Hay Castle was a total surprise, we were staying in Herefordshire last year, 2015, and I knew there were lots of bookshops in the town of Hay-0n-Wye, but I didn’t even think of a castle. The Norman ruins with the Manor House are right in the centre of the town, you can not miss them. Oh, but what a sorry state of repair the Norman part is in, but there are funds apparently now to do something with it, not sure what. Although, I am really glad I found it before it has been revamped, even though the Norman part looks like it is ready to collapse at any moment, it oozes history, it is tangible without needing to be touched.
A little history…….The castle was built in the 12th century and added to through the ages. It is known for its Norman keep and gateway, Jacobean Manor, Victorian outbuildings and terraced formal gardens. The history of the town and the castle are inextricably bound together since William de Breos II, one of the most infamously treacherous of the Norman Marcher Lords, built the present castle c.1200. Prince Llywelyn, the last indigenous Prince of Wales, took and ravaged the castle in the 1230s, after which King Henry III funded its rebuilding in 1233.
Centuries of turmoil followed until the 15th century, when the castle passed into the hands of the Beaufort Estates. Castle House, a Jacobean mansion, was built alongside the tower, in 1660 by James Boyle of Hereford, on the north side of the castle, and most of the curtain wall was demolished to improve the views. The mansion was severely damaged by a disastrous fire in 1939, but was later substantially restored. Another fire in 1977 caused as much destruction as the first, and today much of the Jacobean building is little more than an empty shell open to the elements. Remnants of the 18th century formal gardens and 19th century terraced gardens can still be seen. Owned by bibliophile Richard Booth since the 1960’s, the site was purchased in 2011 by the Hay Castle Trust.
After I had taken photos of the town side of the building, I decided to see if I could see what was behind the wooden medieval gates. We walked up through a warren of Victorian outbuildings and came out in front of the Mansion, on the garden side. Part of the Mansion is, I think lived in, or it seems to be. I walked along the drive in front of the buildings to the end, where I could see the other side of the gates. The area is fenced off, but it was amazing to think that one of the gates, the crossed timber one, is dated about the 13th century and the other which has been repaired, 14th century. They had been closed for about 400 years ago and seemly never opened, until recently, as the entrance to the castle had changed with the building of the mansion. I would have liked to have seen a plan of how the castle would have been laid out. I’m guessing it would have covered the large garden that is in front of the Mansion. Maybe next time we are passing, there might be an information board, if they are planing to do some restorations to the castle.