The End of the Road at Beaumaris

As the island of Anglesey was the destination for the final stop on my castle Quest, I wanted to approach it by boat, just as Edward’s forces had done all that time ago. It was a beautiful day on the water, and as the castle drifted into view from the Menai Straits it was easy to see that Beaumaris is where Edward’s story in Wales comes to an end. You can immediately see, for all its grand design, that this is a short castle, devoid of crenellated battlements and lofty turrets, and that’s because Beaumaris is where the money ran out.

Castle from water.JPG

Arriving at Beaumaris by boat – here you can clearly see from the lower walls that the castle was never finished. You can also see the flat land on which it was constructed.

Beaumaris, or the castle on the fair marsh as it name means, is different in several ways to the other castles in the ‘Iron Ring’. Built to fill in the gap in the king’s defences after the final Welsh uprising in 1294-5, this last project for Master James of St George was to be his swansong. With a flat site, unrestricted by rocky or challenging terrain, Edward gave his master mason free reign to design the castle as he wished, and the result is a masterpiece in medieval engineering. The concentric walls are almost perfectly symmetrical, with a moat filled from the sea and ingenious layers of defence. But first the site had to be freed up in order to build the castle, and the centre of Madog’s revolt was in the way.

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A series of towers of the outer walls and the moat

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The heavily defended entrance gatehouse 

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Looking across the inner ward from the entrance to the northern gatehouse dead opposite, showing the perfectly symmetrical design

Edward had the villagers of Llanfaes moved to a new borough on the other side of Anglesey in order to make way for his latest fortress. In the spring of 1295, the depopulated village was commandeered for the castle, and the new settlement established some 12 miles away to the south west of the Island. It was given the appropriate name Newborough, which it still bears today.

This done, the king established his headquarters at Llanfaes until 6th May, when he granted Master James a whole “60 shillings” (around £1,600 in today’s money) and from then on a series of payments were to be made to fund the new build, reaching into the thousands over the next six months.

Me on steps .JPG

Exploring the final stop on the Castle Quest

Again, work charged ahead at an astounding pace, with over 2,500 people being brought into work on the new project, and when the king returned to inspect his new castle in July there was much to show for two and a half months’ work. Clearly pleased with what he saw, Edward took some time out to relax amid the new walls and towers in accommodation comprised of temporary thatched buildings. There are records of the king being entertained by a harpist named Adam of Clitheroe, and this occasion is marked by a harp sculpture in the north gatehouse.

The castle did reach an impressive stage before work ceased, so there is much to explore and admire in a wander around the site. You can investigate the extensive intramural passageways and a myriad of nooks and crannies without realising the place was never finished, and the beautiful chapel royal within the eastern curtain wall is worth a visit alone. With five lancet windows, exquisite carving and a vaulted ceiling, it retains all the feel of the medieval mass that would have taken place inside, and this really takes you back in time. Then moving outside, the defences have been clearly thought out by Master James, and a walk around the outer ward can give you a feel of an entirely different sort.

Chapel interior.jpg

The castle’s chapel – it has a very evocative and peaceful feel

Killing zone

Trapped! Imagine an attacker, having got past the outer walls on the left, being stuck in here with no way out – or in, and nowhere to hide…

Any attacker would have a near-impossible task breaking into the castle. If you could get across the moat and scale the outer walls without being shot, you’d then be trapped in the outer ward in a valley of stone, an inescapable killing field. The colossal towers of the inner curtain wall would give defenders the greatest cover whilst they fired down missiles and arrows onto the invaders below. I felt tiny walking around between the two sets of formidable walls, even in their incomplete state, and it’s clear that once you were in the outer ward, there’d be no real way to scale the inner defences to break into the heart of the castle. In short, it was near impregnable.

Master James of St George.jpg

The ‘Master of the King’s Works in Wales’, Master James of St George, the man who made Edward’s Welsh imperial dreams a reality

But despite being perfectly designed and the ultimate showcase for Master James’ talent, the money was beginning to dry up. Edward’s wars had come at a heavy cost to the kingdom, and castles were hugely expensive to build. In 1296, Master James wrote a letter to complain of the lack of funds for construction. In it, he says:

“We write to inform you that the work here is very costly, and we need a great deal of money… In case you should wonder where so much money could go in a week, we would have you know that we have needed – and shall continue to need – 400 masons, both cutters and layers, together with 2000 minor workmen, 100 carts, 60 wagons and 30 boats bringing stone and sea-coal; 200 quarrymen; 30 smiths and carpenters for putting in the joists and floorboards and other necessary jobs.”

