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  • 1277

    Edward I starts the iron ring including Ruthin Castle.

  • 1282

    Reginald de Grey was granted the Cantref of Dyffryn Clwyd and given Ruthin Castle.

  • 1400

    18th of September 1400 Owain Glyndwr attacks Ruthin.

  • 1508

    In 1508 to Henry VIII.

  • 1553

    Lady Jane Grey.

  • 1632

    In 1632 Ruthin Castle was sold to Sir Thomas Myddleton of Chirk for not more than £5.00.

  • 1646

    In 1646, Parliamentary forces under the command of Major-General Mytton were given the task of 'reducing' the castles of North Wales and their first target was Ruthin.

  • 1826

    In 1826 Ruthin Castle was purchased by Myddleton family.

  • 1848

    1848 Frederick Richard West son of Frederick West commissioned Henry Clutton.

  • 1879

    The northern wing which intrudes onto the garden layout was added sometime after 1879.

  • 1901

    Through the Edwardian Era, the castle was frequented by Edward the VII and many figures of "High society".

  • 1923

    In 1923 The Castle became a clinic investigation and treatment of obscure medical diseases.

  • 1962

    In the early 1960's the castle was purchased at auction and converted into an hotel.

  • 2004

    In 2004 the Castle was purchased by the Saint Claire Family.

  • 2012

    In 2012 the Castle received a VW 4 star rating.

Introduction

A Short History of Ruthin Castle Hotel

Thank you for taking the time to discover why we need to conserve this truly important historical monument. We have tried to describe the buildings themselves, but more importantly we hope to give an impression of the people associated with them and of life as it has evolved within these great castle walls.

Location

Location

Ruthin Castle is built on a ridge about 100 ft above the Vale of Clwyd. When taking into account the position of the moat (looking towards the west of the upper bailey) the original fortification would probably have been a ‘Motte and Bailey’-style structure – a stronghold designed primarily to hold back the marauding onslaught of any oncoming enemy.

Sketch by kind courtesy of John Northall

Sketch by kind courtesy of John Northall

It appears that there was a wooden fort on the site before any documentation, while an ancient legend of Ruthin involved King Arthur who, according to that legend, disguised himself for a romantic liaison with his mistress at Ruthin. Unfortunately an old adversary, Huail, recognized and ridiculed him – so Arthur had him executed on a stone block now displayed in the Town Square outside Barclay’s bank.

Timeline

Timeline

The Medieval Castle

The first documented castle was created by Dafydd, brother of Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, for King Edward I of England in 1277 who gave the fort to him in return for his treacherous help during the invasion of North Wales that year. Dafydd also held castles at Caergwle and Denbigh.

Coat of Arms of Dafydd ap Grufudd

Coat of Arms of Dafydd ap Grufudd

The castle was originally known by the Welsh name of 'Castell Coch yn yr Gwernfor' or 'The Red Castle in the Great Marsh'. It consisted of a pentagonal upper bailey that was around 350 ft long and 250 ft wide. The floor level on the inside was higher than the ground outside, which then sloped down to the river below. The other side of the castle was protected by a deep & wide dry moat.

The walls were revetment-style (i.e. hard outer facings with a softer inner filling) and almost impenetrable as they were built to withstand any attack from troops or military weapons of the day. This type of construction was used on many of the castles of Wales. The revetment walls were 7-9 ft thick and towered over 100ft high from the base of the moat.

Sketch by kind courtesy of John Northall

Sketch by kind courtesy of John Northall

For the upper bailey a twin-towered gatehouse entrance was built; this forms the entranceway to our Mediaeval courtyard. Six round towers secured the perimeter walls. For the lower bailey, they built a drum tower at each corner, which had its own gate and portcullis (the grooves for which can be seen today in the west gate).

A rounded flat platform for fighting was built above the entrance and a bridge for access built across the moat towards the river. This part of the castle was approx. 240ft wide by 160ft long and was overlooked by the upper bailey. Between them there was another deep moat spanned by a bridge (but note that the bridge that stands there today was added much later).

