Under the mile off moon we trembled listening…
To the sea sound flowing like blood from the loud wound
And when the salt sheet broke in a storm of singing
The voices of all the drowned swam on the wind.
– from Lie still, sleep becalmed by Dylan Thomas
On foreshore, nine miles southwest of Carmarthen in Wales, you’ll find a low cliff that hangs just above the little town of Talacharn with a ruined castle just below and hidden from sea invaders, known locally by the name Laugharne Castle. Talacharn is the sleepy village which was immortalized by Dylan Thomas in his poetic play"Under Milk Wood" and it still carries all the charm and wonder he invoked in the writing he undertook there- especially when he couldn’t help but instill quite a bit of the town and the castle directly in his words. The above partial of "Lie still, sleep becalmed" is only one such example. Owing to the fact that he was buried here at St. Martin’s Churchyard after he died and his wife right next to him forty-one years later, I would tend to believe that he lies in the earth of his true muse: Talacharn and her magnificent castle originally called Abercorram ( Aber= River mouth) due to its proximity to the Coran stream ( flows just beneath the western wall of the castle ), a tributary to the estuary Taf which empties into Carmarthen Bay.
Laugharne, along with the castles Llansteffan and Kidwelly, formed a girdle of coastal defenses with Laugharne on the west side, Kidwelly on the east and Llansteffan defending the middle upper portion of the Taf. These are three of the many fortresses controlling the ancient road along the south Wales coastline. Other remains of castles in the immediate area exist a little further inland such as St Clears, Paxton’s Tower, Dryslwyn and Roche but the true might of defense existed in the first three with Laugharne getting the worst of it with sieges during the 13th century by the Welsh and those considered invaders, by turns.
These three castles were originally early 12th century earth and timber ringwork fortresses with Laugharne being founded by Robert Courtemain. Archaeological excavations have shown that the headland which the castle rests close to was once a ploughed field which would associate it with prehistoric and a possible Roman settlement on the hillside to the north of the current castle. The earliest written reference to Laugharne is an entry in 1116 of the Brut y Tywysogyon ( The Chronicle of the Princes) which names Bleddyn ap Cedifor to be entrusted with "the castle of Robert Courtemain, which was at Abercorram". According to further records in the Brut, by 1189 and upon the death of King Henry the 2nd, "Lord Rhys (Prince of Deheubarth) gained possession of the castle of St Clears, Abercorram and Llansteffan." By 1215, the same triplex were destroyed by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (the Great), with the support of the Welsh princes, between their destruction of Carmarthen and their siege of Cardigan. Yet again in 1257 Laugharne and Llansteffan were taken and destroyed and by that date the Guy de Brians were in possession of it. The de Brian legacy went on from mid 13th century until the end of the 14th century and much building and rebuilding in stone created a strong and high standard fortification. Laugharne was listed as defensible in 1403.
After the death of Guy de Brian the 7th in 1390 the inheritance fell into a dispute which lasted almost a century! It was finally settled in 1488 when possession passed into the hands of the fourth Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy who most likely did very little with the property. By 1575, when Queen Elizabeth granted the castle to one of Henry the 8th’s sons, Sir John Perrot, the castle was in a terrible ruinous state and Sir John decided to update it by converting it into a Tudor mansion. Carew Castle was also a part of his earlier inheritance and his improvements there remain a wonderful example of his achievements in architecture. A few years later he was convicted of high treason and died while imprisoned at the Tower of London. Much of his interior work was removed along with anything of value taken and then further damage ensued during the Civil War.
Parliamentary forces under the direction of Major General Rowland Laugharne attacked in 1644 and the use of cannon wrecked the appearance of it. Much later cannonballs were found embedded in the walls ! After the Royalist garrison of the castle surrendered it was additionally slighted so that use of it would be impossible, as was done with many such castles.
The medieval remains consist of an early round keep and round towers which were built later in the 13th century and the outer gatehouse which was most likely built at or near the end of the 13th century and was the work of the de Brians. When you visit the site you’ll note that much of the rebuild was done in a distinctive green stone for which Guy de Brian the 7th was responsible. Prior to this, the castle had been built in red sandstone which makes it very easy to see what portions were originally built and what was rebuilt later and at a much greater height. (This is a rarity among castles since rebuilding is often done from stone taken from the same local quarry.) Most of the older masonry can be viewed on the southwest tower along with the adjoining curtain wall.
Sir John Perrot completely remodeled the old hall and added battlements to its curtain wall. He built more Tudor structures along the south and east of the inner courtyard and took out the north curtain wall replacing with a large rectangular accommodation block.. The upper floors were made accessible by a projecting semicircular stair tower and the inner gatehouse was heightened considerably. Lastly he laid out gardens in the outer ward. His obvious intent was to create a more habitable residence than it had ever been.
During the entirety of the 18th century it was left simply as romantic ruins but by the 19th century Laugharne was turned into formal gardens. The garden with a box-edged parterre features mostly Victorian varieties of Roses along with shrubbery and lawns. A gazebo which overlooks the Taf Estuary was built some time during the first half of the 20th century and attracted writers such as Richard Hughes and Dylan Thomas and famous artists like J.M.W. Turner and Sam and Nat Buck in 1795. This is a fitting tribute to the grounds considering that the county of Carmarthenshire is referred to as The Garden of Wales.
To find Laugharne from Carmarthen take A40 towards Haverfordwest. At St Clears leave the trunk road and immediately turn right to Laugharne, it is three and a half miles south. The historic site ownership is Cadw, located in the town center, off King St. at 113 Lammas Street.
Open daily, April to September from 10:00 to 5:00 p.m.
(wonderful photos of Laugharne Castle from the BBC)
and check out my Wales photo album with new photos of Laugharne and more ….
“ I love you Caitlin. I love you more than anyone in the world …. Write to me very soon, and tell me you really meant the things you said about loving me too; if you don’t I shall cut my throat or go to the pictures.”
(15 July 1936 – In a love letter written to his future wife, Dylan Thomas
The Castle Lady pictures you with a big lipstick stain on your cheek!