Oxwich Castle was built in the sixteenth century on the site of an earlier, medieval building belonging to the Penrice family, which in 1459 as “castrum de Oxenwych” passed into the possession of Philip Mansel. Work on the new castle began between 1520 and 1538. It focused on providing a comfortable place to live, although the isolated location of Oxwich required the erection of light fortifications. Probably it was also affected by the so-called “Oxwich Affray”, that is the skirmish between Sir Rhys Mansel and Sir George Herbert, fighting at the end of 1557 over the rights to the cargo of a wrecked French ship. Rhys Mansel died in 1559, long before the construction of the new castle was completed, but his son, Sir Edward Mansel, continued his work. However, Oxwich did not satisfy the ambition of the family, which soon moved his main residence to Margam. The castle was rented and began to fall into neglect. Until 1631, part of the eastern range collapsed and was never repaired, although the older southern range continued to serve as a farm, until the beginning of the 20th century.
The oldest part of the preserved castle was the southern range, erected in the first half of the 16th century. It was a rectangular building with a small projection in the southern part, with two floors and an attic. In its eastern part, in the ground floor, there was a kitchen, equipped with a fireplace and a small stone oven in the wall. Further on was the central room heated by the fireplace and two small rooms in the corner, originally intended for servants. The upper floor was illuminated by large rectangular windows: one two-light and three four-light. Originally it was divided into two parts with a wooden partition screen and topped with a flat timber ceiling that separated the upper attic. Two rooms of the first floor functioned as the main chamber of the residence’s owner and as his bedroom, both heated by separate fireplaces. Communication between all floors was provided by a spiral staircase located in a horseshoe tower, accessible from the corner of the courtyard.
In the second half of the 16th century, an east range was erected consisting of a long, rectangular building with massive walls 2 meters thick, with three projections from the east and north of a tower-like character. All projections were four-sided, the middle slightly smaller than the other two. The entrance was from the courtyard side and led to the first floor, through the stairs in the vestibule. Behind the entrance portal was the centrally located, main room of the castle, that is a great hall with a plan size of 17 x 7 meters, rising to the level of the second floor. It was a place of meals, sumptuous feasts and meeting guests. Its lighting was provided by unusual huge windows consisting of three levels of smaller two-light openings in one case and four levels of openings in the other window. From the north and south, the hall was flanked by smaller rooms, while a fragment of the wall of an older, medieval building was used for the northern room. The space of the entire third floor was occupied by a long gallery, illuminated with windows similar to those used in the great hall, and communication was made possible by staircases located on the southern and northern sides. Their construction was based on a central stone pillars, around which straight sections of stairs were led. It was one of the oldest solutions of this type in residential buildings. The main building of the east range also had two barrel vaulted utility rooms and a couple of smaller rooms at ground level. Tower projections probably housed living quarters. The preserved south-eastern tower had six floors, each of which except the ground floor was heated by a fireplace and equipped with irregularly pierced windows. A latrine was probably placed in the corner niche.
The defensive devices of the castle were limited to the wall on the south-west side, which separated a small courtyard measuring 20 x 16 meters. It was reinforced by a horseshoe tower on the south side, which flanked the gate next to it, located between two twin small turrets. Above the passage, between the turrets, an arcade was stretched, hiding machicolation. Perhaps a second tower was also in the not preserved west corner of the castle. The defensive wall was topped with a parapet on slightly protruding corbels and a battlement, which protected the defenders’ wall-walk. Access to it was possible through the southern tower.
The castle has survived to modern times in a state of partial ruin. The southern range has been preserved in its entirety, although it has been rebuilt over the centuries. Among other, the attic was lowered and windows and door portals on the ground floor were transformed. Of the east range, the south and south-eastern walls and the south-eastern tower have been preserved to the full height, partly the north wall of the building has been survived, the remaining fragments have unfortunately collapsed. Visible is also the horseshoe tower and the castle gate, although the wall adjacent to it preserved only in the lower part. On the north side you can see the ruins of the dovecote. The castle is open to visitors from March 24 to November 4, from Wednesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 17.00.
Lindsay E., The castles of Wales, London 1998.
Salter M., The castles of Gwent, Glamorgan & Gower, Malvern 2002.
Williams D., Gower. A Guide to Ancient and Historic Monuments of the Gower Peninsula, Cardiff 1998.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Oxwich castle.