Between the two baileys was the Sally Port, a rather romantic sounding name for a doorway leading to the outside. Within an area inside the castle by the Sally Port the troops would gather and raise their morale and fighting spirit whilst the castle door was closed for protection. When ready the outer door was opened and the troops rushed out ferociously to fight. If the enemy breached the outer door, they could not gain access to the main castle interior, as an inner door would remain shut.

The Sally Port leads up to the drum tower positioned at the south-western corner of the upper bailey, and a second flight of steps curves around the outside of the tower towards a gateway into the upper bailey.

Typical castle portcullis

Typical castle portcullis

There is a similar doorway at the base of the northern most tower and steps lead from it up into the corner of the upper bailey. Some historians believe there is another sally port in the castle to the south of the main gate, the remains of which are now hidden in dense undergrowth against the revetment wall of the eastern moat.

Beneath the Baileys, deep underground, is a network of tunnels used to discreetly move troops and supplies from one part of the castle to another, and in the last resort, to escape. These tunnels link with underground chambers and dungeons including an ‘oubliette’ – a deep, windowless pit into which prisoners could be lowered.

Part of the underground chambers

Part of the underground chambers

Although fundamentally designed for battles, for most of the time the castle was a place where the occupants were involved in feasting, entertainment, romance, and all the ordinary affairs that made up everyday mediaeval life.

Reginald de Grey

In 1282, war flared again as a result of the English barons seizing Welsh land. At Easter 1282 the aforementioned Dafydd ap Gruffudd of Ruthin Castle attacked Hawarden Castle, starting the final conflict with the English monarchy that led to the loss of Welsh independence. That year Dafydd succeeded his brother Llywelyn as Prince of Wales becoming the final independent ruler of Wales; but Edward I enlisted the services of Reginald de Grey, a noted military leader, to quell Dafydd’s rebellion. De Grey was a descendant of the Norman knight Anchetil de Greye who accompanied William the Conqueror during the conquest of England. Some suggest that Reginald de Grey had previously been tasked with raising the ‘finest army in the land’ to deal with the followers of the outlaw Robin Hood.

In an ironic twist, Dafydd ap Gruffudd was captured and found guilty of High Treason by his former patron Edward I who had him executed in the cruellest possible fashion – which included being hung, drawn & quartered, with his remains dispatched to four corners of the country and his head ‘spiked atop the Tower of London’. For his services and loyalty to the King, Reginald de Grey was granted the Cantref of Dyffryn Clwyd (Cantref is a mediaeval Welsh land division, particularly important in the administration of Welsh Law), which included its stronghold of Ruthin Castle.

Edward I 'Iron Ring' of castles

Reginald erected a strong protective wall around the town of Ruthin and employed the great architect and master mason, James of St. George, to improve and strengthen the castle. James was responsible for all of the Welsh castles that King Edward built, rebuilt or had strengthened. These castles and fortresses collectively became known as the ‘Iron Ring’: a cluster of solid stone fortresses spanning North Wales and used to protect the king’s men during English attempts to reach peace in the war-torn Welsh lands. Each castle was built within a day’s march of the other so that it could be supplied or reinforced quickly if needed.

Edward I then divided Wales into new counties on the English model and extended his Iron Ring around the Welsh stronghold of Snowdonia to the cost of £80,000 (only somewhat less than the £100,000 spent on two weeks of war). The map below shows the location of the ‘iron ring’ of Edward I castles:

Edward I 'Iron Ring' of castles

The castles were to become a valuable tool in Edward’s fight against the Welsh. They are acclaimed as being ‘among the best examples of medieval castles in the world’. Every English county provided a quota of workers so most of Edward’s builders were English with some Welsh workers also. Completing his team were senior men brought over from France and Ireland. Half of these men were labourers, the other half masons, quarries, smiths and carpenters. Materials were brought overland by cart and packhorse and, in many cases, by sea. Harlech Castle was one of Edward's smallest projects, costing £9,500 (the equivalent of £9.5m now).

