Visit and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire. The character of this ancient township, 8 miles West of Llanelli, can best be summed up in the manner of an ancient Welsh triad: a contradiction, a castle, and a court case. The contradiction first. Kidwelly is the only town in Wales where you pronounce the Welsh ll as a single l in the English manner. The name was misspelt on the early Ordnance Survey maps. The correct Welsh spelling is Cydweli.
The little town grew up at the mouth of the Gwendraeth Fach river in the days of the Norman invasion of South Wales. Just South of the town the bigger Gwendraeth Fawr joins the smaller stream, and the united waters meander out to sea over flat marshy land. An R.A.F. aerodrome was built on these flats during the Second World War. Beyond the aerodrome, fir-plantations seal off the long sands that run almost without a break from Burry Port to Towyn Point.
Kidwelly Castle stands on the higher ground overlooking the flats; it firmly controlled both the exits from the Gwendraeth and the important road to the West as it crossed the rivers. The Castle is the pride of Kidwelly. The first castle was built by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, and a Minister of Henry I. It was one of a string of castles that grew up along the coast road and within easy reach of reinforcement by sea. Henry I's reign saw a great advance in the Norman control of South Wales, but after his death the Welsh rallied. Gwenllian, the wife of Gruffydd ap Rhys, led the Welsh, but she was heavily defeated by the Normans under Maurice de Londres, the new Lord of Kidwelly in 1136. She herself was captured and killed with her son Morgan. Gwenllian was long regarded as a heroine by the Welsh, and the site of the battle, l½ miles from the town in the Gwendraeth Fach valley, is still known as Maes (Field of) Gwenllian.
The Castle, however, fell repeatedly into the hands of the Welsh. Rhys Grug, one of the sons of the Lord Rhys, captured it in 1215. Llywelyn the Great forced him to restore it to the English. In 1225 Hawise, the heiress of Kidwelly, married Walter de Braose, one of the great Marcher family of De Braose. But the Castle was many times lost to the Welsh. At last Hawise, left a widow, married Patrick de Chaworth. De Chaworth succeeded in holding the Castle during the Welsh Rising of 1257. He was killed in the following year, and Hawise's son Payn became the heir. He and his brother Patrick took the Cross. They both died soon after their mother. The long-suffering Hawise died in 1274. By the marriage of Patrick's daughter Matilda to Edmund, Earl of Lancaster and brother of Edward I. Kidwelly eventually passed wholly into the hands of the Crown under Henry IV. By this time the Castle had lost its importance, and it fades out of history. Henry VII granted it to his supporter, Sir Rhys ap Tewdwr. Finally it came into the possession of the Earl of Cawdor, who placed it under the guardianship of the Ministry of Public Building and Works.
The present ruin stands on a steep bank on the West side of the Gwendraeth Fach river. The Castle consists of an outer ward that runs in a semicircle from the South to the North gatehouse. Between the two gatehouses the curtain wall is guarded by three strong towers. The eastern wall rises from the steep bank above the river; on the western side the curtain wall was protected by a deep ditch. The South gatehouse is an imposing three-storeyed building. Two semicircular towers flank the entrance, with a projection on the East side to give command over the river-front. The turret was added in the 15th century to give convenient access to the upper floors. The North gatehouse is very much ruined.
The inner ward is rectangular and is entered by a simple gateway immediately before the South gatehouse. The ward has a circular tower at each angle. The original great hall, with the solar, stood alongside the East wall of this inner ward. Later it was replaced by a new hall, built in the outer ward probably by Sir Rhys ap Tewdwr. The chapel is in two stages, with a semi-octagonal eastern end supported by massive buttresses. The clerestory had a range of trefoiled lancet windows. The three drum-towers that mark the other corners of the inner ward are well preserved and impressive.
A small town grew up before the Castle: A ruined gateway of the early 14th century, not far from the Castle entrance, marks the southern end of the town defences. The circuit was probably not altogether surrounded with stone walls.
A second settlement grew up across the river around the priory. The Benedictine priory was founded in 1130 as a cell of Sherborne Abbey in Dorset. The priory was dismantled at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the fine priory church remains, the best example of the Decorated style in the diocese of St David's It is especially notable for the large span of the nave, the spacious chancel, and the lofty spire, which was later added to the l3th century tower. The West window is coloured, but most of the other windows contain clear glass, which gives a light, airy effect to the interior. The 14th century alabaster statue of the Virgin and Child was once so venerated by Kidwelly women that it had to be buried in the churchyard. It has now been restored to the church. There are numerous monuments, including the l4th century coffin-lid in the South chapel. The section of the town around the priory contains the Town Hall and some old houses, although Kidwelly is rapidly losing some of the more ancient dwellings.
The two townships are connected by a 14th century bridge. At the eastern end of the bridge, a large house, now a Sunday school, brings us to the memories of the famous court case that fascinated both Wales and England in 1920. Harold Greenwood, a prominent local solicitor, was accused of poisoning his wife. He was acquitted after a memorable speech in his defence by Sir Edward Marshall-Hall at Carmarthen Assizes, which was long regarded as a classic of the Bar.
North East of Kidwelly lie the ruins of Lechdwmy, the ancestral seat of the Dwn family. Lewis Dwn, the Herald who made an important “visitation” of Wales in 1585, was descended from this family: so was John Donne, the poet and Dean of St Paul's. His family used the same coat of arms as Sir Edward Dwn of Kidwelly.
Nearby towns: Burry Port, Carmarthen, Llanelli
Nearby villages: Abergwili, Bynea, Cheriton, Cross Hands, Cwnfelin, Derwydd, Dryslwyn, Ferryside, Laugharne, Llanarthney, Llanddarog, Llandefaelog, Llandowror, Llandyry, Llangain, Llangendeirne, Llangennech, Llangennith, Llangunnor, Llanmadoc, Llanmorlais, Llannon, Llanrhidian, Llansadurnen, Llansteffan, Llanybri, Meidrim, Merthyr, Nantgaredig, Pembrey, Penclawdd, Pontarddulais, Pontyates, Pontyberem, Saint Ishmael, St Clears, Trostre
Have you decided to visit or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a bed and breakfast (a B&B or b and b)
- a guesthouse
- a hotel (or motel)
- a self-catering establishment, or
- other accommodation