Caerleon Net

Full Text from William Coxe Relating to the Castle

Without the Roman fortress, we traced several outworks of considerable strength. Near the eastern angle in Mill street, are remains of a line of ancient wall, with the foundation of a gateway, running nearly parallel to the Roman fortifications; but not sufficient to ascertain their purport.

It is more difficult to trace the ruins of the celebrated castle, which resisted so many assaults, while the town, notwithstanding its Roman fortifications, surrendered to each invader. The castle works extended in a line between the south side of the wall and the Usk, beyond a round tower near the Hanbury Arms, and terminated at the remains of two round towers or bastions, which were built upon the rocks on the verge of the river. According to Domesday book, there was a castle in Caerleon at the time of the conquest. Parts of the ancient works still remain, particularly the tower near the Hanbury Arms, which exhibits in its circularly arched doorway, and embrasures, the early style of fortification: it is now pierced with modern windows, and much altered from its original state. The thickness of the walls, the bold sweep of the arches, and the composition of the cement, according to the Vitruvian method, have led some persons to suppose it a Roman structure, which was afterwards included in the works of the castle.

There are no apparent remains of the tower called by Giraldus gigantic; but the mound on which it was constructed is still entire. It is an artificial eminence of considerable height, 300 yards in circumference at the base, and 90 at the summit; it stands between the banks of the Usk, and the southern side of the wall, and is generally supposed to be the site of the Norman keep or citadel, and posterior to the other works. In the time of Leland the ruins were very considerable; and Churchyard, who wrote in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, described it, as

"A castle very old,
"That may not be forgot,
"It stands upon a forced hill,
"Not far from flowing flood." (The Worthiness of Wales)

In the middle of this century, the walls of the tower were not less than forty feet in height; but they were loosened by the severe effects of the frost in 1739, and fell down in enormous fragments. Within the memory of the oldest inhabitants were remains of dilapidated buildings at the bottom, and a flight of stone steps. During my last excursion, some massive foundations were discovered towards the summit. The greater part had been removed by the lord of the manor, and sold to Mr. Williams, a currier, who had built a house with the materials. The remains which I observed were not less than twenty feet in depth, ten in breadth, and thirty in length; the whole forming a solid and compact mass, of large stones bedded in mortar, which the workmen had great difficulty in separating. I noticed among the fragments, much slate, many glazed pantiles, and numerous pieces of burnt and charred wood, which seem to imply, that part of the building had been destroyed by fire.

From the top of this eminence, the wild and beautiful environs of Caerleon are seen to the greatest advantage. The principal objects are the town, gently rising at the extremity of an oval vale; the bridge, supported by lofty and slender piles; the rapid Usk, flowing through fertile meadows; the sloping hills, richly clothed with wood; and Christchurch, towering like a cathedral, on the brow of an overhanging eminence.

Descending from the mount, and tracing the foss, I observed, towards its south-western side, heaps of Roman bricks and tiles, which had been recently dug up in making excavations. Among these were some fragments of large bricks, two feet square, and two inches in thickness. They formed part of a Roman sarcophagus, which measured six feet and a half in length. It was found on the side of the mount, several feet above the ground; and Mr. Blanning, who politely accompanied me, and supplied me with these particulars, pointed out the place where it had been discovered, which was apparent from the red colour communicated by the bricks to the surface. The situation of this sarcophagus seems to indicate, that the lower part of the mount existed in the time of the Romans, and was a continuation of a natural ridge, which stretches nearly the same height, not far from the banks of the Usk, and that the upper part was raised, since the deposition of the sarcophagus, to its present elevation.

In the street leading from the bridge, and near the passage to the castle, are the ruins of a portal, which seems to have once formed the entrance of the castle works. Parts of a round tower still remain, with the groove for a portcullis, and a public house called the Gate-house marks its situation. (At the time of my last excursion these remains were taking down.)

Close to the southern extremity of the bridge, in the district sometimes called the village of Caerleon, and sometimes distinguished by the Roman appellation of Ultra Pontem, are the ruins of an ancient fort, intended for the purpose of guarding the passage over the river. Grose has given an engraving as it existed in 1778, and from the roundness of the arches and the mode of construction, concludes that it was a Roman edifice; but the dilapidated state of the work renders it difficult to ascertain its exact form or era.

Caerleon Net
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