In 1986, four of Ruthin’s sister castles of the Iron Ring (at Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech) were proclaimed collectively as World Heritage Sites and outstanding examples of fortifications and military architecture built in the 13th century – the finest examples of medieval fortifications in Europe.

Owain Glyndwr

The ‘De Grey’ family remained at Ruthin Castle until 1508, clinging on to their domain through various upsets and throughout the War of the Roses. They were military experts and men of outstanding ability in the affairs of state, valued by both the houses of Lancaster and York. Towards the end of the 14th century Reginald, the 3rd Baron of Ruthin, came into conflict with a neighbour – Owain Glyndwr (or Owen Glendower) – over the right to a piece of land at Croesau (known now as Bryn Eglwys).

The Welsh had been loyal and content during the reign of King Richard II but after he left the throne fresh disturbances broke out. Both Reginald de Grey and Owain Glyndwr had served Richard well and both were well thought of by Henry IV; but a crisis was looming.

Owain Glyndwr

Owain Glyndwr

Owain Glyndwr's coat of arms

Owain Glyndwr's coat of arms

Henry IV resumed war with Scotland and, to raise an army, he issued writs to all his Barons. The task of passing the said writ to Glyndwr fell upon Reginald – who decided not to give it to him, thus putting Glyndwr in bad favour with the King. Reginald’s plan for gaining the disputed Croesau land was thus put into action, while Glyndwr presumed that he had been slighted by the King. A minor revolt grew quickly once Glyndwr guessed that it was Reginald behind it and set out to plunder Reginald’s land.

On the 18th of September 1400, during preparation for the great fair on St. Matthews Day (21st September), Glyndwr’s forces hit the town of Ruthin with a furious surprise attack. His men looted and razed the town but were unable to take the castle. It wasn’t until 2 years later at Bryn Saith-Marchog that Glyndwr’s forces caught Reginald in an ambush, taking him captive and placing a hefty ransom upon his head of 10,000 marks. The terms were very stiff but King Henry VII agreed to them on behalf of the de Grey’s.

The De Grey’s never fully recovered from the severe loss inflicted by the heavy ransom and their family connection with the castle ended during the baronetcy of George de Grey, 5th Baron of Ruthin and 2nd Earl of Kent. After the death of his father, he sold the castle in 1508 to Henry VII from whom it then passed to King Henry VIII.

Henry VIII Henry VIII's wives

Henry VIII was connected (amorously) to the castle in more than one way. Ida de Grey (1368 – 1426), also known as Edith de Grey, was born in Ruthin Castle and was the daughter of Reginald Grey, 2nd Baron Grey de Ruthyn – one of the most powerful Welsh Marcher lords of his time. Ida married Sir John Cockayne, Chief Baron of the Exchequer by whom she had six children. Through her eldest daughter Elizabeth, she was an ancestress (predecessor) of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and Catherine Howard, all Queens Consort of Henry VIII. Henry granted use of the castle to his bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, and after his early demise, to Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick (apparently a great man with deep affection for the Welsh and their culture).

Ruthin Castle then passed from Henry VIII to Edward VI and briefly, at least in theory, to Lady Jane Grey.

Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey (1536/1537 – 12 February 1554), also known as The Nine Days' Queen, was a descendant of Reginald Grey, 3rd Baron Grey de Ruthyn (c. 1362 – 1440). A young English noblewoman who occupied the English throne from 10th – 19th July 1553, she was executed for high treason when allegiances changed. A great-granddaughter of Henry VII by his younger daughter Mary, Jane was a first-cousin-once-removed of Edward VI. Mary I (Bloody Mary) quickly succeeded Lady Jane Grey, and from her the castle passed to Elizabeth I, James I and its final royal owner, Charles I.

