Chirk Castle, owned by the National Trust, is twenty minutes by car from Pen-y-Dyffryn Hotel. A 13th century Norman border fortress castle with dungeons and towers and beautiful gardens, especially in spring. Improvement work is always being carried out to open up more areas for visitors to explore. See if you can find the pet cemetery, and don’t miss the dungeons!
Chirk Castle was built in 1295 as a defensive fortress to allow Edward I, King of England, to maintain control of the lands on the Welsh border. Standing at the entrance to the castle today, you can see many of the defensive features which have survived for over 700 years, but you can also see how the castle has been adapted later in time to be a more comfortable family home, latterly for the Myddelton family.(See below)
Chirk Castle was built around 1295 and completed in 1310 by Roger Mortimer de Chirk (1256-1326). It was an English fortress, one of a chain constructed after Edward I defeated Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (‘Llywelyn the Last’ – the last native Prince of Wales) and designed to help keep the Welsh subjugated. Originally, it would have had an outer curtain wall; these days, Chirk is more of a stately home. Roger was a warrior, who served Edward at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, when William Wallace was finally defeated, as well as being at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 when the Scots under Bruce were victorious. But Roger fell out with Edward II and died, possibly of ill-health, whilst a prisoner in the Tower of London. His nephew, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, similarly objected to Edward II’s policies and favourites, and went on to become the lover of Edward II’s Queen, Isabella, allegedly murdering the king at Berkeley Castle and effectively ruling England before being removed by Edward III and hanged at Tyburn in 1330.
After a chequered history, including a spell when it was owned by the powerful Stanley family, Chirk was sold for £5,000 to Sir Thomas Myddelton in 1595. Tom was a wealthy merchant, founder of the East India Company and supporter of New World explorers (or pirates if you were Spanish) such as Hawkins, Drake and Raleigh. His son (also a Thomas) supported Parliament in the Civil War and Chirk was occupied by Royalists for 3 years. Did Charles I stay there? He may have done; there is certainly a room dedicated to him, with his portrait in it, and there is a date stone in front of Pen-y-Dyffryn Hotel recording his passage through Rhydycroesau two days earlier. Anyway, subsequently, Thomas junior changed sides and Parliamentary forces besieged the castle in 1659.
Thomas Myddelton was the younger son of the Governor of Denbigh Castle but he had left Wales to make his fortune in London. He was a founding investor in the East India Company, which brought him significant wealth, enabling him to establish a country seat in Essex. He was knighted and in 1613 became Lord Mayor of London. He also invested heavily in Copper mines in Denbighshire ultimately becoming the foremost landowner in the county. Chirk Castle was his residence as well as the administrative centre for his Welsh operations and he commenced the wholesale conversion of Chirk from border fortress to stately home. His additions included a new north range, complete with fine dining and drawing rooms, plus a new hall, buttery and kitchen.
Thomas died in 1631 and was followed by his son, also called Thomas. During the Civil War he became a prominent Parliamentary General partaking in numerous actions in the border region. Wales however remained predominantly Royalist and accordingly in 1643 Chirk Castle was seized by forces loyal to the King. The Royalists held Chirk Castle for the rest of the war but in 1646 Myddelton successfully bribed them to return control to him. Thomas moved back into Chirk but over the next decade he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the Cromwellian regime. The death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 and the ineffective leadership of his son, Richard Cromwell, prompted the Royalists to seize the initiative and, through a secret organisation known as the Sealed Knot, planned a nationwide coup to restore the King. However the mechanics of state were ahead of them and most of the would-be ringleaders were arrested before the plot could be hatched. In the North West though, Sir George Booth successfully raised Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales against the Government. Chester was taken (albeit not Chester Castle) and the bulk of the force then moved out towards York but were intercepted at Winnington Bridge on the 19 August 1659 and dispersed. The Republican forces, under General Lambert, then moved on Chirk Castle and on 24 August 1659 after a brief bombardment, which destroyed the Guard and Bell Towers plus the eastern curtain wall, the garrison surrendered.
Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and Chirk Castle was returned to Thomas Myddelton. He died in 1663 leaving a 12 year old son called Thomas as his heir. During his minority his grandmother, Mary Napier, oversaw the repair work on Chirk Castle which was undertaken between 1664 and 1678. The work included rebuilding the eastern portion of the castle including construction of Bachelor and Old Maid Towers (on top of the medieval foundations of the original Guard and Bell Towers) plus a substantial new range.
The Myddeltons continued to reside at Chirk Castle and in the early nineteenth century some restyling was done to create the Gothic themed courtyard frontage to the East Range as well as substantial landscaping of the grounds. Early in the twentieth century Chirk Castle was leased to Thomas Scott-Ellis who again landscaped the surrounding area including destroying portions of Offa’s Dyke and submerging another section under a great artificial lake. The castle passed into State care in 1978 and was handed to the National Trust in 1981.