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History of Pennard Castle

In the eighteenth century the brothers Samuel and Nathanael Buck, engravers and printmakers, toured the British Isles making detailed drawings of castles, monasteries, cathedrals and other ancient buildings. Their published “Antiquities” include an engraving of Pennard Castle from the best viewpoint, the north-east, since the north curtain wall is nearly intact, whereas from other directions the castle’s ruinous state is obvious.

The Buck brothers entitled their depiction of March 1741 “The North East View of Pennarth Castle, in the County of Glamorgan” — Pen-arth being a headland enclosure. Details are fragmentary about the history of Pennard Castle (also spelt Penard), which is sited across the valley from the motte and bailey castle on the headland at Penmaen. The stone walls were erected in the late thirteenth century above the earlier wooden palisade of a ring-work, by Henry de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick, when he became Lord of Gower.

Within the courtyard traces are visible of a 20-metre long building which comprised twin store-rooms, and a large communal living area with a private retiring room, as revealed by excavations in 1961. On the cliff edge a projecting rectangular building which overlooks the valley was added later, perhaps for extra accommodation. Near the castle are fragmentary remains of a church that pre-dated Pennard Church a mile away.

But in the fourteenth century tsunami-like sandstorms swept across the coast of South Wales, leaving sand dunes at Kenfig and southern Glamorgan, and be-sanding Pennard Castle, which had to be abandoned, as did the original village and church across the valley at Penmaen. A document of 1317 from William de Breos, granting hunting rights to his huntsman on “the sandy waste at Pennard”, may indicate when the be-sanding had commenced. An old legend suggests that the “verry-folks”, the fairies of Gower, called down the sandstorm as judgement on the lord of the castle for harshly dispersing their dancing and music-making on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding!

Pennard Castle stands uniquely on a golf course, so that its care is not the responsibility of Cadw or the National Trust. Before the Golf Club purchased the burrows in 1920, the area including the castle had belonged to the Kilvrough estate. Just as Penrice Castle has the folly known as Oxwich Towers, so the Kilvrough estate contains a folly, originally a two-storey tower. It may be that in the 1790s some stones from ruined Pennard Castle were used to build this.

An early view of Pennard Castle’s twin-towered gatehouse from the east shows that both towers had been undermined at the base. This was remedied by concrete patching during 1923-24, although the impact is visually intrusive. In January 1960 part of the detached section of the southern wall, exposed to the south-westerly winds, collapsed. Following an appeal for funds, the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works undertook repairs, with less visible and more sympathetic impact than the earlier concrete work on the tower bases.

Of the twin ‘D’-shaped gate towers, the left-hand tower is substantially slimmer than that on the right. An 1870s photograph shows it intact and matching the right-hand one, but with a long vertical crack in the stonework. This evidently led to a collapse, which was partially repaired by concrete in the 1920s.

In 1803 it was first reported that yellow alpine whitlow grass was “growing wild and abundantly on walls and rocks around Pennard Castle”, so for a while botanists thought that that was its sole location in Britain. However the “county flower of Glamorgan” can also be found in narrow crevices on the upper cliffs between Pwll Du Head and Rhossili. Even without that distinction, Pennard Castle is well worth walking on the path across the golf links to see, for it commands a view down the valley to Three Cliffs Bay that is second to none.