Lady Jane Grey

The Civil War Period

In 1632, after costly foreign wars had caused a depreciation in value of English coinage, King Charles I was forced to search for new sources of revenue. The castle and estate, both poorly maintained, was sold to Sir Thomas Myddleton of Chirk. A contemporary building survey of the time stated that the castle was ‘not worth quarrying for its stone as the original quarries were easier to work’ and the gatehouse had ‘a decayed roof of slate and including the wooden joists, doors and hinges… valued at not more than 5 pounds’. The outbreak of the English civil war in 1642, however, prompted the quick repair of the castle at Crown expense; it was then garrisoned against the Parliamentarians.

Four years later in 1646 Parliamentary forces, under the command of Major-General Mytton, were given the task of reducing the castles of North Wales. Their first target was Ruthin. The castle withstood an eleven-week siege during which the walls were massively attacked with artillery. The defenders surrendered only when the attacking forces announced their intention to mine the walls to rubble.

In 1648 the castle was partially dismantled after an act of Parliament was passed to stop the re-occupation of fortresses by hostile forces. The walls were torn down and the timber and stone carted away for use elsewhere. Many houses in Ruthin were built using stones from the castle.

Former portcullis entrance

Former portcullis entrance

Entrance to dungeon stairway

Entrance to dungeon stairway

The ancient castle and the Town suffered battles and sieges and the Town’s diverse buildings reflect the best of architectural styles making it an outstanding Conservation Area worthy of preservation.

Cornwallis-West Era

In 1677 Richard Myddleton bought the ruins and in 1826 Maria Myddleton built a castellated, two storied, double-block of grey limestone on the site, which forms part of the current building. This building was then extended and partially rebuilt in 1849 with local red sandstone under the architect Henry Clutton (later Sir Henry Clutton). It was about this time that the immediate land around the castle was enclosed with a limestone wall including the gate and lodge at the entrance. The Castle remained a private residence under the Myddleton family, who through marriages became the Cornwallis-West family – and at this time the castle became the center of dangerous romantic intrigue at the highest level.

Colonel Cornwallis-West's wife 'Patsy' became embroiled in a long love affair with Edward, Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII). Patsy was just 16 years old when she married and was beautiful, exciting, at the height of society (including appearances in Vanity Fair), notorious as a flirt, and full of enjoyment of life. Her favorite party trick was to toboggan down the castle stairs on a tea tray in the presence of the future King.

Patsy entertained numerous famous guests at Ruthin Castle including Lady Randolph Churchill (mother of Sir Winston Churchill) and the actress Lillie Langtry, both of whom also had romantic affairs with the Prince of Wales. Lady Randolph Churchill later fell in love with and married Patsy’s son, George, 20 years her younger.

Patsy also had two daughters: Shelagh, who married the powerful Duke of Westminster; and ‘Daisy’ who fell in love with her own Prince, Hans Heinrich of Pless, part of a family owning enormous estates in south-eastern Germany and considered ‘fabulously wealthy’ (from Hans Heinrich come the hunting trophies which line reception, which were taken from German forests as well as from hunting trips to Africa). Daisy’s was a “fairy princess wedding” attended by world royalty, nobility, statesmen and high society, and when she arrived at her new home the streets were lined with crowds for miles. She developed a reputation similar to that more recently of Diana, Princess of Wales. Tragically, the events of World War I turned Princess Daisy’s world upside down and resulted in divorce, bad health and death in poverty.

Ruthin Castle Hospital

A LESSER-KNOWN development in medicine in Great Britain was the opening in 1923 of Ruthin Castle, North Wales, the first private hospital for the investigation and treatment of obscure internal diseases. Apart from the inevitable publicity it evoked, and although the clinic acquired a wide reputation, it remained unadvertised except for a regular notice in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine. This announced simply that patients could be received for investigation and treatment on the authority of their doctor and that “mental cases” would not be accepted.

