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Montgomeryshire collections


Vol. 73 1985

Powis Castle : recent excavations and observations /

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C. J. ARNOLD. B.A.. PhD.
The nature of the development of Powis Castle in the medieval period is obscure. The
documentary material is sparse, and that which exists is not specific about what changes might
have been taking place at which castle and there are great dangers in extrapolating from such
sources, thereby imbuing modern guesswork or assumption with an air of authority. The
frequent rebuilding and modernisation of the structure made necessary by near continuous
occupation, have masked the earlier structures and the relationships between phases of con-
struction. While such alterations have varied in their severity, no recording of the original
structure, above or below ground, appears to have been deliberately made the extent of
rebuilding and alteration in more recent centuries is most easily discerned from architects'
plans, such as that made in 17522 which provides a valuable insight to the layout prior to the
extensive modern rebuilding programmes, for instance that of Sir Robert Smirke 1815-18.
The problematical early history of the castles in the Welshpool area and aspects of the fabric
of the medieval castle of Powis have been discussed in recent years3, but much of this work is
weakened by the inevitable desire to integrate the two sources of information identifiable
structural phases are linked to specific historic references or the lifetime of certain individuals.
But by this method the historical evidence takes precedence over the material evidence and
comprehension of the structure is stultified as nothing is deemed to have happened at Powis
Castle during those periods about which the written sources are silent. Many of the early written
sources are ambiguous, but tend to become more certainly attributable to Powis Castle when a
structural phase could 'fit'; it would be easy to overlook the fact that none of the earlier phases of
the stone castle are independently dated, and the over-reliance on the written sources has
resulted in the 'first' phase being placed at various times within very broad chronological limits,
ranging from 1197 to 1353. The situation might be eased somewhat if it had not been assumed
that the first stone castle was part of the present one thereby ignoring the (equally tenuous)
suggestion that the nearby motte and bailey castle, the Lady's Mount, may have incorporated a
stone shell keep, about which Spurgeon had reservations7; similarly, there are no grounds for
believing that what is considered to be the earliest visible stone phase at Powis Castle is, indeed,
the earliest.
Recently alterations and repairs have been carried out by the National Trust which have
provided opportunities for excavation and recording of parts of the structure prior to their
destruction or their being hidden from view again for many years. Such details are of no less
value for being disjointed fragments, and the accumulation of such data is crucial to understand-
ing the development of the castle and its role in medieval society in the long term.
'R. Morgan. 'A Note on Powis Castle' Mont. Calls.. 68 (1980), 90-92; C. J. Spurgeon, The Castles of Montgomeryshire'
Mont Coils., 59. (1965-6), 38-9. 53-4.
This plan is in the possession of the Earl of Powis; the writer is grateful to Mr. N. Williams for making it possible to
consult a copy of the plan.
3R. Radford. 'Powis Castle' in Programme Booklet for Newtown Meeting, 1962 (Camb. Arch. Assoc., 1962), 25-7;
Spurgeon. op. cit. in note 1; R. Morgan, The Foundation of the Borough of Welshpool' Mont. Colls., 65 (1977), 22-3;
Morgan, op. cit. in note 1.
4Radford, op. cit. in note 3. 26.
^Morgan (1977), op. cit. in note 3, 23.
"Radford, op. cit. in note 3. 25-6.
7Spurgeon, op. cit. in note 1, 13.
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