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Carmarthen Castle Gatehouse, Carmarthenshire 2003

During the Summer of 2003, an excavation was undertaken just outside the gatehouse at Carmarthen Castle on behalf of Carmarthenshire County Council.

The gatehouse is a complex structure representing the main entry to the castle from the town. It faces Nott Square which was the site of a medieval market. It was apparently constructed in 1409 replacing, and perhaps incorporating parts of, an earlier structure that had been destroyed during the Glyndwr rebellion of 1405-6. This 15th century gatehouse was a twin-tower structure, twice the size of the surviving building; chambers formerly lay to the rear, beneath domestic accommodation probably representing the Constable’s Chamber mentioned in contemporary accounts. This rear section has gone, but the doors that communicated with it can be seen in the present gatehouse east wall. The rear section had been removed sometime prior to 1789 when construction of the County Gaol began under John Nash. The present entrance passage doorway and surrounding masonry, which have been inserted in the present east wall, also belong to the gaol period.

Structural evidence suggests that a block of garderobes and other service rooms occupied a turret in the angle between the south face of the gatehouse and the adjoining curtain wall. Much of the evidence for these was lost during the post-medieval period when the lower two-thirds of this south face was removed, to create access from the neighbouring property to the south. The ‘gorge’ so formed was subsequently infilled with rubble masonry. The gatehouse suffered other alterations during the post-medieval period. The ground floors of both towers were filled with mortared rubble, possibly during the Civil War as a measure against artillery.

Landscaping works in front of the gatehouse in 2002-3 resulted in the exposure of three of the many cellars lying between the castle and Nott Square. The cellars – which have brick vaults carried on masonry walls - are post-medieval, probably dating to the late 18th- mid 19th century. These cellars were cut into the deep defensive ditch that formerly fronted the castle. The southernmost cellar wall preserves part of the masonry causeway that formerly connected the gatehouse with the town.

Excavation revealed more of this structure(s), which appears to comprise two main phases –
1) a series of at least 2 masonry piers, supporting a timber bridge
2) the construction of walling, connecting the piers and forming a continuous masonry causeway, and the erection of a possible barbican at the Nott Square end (as shown by John Speed on his map of 1610)
The piers may pre-date the 15th century gatehouse, but neither structure directly connects with it and the gateway was presumably entered over a moveable drawbridge. An earlier evaluation within the gatehouse passageway, in 2001, mainly revealed modern service trenches, but the side walls suggested that a drawbridge counterbalance pit may have existed. The bridge structure was considerably altered during the post-medieval period when, prior to the construction of the cellars, the ditch appears to have been re-excavated – possibly during the Civil War. The ditch was not bottomed in 2003, but a trench was dug within the fill proving that it was at least 4 metres deep. A number of important finds were retrieved from a waterlogged layer within the ditch-fill, including an assemblage of leather shoes, one of which is pictured here, and wooden bowls which are currently undergoing conservation and analysis.

Project contact: Ken Murphy

 

 

 

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