The clinical director was Doctor, later Sir Edmund Ivens Spriggs, K.C.V.O., M.D., F.R.C.P., J.P., who for years had been a consultant physician on the staff of St. George's Hospital, London, following an academic career in which his training in physiology had played a major part. His withdrawal from practice in London in 1910 was brought about by a severe illness after which in due course he was persuaded not to return to London but to take on the clinical directorship of a small private hospital at Duff House, Banff, designed for medical cases rather than tuberculosis. Soon it became evident that Banff was too far removed as a suitable centre and the Company decided to move and acquired Ruthin Castle, North Wales, transferring their patients and staff thence in 1922-1923. Other considerations were the tragic death by drowning of Dr. Spriggs' two daughters, which had a pronounced influence on him, especially as it was pure chance that dictated his walking on the beach at Banff and being responsible for identifying the bodies of his own two children.

Ruthin Castle Hospital Flyer

The adoption of the ancient 13th century feudal castle entailed much capital expenditure. ‘Discreet and becoming’ extensions were made to its southerly aspect to provide extra rooms for patients, but the original pile was untouched. Dr Spriggs and his family lived in the Castle, occupying part of the original building, and great care was taken to preserve its historical features.

Patients came from all over England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland though the chief proportion hailed from London. There was also a steady trickle from the British Colonies and Dominions, especially Australia and India, and from the United States of America, where the advantages offered by Ruthin were soon appreciated. No patient was received without a doctor's recommendation. The journey from Chester, 20 miles distant, was made by private car provided by the Castle.

The new clinic contained enough separate rooms to take 64 patients, these being distributed between the "Castle Wing", the "Moat" and "South" Wings. Charges were high, ranging in 1925 from 30 guineas a week (roughly £3,140 a week in modern sterling) for a room in the Castle Wing to from 19 to 25 guineas in the Moat and South Wings.

Dr Spriggs continued his academic work at the castle, studying both medical issues as well as locally-influenced issues – such as the ‘towering bird phenomenon’, seeking to find an explanation as to why on being shot some birds did not plummet straight to the ground but instead continued in flight for a few seconds. Dr Spriggs was an enthusiastic shooter.

Altogether some 4,796 patients were admitted to Ruthin Castle over the 10-year period, 1925-1935 and there was a rapid turnover, the majority leaving within three weeks of their arrival and only a few remaining for a month or longer under treatment.

Ruthin Castle Hotel

In 1962 it was again transformed by the Warburton family and opened as a 58 bedroom luxury hotel in 1963, winning the British Tourist Authority Award for Enterprise in Tourism and later a British Tourist Authority Award for the ‘outstanding contribution made to British Tourism’. Guests have included Prince Charles on his way to his Investiture as Prince of Wales.

The hotel was purchased by the Saint Claire family in 2004 where it underwent extensive refurbishment and the addition of a modern health spa and fitness suite. In 2014 managerial ownership of the hotel transferred to the Prima Hotel Group, who added it to a portfolio of six other luxury country hotels across the United Kingdom.

Ruthin Castle Suites – After Whom were they Named?

Ruthin Castle Suites – After Whom were they Named?

Room 305 ‘Jennie’ - Named after Jennie Jerome and otherwise known as Lady Randolph Churchill and mother to Winston Churchill, an American beauty who 'dazzled Society' and has been described as 'the most fascinating and desirable woman of her age'. A beautiful rebel who lived and loved with an honesty that made her the toast - and the scandal - of two continents', Jennie lived at Ruthin Castle with her husband George Cornwallis-West. Her room is a striking silver room with a stunning feature bed. An extra-large widescreen TV, large antique mirrors, large corner bay window with views over Ruthin Castle, grounds and gardens feature in this suite together with a large feature bathroom with double bath and shower combination, window looking out over the surrounding countryside and wall mounted widescreen TV.

Room 311 ‘Patsy’ - Named after Mary Cornwallis-West, or 'Patsy' to her close friends and family. Mary loved to flirt and be mad. Her favourite party trick was to toboggan down the stairs of Ruthin Castle on a tea tray in the presence of Edward, the Prince of Wales who described her as 'charming and irresistible'. Her room is quirky, with all the walls painted as bookcases. The king-size leather sleigh bed has pillars either side, a statuette above the bed and wide-screen TV while a large bay window looks out over Ruthin Castle, the Castle grounds and gardens.

