailey.
At the end of the 12th century, the first two stone buildings were built inside the fortifications, one of them had dimensions of about 8×4.5 meters. At the same time, throughout this century, the fortifications were extended and the internal sides of the fortifications were filled with stones and earth, which ultimately led to the transformation of the ringwork into a mound (motte).
After 1220 roughly oval perimeter of the stone defensive walls was erected, and after 1251 a stone, square tower-keep was built, protruded from the perimeter of the wall towards the ditch (which had to be leveled here). It had dimensions of 7×8 meters, a basement-ground floor and a rooms with a fireplaces and a latrines on the first and second floor. The entrance to the ground floor was from the east at the courtyard level, and the next from the south-east led through a spiral staircase straight to the first floor. The floors were separated by timber ceilings with beams embedded in holes in the walls. The upper floors were illuminated by two windows from the north and west and one from the courtyard side, while the external ones were secured with an iron grille. The layout of the chambers on the two upper floors was identical except for the portal on the first floor leading to the crown of the perimeter wall and the location of the eastern window on the second floor, which blocked the space for the upper part of the staircase. If any stairs led to the defensive gallery crowning the tower, they had to be placed elsewhere. The gate to the castle was in the wall south of the keep. In the inner ward inside the defensive wall, two smaller buildings were built, probably of economic purpose.
Currently, the only visible remain of the castle is the earth mound and the ruin of the keep tower located on its edge. In the 1940s, the south-eastern corner collapsed, which fell to the ground intact, but it was decided to leave it in place. The castle is available for free for sightseeing.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Williams D., Gower. A Guide to Ancient and Historic Monuments of the Gower Peninsula, Cardiff 1998.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Loughor castle.