As I explained in my last post, the castle was begun by Sir William ap Thomas, a veteran of the French wars, who grew wealthy through exploiting his position as a local agent of the Duke of York in south-east Wales. He began building the Great Tower in 1435 but he was never to see it completed, as ap Thomas died in 1445. The building work was continued by his son, William, who took the surname Herbert, and it subsequently became known as the Yellow Tower of Gwent. You may not be able to tell in these photos but the tower is constructed from sandstone that has a yellow tinge, hence the name. The keep is an unusual hexagonal plan which is clearly shown in the footprint of the floor as shown in the photo above. It is also surrounded by a water-filled moat as seen in the next photo.
The tower has it's own apron wall with small towers, the tops of which have been destroyed. I was intrigued however, to find a doorway in one of these towers leading down to the water (last and next photos). This was patently used to gain access to the moat, and could have been used for a number of reasons, the most mundane of which would be maintenance.
This massive tower was designed as a place of last resort in the first half of the 15th century and its gradual additions made it virtually impregnable. Much more of the original tower would be visible today were it not for the "slighting" by the parliamentarian forces after the siege of Raglan Castle in 1646. When Raglan was surrendered near the end of the Civil War, a decision was made to demolish the Tower completely. Men were set to work with pickaxes in an attempt to destroy it from the top. This failed, however and two sides were undermined until these partially collapsed. The impressive remains still stand - testimony to the great building skills of the day. The photo below really illustrates how thick the tower walls are, and shows where gap where the undermined walls once stood.
Interestingly, the castle started as a late medieval social statement, and ended as one of the strongest Royalist castles of the Civil War. It was not built specifically as a defence as the other great castles of Wales had been. Instead, it was designed mainly as a statement of wealth and influence. Within the Great Tower, there was a single large room to each floor, and the entire structure echoed the power and influence of its builder.
I had a really great time exploring the castle. As I was there in the morning there were very few other people around and the air seemed heavy with the passing of time and history. I would have loved to have seen it in it's full spendour - the walls would have been plastered, there would have been oak floors, ceilings and panelling, glazed windows, opulent furnishings (the castle even had it's own library which was destroyed in the seige - the loss of the books is recorded as a great historic loss), curtains, paintings and wall hangings. Today, you get a hint of it's past from the ruins. Raglan is one of my favourite castles and I really do recommend seeing it for yourself if you ever get the chance.
The floors and internal structure of the castle are now gone of course, but the main staircase still remains and visitors can climb the spiral to the top of the keep and are rewarded with a magnificent view of the rest of the castle and the Welsh countryside. The photo above shows the towers of the main gatehouse while the next photo shows the Fountain Court.