The first castle in Neath was built at the beginning of the 12th century and was a timber fortification in the form of motte and bailey. It owed its name to the Roman fort Nidum, founded in 75 AD to protect the crossing of the Nedd River. When Richard de Grenville founded Neath Abbey nearby around 1130, he abandoned the original castle, which was probably used by the monks as a source of building materials.
The second castle in Neath was built on the opposite bank of the river in the second half of the 12th century, on the initiative of Robert, Earl of Gloucester. It was first recorded in 1183, when the tower, probably of a wooden structure, was mentioned. Shortly thereafter, William de Cogan, son of Miles de Cogan, was appointed constable of the castle.
In the 13th century, the castle was often disturbed by the Welsh and had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1231. In 1244 and then in 1258 it was attacked again by the Welsh, but managed to defend itself. It was probably already then rebuilt into a stone stronghold by Richard de Clare, the sixth Earl of Gloucester. He kept a constable in Neath along with a garrison of about 50 people (including a few servants).
In 1314 and 1316 the castle garrison managed to defend Welsh attacks, but in 1321 Neath was captured and destroyed by Humphrey de Bohun, fourth Earl of Hereford, in a revolt against King Edward II and his favorite Hugh Despenser. On the initiative of the latter, the castle was probably rebuilt. In the later period of the 14th century (around 1377) the castle was rebuilt again, when, among other things, a huge double-tower gate was erected. It and the rest of the castle, at the beginning of the 15th century, during the uprising of Owain Glyndŵr, was garrisoned by almost 100 man-at-arms. The following years, as for other Welsh strongholds, turned out to be calm for the castle. Probably in the 16th century it began to decline and was finally abandoned.
The castle was situated in a gentle bend of the River Neath, on its eastern bank. In the fourteenth century, it had a semicircular shape with a diagonal of about 30 meters. On the western side of the defensive walls, there was a horseshoe tower and a small gate or a postern. The second horseshoe tower, 7.5 meters wide and 10 meters long, was on the eastern side of the perimeter. In addition, it had a latrine projection advanced to the north-east.
In the second half of the fourteenth century, in the place of the western tower and the posern, a massive gate was erected, consisting of two towers flanking the middle passage (the northern gate tower was created from the former tower). Each of the towers was about 8 meters wide and 10 meters long. The gate passage was 2.8 meters wide. It was protected by machicolation stretched in the arcade between the towers, portcullis, doors, and loop holes pierced in the vault (so-called murder holes). The gate towers housed three floors, although the interior of the southern ground floor was horseshoe-shaped and the northern ground floor was quadrilateral. The northern one was additionally equipped with a latrine facing the ditch.
The residential and economic buildings of the castle were erected in the courtyard next to the inner faces of the defensive walls. It left a free space of only 11 meters of side length. On the ground floor, the buildings housed six rooms, four of which were heated with fireplaces. It can be assumed that, in accordance with medieval customs, these lowest rooms played an economic role (kitchen, pantries, service rooms, warehouses, etc.). The residential and representative chambers were probably on the floors, and the first floor of the western gate could also be used for this purpose. Additional economic buildings had to function in the outer ward on the west side of the castle.
Currently, the best preserved element of the castle is the outer part of the 14th century, two-tower gatehouse. In addition, fragments of defensive walls, relics of the eastern tower with a maximum height of 5 meters and foundations of internal buildings have been preserved. Admission to the monument is free.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Lindsay E., The castles of Wales, London 1998.
Salter M., The castles of Gwent, Glamorgan & Gower, Malvern 2002.