History results

While no new documentary sources were discovered, over 75 references were re-examined by Max Lieberman and Ian Bass for relevant mention of the castles. Sources ranged from Domesday Book, through the Welsh Chronicles to the English Pipe Rolls.  The time period
of interest was from the conquest in 1066 to the known building of the stone keep and walls of Longtown Castle in the early 1200s. 

Longtown castle keep

The round keep with spiral staircase is of a style known to be introduced to Britain in the late 1100s, with Pembroke Castle’s keep one of the earliest examples built after 1190 by William Marshal. The stone castle at Longtown would have been built by Walter de Lacy, Lord of Ewyas, probably in the 1220s when Walter was more focussed on Herefordshire in his role as Sheriff of Hereford.

This was a period when castles along the border were being refortified in response to Welsh unrest under the leadership of Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd. Part of the bill may have been paid from Walter’s extensive Irish estates, inherited from his father, Hugh de Lacy, the second of that name to rule Ewyas.


Walter de Lacy’s coat of arms

It is this inheritance of Walter’s that gives us perhaps the most important documents to be reassessed. When his father Hugh was killed in Ireland in 1186, Walter was then still a minor, so the Lacy estates in England and the Welsh marches came into the custody, or wardship, of the king of England, Henry II. This remained the case until 1189, when Walter de Lacy came of age. All this was recorded in the Pipe Rolls for Herefordshire ‘in Wales’ by Ralph of Arden, the Sheriff of Hereford at the time, as was established practice for estates held in wardship by the Crown.

The 1186-87 entry records the sheriff’s accounting for £47 ‘of the land of Hugh de Lacy’. £37 of these were spent on the custodia of the castles of Ewias and of the New Castle, with the remaining £10 spent on custodia of Weobley castle. A similar entry is made for the following year and for part of the year after. These sums would have been obtained from rents collected locally and spent on the upkeep and possible garrisoning of the castles. The fact that the record includes Ewias and New castles in the one account of £37 is highly significant and suggests both castles lay within the same administrative area. Only Ponthendre and Longtown castles seem to fit the description and the record shows they were both operational during the 1180s, both no doubt as timber motte and bailey castles.  Of course, the record does not distinguish which castle is which, but the earlier history of Ewyas discussed below, together with the fact that Longtown became known as the Nova Villa of Ewyas Lacy, strongly supports the view that New Castle is Longtown Castle.

Another important conclusion, which has not been made before, is that the administrative procedures for rent collection must already have been in place for some time, possibly even decades before Hugh de Lacy’s death. This would put the latest dates for the castles’ construction at the 1170s, but possibly built much earlier. To narrow this down further and decide which came first, we need to look at the earliest part of the period in question, the late 11thC to the mid 12thC.

This period is of course dominated by the Domesday survey of English landholdings carried out in 1086. The Lord of Ewyas at the time was Walter de Lacy’s great grandfather, Roger de Lacy, whose extensive estates in Herefordshire and elsewhere in England cover many pages of Domesday’s modern translation. The entry for Ewyas, by comparison, barely fills five lines, showing how peripheral and lacking in importance this area was to the de Lacy holdings. Not surprisingly, no mention is made of our two castles, which we can assume had not been built at this time. The only castle recorded in the area is Ewyas Harold castle, which was outside de Lacy control.

During the period after Domesday Roger de Lacy became involved in two rebellions against William II (Rufus) and was eventually banished in 1096 to spend the rest of his life on his French estates. His English lands were then passed to his brother, the first Hugh de Lacy. It was during Hugh’s tenure of Ewyas that the Augustinian monastic house of Llanthony Prima was established in the Vale of Ewyas on the extreme western edge of Hugh’s Ewyas lands. Hugh endowed the monastry with lands in the Honddu Valley, Walterstone, Rowlestone and LLancillo, but perhaps significantly these did not include Clodock and Longtown, which suggests Hugh’s control over this part of Ewyas may not have been complete.

Hugh de Lacy died sometime around 1115 and Ewyas passed into the hands of Payne Fitz John, who had married Hugh’s daughter (or niece), Sybil. Henry I, however, took this opportunity to reallocate a large portion of the de Lacy’s vast estates and Payne and Sybil were left with about half of Hugh’s inheritance in Herefordshire, including Weobley. Payne remained Lord of Ewyas until 1137, when he met his death in a Welsh ambush. In fact, trouble from the Welsh had been a factor along the border since the early 1130s and the monks of Llanthony had to take refuge in Hereford in 1134.

Ponthendre motte today

It may have been at this time that Ponthendre motte and bailey was constructed by Payne to help protect his holding in Ewyas. Certainly, by that time he is thought to have consolidated his grip on the area by acquiring new lands in the Dulas valley, east of Longtown. Payne’s long 20-plus years as Lord of Ewyas outstripped his two predecessors by a wide margin and puts him in pole position as the likely builder of Ponthendre castle (or Ewyas Castle, as recorded in the Pipe Rolls). More than either Roger or Hugh de Lacy, he had time, motive and opportunity.

The mid-1130s were also the start of trouble within England itself. With the death of Henry I, civil war broke out as the Crown was contested between Henry’s nephew Stephen and his daughter Matilda. Payne Fitzjohn supported Stephen in the wars which followed, which may be the reason that Gilbert de Lacy, son of the banished Roger, returned to England to support Matilda, presumably in the hope that her victory would restore his deceased father’s forfeited estates. After Payn Fitzjohn’s death, his estates came under the control of Jocelyn de Dinan who had married his widow Sybil. The struggle between Gilbert and Jocelyn for control of the de Lacy lands was not resolved in Gilbert’s favour until Henry II’s accession in 1154, but despite this Gilbert appeared to be have been reinstated as Lord of Ewyas by the mid-to-late 1140s.

Contemporary depiction of Hugh(2) de Lacy by Giraldus Cambrensis

In 1155 Gilbert de Lacy confirmed the lands ceded to Llanthony abbey and to those added the church at Clodock. This suggests that his focus in the area had shifted further north and it may be around this time that the settlement at Ewyas Lacy (Longtown) was begun. Whether Gilbert or his son Hugh (2) de Lacy, who took over his father’s estates in 1162, was the builder of the New Castle at Ewyas Lacy, we cannot know for certain, but the hot money has to be on Hugh. History has come to know him best through his exploits in Ireland after 1171.  A formidable and energetic soldier and castle builder, Hugh expanded his influence to become  the most powerful Norman baron in Ireland. In Herefordshire, we know that he was also extending his power base, probably at the expense of the Welsh,  as the Pipe Rolls record him being fined in 1170 for assarting land (clearing forest without authorisation of the Crown). It therefore seems more than likely that this was the period, between 1162 and 1171,  in which the first Longtown Castle appeared.

These conclusions regarding the time of origin of the two castles are the best that can be drawn from the documentary evidence available. They need to be treated as working hypotheses to be tested against the results obtained from the final season’s excavations at both sites.