Skenfrith Castle is located five and a half miles from the town on Monmouth, Monmouthshire south Wales and thirteen miles from Abergavenny. It is one of the Three Castles which are those of White Castle, Grosmont and Skenfrith Castles. They were all built around the same time, after the Norman Conquest in 1066. There was a castle in Skenfrith, in 1160 but that could have been a timber structure which was replaced by a stone one at a later date. Skenfrith is on low-lying land, near the banks of the River Monnow, which makes this different from the other two castles.
There is a circular keep in the centre of the courtyard of the castle and there were round towers at each of the four corners of the curtain walls which formed an irregular quadrangle. The keep had a spiral staircase leading to the two upper floors but this is largely destroyed now.
The Three Castles formed a group of defences against the Welsh and were built to stop insurgency. However the English kings frequently got things wrong and refortified castles when there was no need. This was the case in the 12th and 13th century in many of the Welsh Marches’ castles.
In 1187, King Henry II commissioned Ralph Grosmont to rebuild Skenfrith castle in stone, but cancelled the work in 1188, believing that it was unnecessary. In 1193 William de Braose, the local sheriff, began to make use of the castle, erecting a palisade and later building a prison inside the stockade.
The castle then passed into the hands of Hubert de Burgh and his family and in 1219 Hubert continued the building work, but the castle was ruined because of the flooding when, in winter, the River Monnow burst its banks. Hubert then filled in the interior of the first castle with gravel from the river and rebuilt the castle. Today, visitors can see the hall of the first castle which had been buried in gravel from 1220, until the excavations in the 1950s.
As a result of being thus buried, the door jambs, windows and original iron door hinges and window bars still survive, almost eight hundred years later.
King Henry III seized the castle in 1239 and had a lead roof put on the central keep in 1244. However after the Welsh uprising under Owain Glyndwr in the early 15th century the castle was more or less abandoned, and by the 16th century it was beginning to fall into ruin.
You can actually visit the Three Castles in a day if you are staying in either Monmouth, Abergavenny or Crickhowell, however I think that White Castle deserves more time spent in it than the other two – but this is just a personal preference.
Entrance is free to Skenfrith Castle and Grosmont – so Kati would like this!