He ends the letter with a plea that we would all recognise today:

“P.S. And, Sirs, for God’s sake be quick with the money for the works… otherwise everything done up till now will have been of no avail”.  Some things never change…

But despite Master James’s pleas, the money still slowed to a trickle and ultimately, for all its genius in design, the work at Beaumaris eventually ground to a halt, and the castle was never completed.

And with that, unlike the castle, my visit to Beaumaris means my Quest is now complete. All that remains is to tie up the loose ends of the story with what happened to Edward and his master mason, and to reflect on what I’ve discovered and experienced over the two weeks as I’ve travelled in time and space through medieval North Wales. So join me tomorrow for a look back, and in some ways a look forward, because covering this Quest is the reason I started this blog, and now it’s all over…

The end of the Quest

The end of the Quest… what a wonderful adventure it’s been!

25 thoughts on “The End of the Road at Beaumaris

  1. Another brilliant post my Love and what an excellent castle to end on. I’ve really enjoyed our quest and I’m very sad it’s come to an end 😦

    Your story telling really added to our adventure – I really appreciate all your hard work and the brilliant idea you had to do this in the first place!

    Here’s to our next Quest! xxx

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  2. Congratulations on completing your quest. And to your support team😀.

    Of course….there is always the next one starting at ………..🤔🤔🤔

    and I learned lots😀😀😀😀😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks David. It’s been an absolute blast, and we’re just going to open another bottle of Prosecco to toast the end. What am I going to do now? As you say, there’s always the next… I’ll by tying up the loose ends of the story tomorrow and reflecting on the Quest in pictures and a few words, but I’m so glad you learned things too. I told you it was a good story… 😀 Thanks for joining me. 🙂 ❤

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  3. I didn’t realise you were just doing a short blog – we’ll all miss your posts. Perhaps you should just think up another subject. My blog died a death for a while when I finished the Munros and Munro Tops as people were mainly reading for info on those. But many have stayed on and I’ve found other mini ‘projects’ to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Carol. It’s something that’s dawned on me recently as I started the blog to cover the Quest. Then I found myself thinking – what now? I haven’t decided what to do yet as I’ve really enjoyed blogging and it give me a great outlet for my medieval passion. And, of course, there’s the great people I’ve met through it… 🙂 I’ll chew it over while I’m still away and see what happens. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the Epilogue post tomorrow. 🙂

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  4. What a journey! And you took to each destination as you had hoped! By plane. through hiking and by boat. Such different perspectives to learn each angle. So very fun to read, although I am sure it was twice as enjoyable for you – the one completing each step as you had hoped. And you took us all with you – thank you for that! I really enjoyed reading and learning so much about the time and the castles themselves. So very interesting!

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    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the Quest, Robyn. It really was a special experience for me, and it’s been lovely having you along for the ride. I hope you enjoy the recap and Epilogue, and thanks for joining me. 🙂

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    • Edward had a lot of support from his barons, as he was good at keeping them on side. And he had access to loans, so if it wasn’t for his castles he’d have been a very wealthy monarch indeed! 🙂

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  5. Beaumaris was, in spite of its unfinished state, the first place that showed me in graphic detail the true brutality of war…as you write, the space between the walls was simply a potential slaughterhouse.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great photos. I like the names Anglesea and Beaumaris. The Aussie versions are very different. Anglesea is about 40 minutes drive from my house. Its a coastal town on the Great Ocean Road. I’ve been thinking of heading down there soon and will post photos.
    My parents lived in Beaumaris for years. Its a seaside suburb of Melbourne.
    No castles in sight tho plenty of grand homes on the coadt road. My parents lived in a simpler place among the ti tree. Very peaceful .. i had no idea the name came from Wales but had always assumed it was French.

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    • How fascinating that your parents lived in Beaumaris, and you have an Anglesea as well. Looking forward to the photos of your versions! Glad you enjoyed our Beaumaris. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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