‘In the close of that year, Owain and Cadwalader, princes of Gwynedd, and the lord Rhys, prince of South Wales, accompanied by their armies, came against the castle at Rhuddlan in Tegeingl, and they sat before it three months. And then they got the castle, broke it, and burned it, with another castle, Prestatyn also to the glory of the Welsh, and then every one, happy and victorious, to his own country.’
Brut y Tywysogion, ed. J. W. ab Ithel, (1860), p. 204-207
Thus the Brut y Tywysogyon in its entry for 1167, glories in the Welsh destruction of Rhuddlan Castle - not the Edwardian massive of 1277, but rather its predecessor, the motte and bailey now known as Twt Hill. And almost as an afterthought, the enigmatic Prestatyn Castle is mentioned - in passing, as if the chronicler was given a nudge to remember at the very last moment before finishing his entry.
The rubbing stone atop the remains of the motte - perhaps mistaken for something much older.
This seems entirely apt, given the fairly scanty known history of this curious fortress. And the little we do know would point to a brief and brutal history, ending in a quite definitive destruction in 1167 and the flight of its Norman founder into Lancashire.
It would seem to have been built in about 1164 - 1165, when the estate lands were granted to a Robert Banastre by Henry II, possibly for his support during his rather ill-fated expeditions into North Wales at this time. It is, however, possible that Banastre’s castle was a rebuild of an earlier building of unknown provenance. Given the importance of Prestatyn as a commote within the cantref of Tegeingl, and the Norman sometime habit of building their castles in the area if not actually within the Welsh llysoedd, it is possible the motte and bailey here lies atop the older administrative centre of the llys, which may have been a defended settlement - ever so speculative but possible.
A view from the motte, looking to the south west across to the enclosure.
Banastre’s tenure at Prestatyn was very brief indeed. As the Brut makes clear, Owain Gwynedd’s successful campaign of 1167 at the head of an alliance of Welsh princes, ended with the utter destruction of the Norman forces at, most notably, Twt Hill at Rhuddlan and Prestatyn. Little is known of the attack that ended Banastre’s time in north Wales, but it would have seemed to have torn down the motte and bailey on this strategically important coastal plain so completely that no effort at a rebuild was attempted. Indeed, in the aftermath, Banastre upped-sticks and left, removing himself, his family into Lancashire, to Bretherton in fact. Prestayn’s motte and bailey had a Solomon Grundy brief active existence.
Still, the castle is fascinating, since it is really rather eccentric in its build. The low circular motte is about 20m in diameter and about a metre in height, built within its enclosure, if you please. A rarity, that. On 19th century OS maps, you will see mention of a stone, which is still extant. It is likely a rubbing stone for livestock, and seems to have been accepted as such in modern literature, at least since the recognition of the site as a motte and bailey, rather than a far more ancient earthwork. And there is the matter of the curious projecting limb on the north side of the enclosure - a gateway perhaps?
As far as can be said, there has been only one excavation of any note - that in around 1913. And a mysterious excavation it was too, since there would seem to be little record of it now. What is known of it comes from a brief anonymous report in Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol 13, dated 1913. The excavation was with the permission of Lord Aberconway, Charles McLaren (1850-1934) who also provided the workmen. Curiously, the report suggests that the site was thought to have been ‘nothing more than an earthwork’ until digging began. This despite there being no doubt that there was once a castle at Prestatyn. Perhaps this was because of the odd nature of the earthen remains - mention has been made of the strange plan, confirmed by the LiDAR image, and what with the stone atop, it is perhaps understandable that what was thought to be here was something much older.
The LiDAR image clearly shows the 'eccentric' desgin of the castle.
‘The walls of the Castle have been found to be almost entire, and one section, which the workmen uncovered, revealed good solid masonry, 4ft. thick, at a height of 18 in. below the ground level. This was on a foundation of concrete made of cement, gravel and lime, over a natural bed of calcareous tufa.’
Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol 13 (1913), p. 350
Incredibly, there is masonry still extant, within the earthen outer face of the enclosure, suggesting a fortress of hidden strength. A wander about the site makes plain how impressive this castle actually was, and how curious it is that it should be given such short shrift by the chronicler of the Brut, how it has become so little known in the many centuries since its demise.
Incredibly, some of the masonry wall surrounding the enclosure is still extant.
With the Edwardian conquests of the later 13th century, and with Tegeingl back in Anglo-Norman hands, the manor of Prestatyn was given to Robert Crevequer, a noble who was attempting to reclaim his reputation with the English crown after siding with the barons against Edward’s father at the Battle of Lewes. Robert Banastre, presumably a descendent of the Banstre that had fled Prestatyn in 1267, tried to regain the lands his family had lost.
‘A Robert Banstre tried to reclaim these lands and an Inquistion held at Prestanton on 13 Dec 1279 found that King Richard gave the manor to Robert Banastre, forefather of the petitioner and that Owanus Gewenet then 'Prince of Wales' with his army violently ejected the said Robert and overthrew the castle. As the lands remained in Robert Crevequer's hands it is presumed that as the Banstres had been ejected by the Welshman Owanus Gewenet and that the lands had been recovered by the English on behalf of the King then the gift of the lands was at the discretion of the king.’
RCAHMC, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire – County of Flint, (1912), p 79.
It would seem that Crevequer made no attempt to rebuild the motte and bailey, but given that he had by the time of his death in around 1316 gained extensive landholdings, Prestatyn perhaps was not his priority. So, it would seem that as the years passed, Prestatyn motte and bailey mouldered away and was much hidden beneath the grass of the coastal plain. There it lay for a time, there it lies still. A brief, bitter life, brought low by the ire of Owain Gwynedd.
Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol 68, (1913)
Brut y Tywysogion, ed. J. W. ab Ithel, London, (1860)
A History of Lancashire Vol I, ed. W. Farrer & J. Brownbill, London, (1906)
A.H. A. Hogg & D. J. C. King, Early castles in Wales and the Marches: a preliminary list, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 112 (1963)
A.H. A. Hogg & D. J. C. King, Masonry Castle in Wales and the Marches: A List, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 116, (1967)
RCAHMC, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire – County of Flint, HMSO, (1912)