This spring I went, along with the Regency Restoration Project archive and history group from the National Botanic Garden of Wales, to Hay for a tour of the castle by Mari Fforde who is employed by the Hay Castle Trust on the new Heritage Lottery funded project to restore this interesting and historic building.
The invitation had come about when Wendy Bedford one of our volunteers discovered that one of the Richard Gwyn of Gwempa (the grandfather of Thomas Gwyn who married Elizabeth Middleton the heiress of Middleton Hall) had married a Rachel Gwyn (possibly a distant cousin) of Hay Castle in the late 17th century. A tenuous link no doubt, but enough for eight intrepid group members and Louise Austin from the Regency Restoration team to make the trip to the border town!
Mari started the tour in front of the castle by telling us about its Norman origins and the story of the Maude, the giantess and one of the early De Braose matriachs who is said to have built the tower overnight. She was also said to have been extremely tall and often donned armour while leading troops into battle! Her final days were spent walled in and starving to death with her son. They were imprisoned in Corfe Castle by King John whom she had accused of murdering his nephew, Prince Arthur.
Hay Castle is one of the early masonry castles with its rectangular tower. However, by the time Leland visited Hay in 1538 he notes that:
Ther is also a castel, the which sumtime hath bene right stately …the toun within the waulles is wonderfully decaied. The ruine is adscribed to Oene Glindour.
The buildings slowly evolved over half a millenium from Norman castle into Jacobean manor house. During the first half of the 17th century, it is thought that Howell Gwynne built the manor house in the Dutch style to the west of the old keep, the Gwyns’ also established formal gardens at the site.
Hay Castle has belonged to Marcher Lords, and after many upheavals, by south Walian gentry. It has been divided up amongst several tenants, its keep used to supplement the town gaol and as a vicarage in the 19th century.
A disastrous fire in 1939 destroyed the eastern section of the castle when owned by the banker Benjamin Guinness, and in the 1960s Richard Booth the self-styled King of Hay on Wye bought it and used it as a bookshop and a location for parties attended by notorious celebrities like Marianne Faithful.
In 2011 the castle was sold for around £2 million to the Hay Castle Trust, whose intention is to turn it into an arts and education centre.
Many thanks to Mari for her wonderful tour and to the house without a garden, the garden without a house (NBGW!) wishes the Hay Castle Trust much luck in their admirable efforts to restore this gem of a building, so redolent with Welsh Marcher history.
For more information on developments at Hay Castle go to haycastletrust.org