Manorbier Castle gatehouuse
Manorbier Castle gatehouuse
When the Norman invaders of Wales successfully subdued Pembrokeshire they divided up the newly conquered territory amongst the nobles who had led the fight. One of those nobles was Odo de Barri often Anglicised as Barry), who in 1093 was granted lands at Manorbier, south east of Pembroke, along with estates at Begelly and Penally.

Odo built a fortress of timber and earth to control his new territory. That timber fortress was gradually replaced by a stone structure by his son, William.
The castle is composed of a rectangular curtain wall on top of a natural promontory, with a mix of round and square towers punctuating the wall. The castle was set within a dry moat leading to an outer ward, defended by earthworks. The tower gateway was fitted with a portcullis and huge doors.

The most impressive part of the inner ward is the domestic range, with a Great Hall built shortly after 1140. Unlike many Welsh castles, the hall keep was not a separate structure, but was built into the curtain wall. Next to the hall, along the south wall of the castle's inner ward, wee the buttery and pantry, kitchens, and ovens. Over the buttery you can see what remains of the solar, or family quarters. Facing the inner ward is a dovecote, with nesting boxes for hundreds of pigeons.
The exterior of the curtain wall
The exterior of the curtain wall
Another highlight is the chapel, added around 1260. The chapel features a 13th century piscina and sedilia, or seat for the priest, and extremely fine vaulting with plasterwork detail, and you can still see traces of the original medieval wall paintings. Beneath the chapel is a sub-chapel, a vaulted chamber set into the earth, with a large Elizabethan fireplace.

Odo's fourth son, Gerald, was born at the rudimentary castle in 1146, and grew to become one of the most famous scholars and writers of the medieval world. Known to history as Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), he wrote historical chronicles and descriptions of medieval life that together make up some of our best sources on the medieval history of Wales and the medieval church. Gerald was related on his mother's side to Princess Nest, the 'Helen of Wales'.
Gerald must have loved his birthplace, for he wrote in later years 'In all the broad lands of Wales, Manorbier is the most pleasant place by far'. He also gives a very complete description of the castle, extolling its 'excellently well defended turrets and bulwarks', and its 'salubrious air'.

The inner ward
The inner ward
We do not know for certain, but Gerald was probably born in the family's solar, or private quarters, the ruins of which can be seen above the buttery on the south wall. You can still see the windows and fireplace that helped make the solar a comfortable family room, at least by the standards of the times.

In 1327 Richard de Barri attacked his own castle during a family squabble over inheritance of the estate.
The De Barris owned Manorbier until 1359. After that time the castle changed hands with bewildering frequency, until eventually becoming crown property in the late 15th century. By the reign of Elizabeth I the castle was recorded as ruinous. Small wonder, then, that the crown sold the manor to the Bowen family of Trefloyne.

Manorbier's decline accelerated during the Civil War period. The Bowens family supported the Royalist cause, and Parliamentary troops attacked and captured the castle. The did not want Manorbier to be held against them in future so the castle was 'slighted'; damaged so that it would be of no practical military value.
Gerald of Wales birthplace exhibit
Gerald of Wales birthplace exhibit
The Bowens sold Manorbier to the Philipps family of Picton Castle in 1670. The Philipps family held the castle for 2 centuries before leasing it to JR Cobb in 1880. Cobb was fascinated by castles. He was an avid antiquarian, and was responsible for restoring several medieval castles in Pembrokeshire.

It was Cobb who reversed the decay and neglect of centuries by beginning to restore the castle. He laid out wonderful picturesque gardens in the inner ward, and restored the chapel, gatehouse, and round tower to useable state. Other than the castle itself there is alsop a restored mill and dovecote.

One of the most interesting features are the huge hearths set against the south and west walls. The hearths rise to ornate Flemish chimney stacks. The hearths wee probably not used for preparing food, but for forging metal.

The location is one of the most appealing features of Manorbier. The castle occupies a fantastically scenic position overlooking a sheltered beach, with fabulous coastal views. The location was one of the reasons Manorbier was chosen to represent Cair Paravel in the BBC television version of CS Lewis' classic, 'The Chronicles of Narnia' (not the 2005 film version).

On a rise facing the castle is the striking medieval parish church of St James, well worth the short walk to explore. You can also make out the remains of the castle's medieval fishponds.

Manorbier Castle is open daily. It is without doubt one of the most enjoyable Welsh castles I've had the pleasure of visiting. The location is superb, and the combination of the restored medieval rooms and the castle gardens make it an unforgettable pace to visit. It baffles me why Manorbier is not better known, but I highly recommend a visit.

About Manorbier Castle
Address: Manorbier, Pembrokeshire, Wales, SA70 7SY
Attraction Type: Castle
Location: Off the B4585 about 3 miles west of Penally
Website: Manorbier Castle
Phone: 01834 871394
Location map
OS: SS064977
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Manorbier, St James Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

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Carswell Medieval House - 2.9 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Lamphey Bishop's Palace - 3.5 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Carew Cross - 3.9 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Carew, St John the Baptist - 3.9 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Carew Castle - 3.9 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Tenby Castle - 4.5 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

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Tourist Information Centre
Unit 2
The Gateway Complex
SA70 7LT
Tel: 01834 842 402
Fax: 01834 845 439