Holt Castle in Denbighshire, northeast Wales, was built under Edward I and later served as Richard II’s treasury but today its royal connections are far from obvious.
Plundered for stone to build the 17th century Eaton Hall in Cheshire, the once-mighty fortification has been reduced to overgrown ruins.
Now, however, a Castle Studies Trust-funded project has seen the castle rise once more in a detailed digital reconstruction that restores its distinctive pentagonal walls and the rooms within them to their full glory once more.
The model was created by illustrator Chris Jones-Jenkins, who has previously recreated a number of castle keeps for English Heritage. Here, his work drew on documentary evidence pieced together by project leader Rick Turner, a former Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Cadw, and a leading expert on Welsh castles.
This included contemporary sources for building works at the castle in the last two years of Richard II’s reign; transcriptions of 15th century inventories of the castle and its contents; and a c.AD 1600 plan of the site held by the National Library of Wales.
Combined with recent archaeological work on the site by Steve Grenter of Wrexham Museum, and LiDAR scans by Paul Hinchcliffe, this provided this provided the team with a jigsaw of evidence that allowed them to piece the castle back together, inside and out.
Before and after: all that remains of Holt Castle today, and the new digital reconstruction. Images: Wrexham Borough Council / Chris Jones-Jenkins
“We began by superimposing different plans of the castle over the standing remains, to see which were more accurate, and combined this with the result of Steve’s excavations,” Chris said. “From this we worked upwards using the 15th century inventories, going from room to room.”
“It has been great fun trying to solve the disappearance of this once famous castle. All the different pieces of evidence have had to be assessed and reconciled: the most important is what survives at the crime scene itself, the visible remains and what has been found in recent excavations,” said Rick. “Old plan and views have been helpful in rebuilding the lost parts, though at times the information they give is contradictory. Visualising what the documentary sources are describing has been a real challenge, but we hope that we have done this impressive and complex castle justice.”
The excavations were carried out during work to reconsolidate the castle’s surviving masonry, particularly in the central courtyard, and aimed to establish what remained of the demolished defences, in order to interpret them for visitors, Steve explained.
This initiative located the bedrock foundations of the lost northwest tower, part of the northeast tower, and the west side and east wall of the isolated barbican tower that formed part of the entrance arrangements.
“We saw some interesting variation in the construction details: some of the towers were masonry from quite low levels, while others were left as dressed bedrock with the masonry starting higher up,” Steve said. “The other major positive was the level of community interest in the project: we had over 100 volunteers on the excavation, mostly from the village.”
The Castle Studies Trust awards grants of up to £5,000 to projects that advance the understanding of castles. It is entirely reliant on donations from the public, to find out more please visit: www.castlestudiestrust.org