Room 204 ‘Lillie’ - Named after the actress Lillie Langtry, a frequent visitor to Ruthin Castle and described as a 'beautiful, ambitious and formidable woman, who was a phenomenon of the age'. Her lovers included Edward, Prince of Wales. She was his first mistress to be flaunted in public and for a time reputedly caused him to lose interest in other woman. Oscar Wilde even said he would 'rather have discovered Lillie Langtry than America. She is the most beautiful woman in the world'. Lillie’s room has a country house feel, lavish and extravagant in style with a stunning four poster bed. Behind the bed is a large walk-in wardrobe with automatic lighting while a beautifully decorated screen hides a large double bath with a wall mounted widescreen TV and a separate double shower. A large bay window looks out over Ruthin Castle, grounds and gardens.

Room 207 ‘The Prince of Wales Suite’ - The largest of the four suites, named after Edward the, Prince of Wales (or sometimes 'Bertie'), the eldest son of Queen Victoria because of the close association he had with Ruthin Castle. Renowned as a bit of a gossip he spent much of his life focused on aristocratic society and 'Invariably awoke in a good humour, confident that no matter what ordeals of boredom the day might bring, he would find some pleasure in it'. Edward became King Edward VII and was the soul of Edwardian England, adored for his dignity and style. The Prince of Wales room represents grandeur and is lavish and extravagant in style. The centrepiece of this large room is a stunning raised, King sized bed with an extra-large widescreen TV in front of it. Antique furniture features throughout the room along with an original open fireplace. Behind the bed is a luxurious double bath surrounded by leather surfaces and cushions with a wall mounted wide-screen TV opposite. There is also a separate bathroom with a large shower. A stunning iron chandelier hangs from the high ceiling and three large bay windows offer views of Ruthin Castle, ground and gardens.

Facts About Ruthin Castle

Facts About Ruthin Castle

  • There are many different stories surrounding the Castle Ghost, known locally as the ‘GREY LADY’ as she is dressed from head to foot in grey. The most popular of these stories is that she was the wife of the second in command at the Castle when it was a fortress and was inhabited by the armies of Edward I. The ‘Grey Lady’ discovered that her powerful husband was having an affair with a local lady so she took the necessary action and murdered her husband’s lover with an axe. When her dreadful deed was discovered, the ‘Grey Lady’ was sentenced to death. As she could not be buried in a church yard (as this was consecrated ground) it was decided that she be buried just outside the Castle walls and her grave can be seen to this day. However, she has never settled and can be seen roaming the Castle battlements, and, from time to time, she has been seen outside the present Castle. Her story continues…
  • The Gorsedd Circle of standing stones is a link with the druid rites of Stonehenge. These, however are a far more modern descent. Each year the National Eisteddfod (Festival of Arts) is held at different towns in Wales. In 1973, this national festival was held at Ruthin and the 12 Stones, which form the circle, represent the 12 old counties of Wales.
  • Ever wondered why some spiral staircases in castles have rails on the left side inner wall on the route downward? Everything is for a reason in a castle and in this case it’s so the defending troops can hack and slash with their good fighting arm as they try to repel attackers, whilst the attackers running up the staircase have to use their weaker left hand to hold the sword In mediaeval times, the use of the left hand for anything like writing or swordplay was deemed a sign of witchcraft.
  • Thomas Myddleton’s father financed the publication of a Welsh Language Bible suitable for everyday use, the first publication of which took place in the building currently occupied by ‘Siop Nain’ on Well Street.

Further Reading:

Further Reading

  • The History of Ruthin Castle, Reginald de Hereford
  • The Royal Commission into Ancient Monuments in Wales
  • Historic Wales, Clwyd and Powys, Helen Burnham
  • Ruthin Castle: A Private Hospital for the Investigation and Treatment of Obscure Medical Diseases (1923-1950), R.S. Allison M.D.
  • Assorted essays and inages held at http://www.castlewales.com/ruthin.html