Secrets of a Medieval Castle | Chepstow Castle
Hi my name is Kevin Hicks, welcome to my YouTube channel the History Squad. We're on a day out today because we're right on the borders of England across the river and Wales over this side we are visiting my favorite castle of all times Chepstow castle and you can see it just behind me. So we're at the entrance to the castle the gatehouse but there's a bit missing now keep focused Gate Rubble, something's missing here. If you follow the foundations it comes to here, goes all the way across here, and somewhere along here or hanging out over the mighty cliff there was a platform and a door and you had to come with your wagon and have a tight turn to get in. Now this is a design I understand from the Middle East, so crusaders who came back,
they came back with knowledge. But people get things wrong about this castle. We're going to have a closer look at what will stop you getting in come and have a look. The top of the castle here were machicolations, wooden roofed hoardings those kind of things where you could drop things down on the enemy, you could shoot them.
But then if you come a little bit further, the murder holes right at the top here, the stone murder holes. But people think that these two holes here were murder holes but they're not, what the two holes were for were great big stone counterweights, because Chepstow Castle had two giant portcullises, it didn't have a moat around it. It had a ditch around here, but not a moat because the water would just flow down the cliff next to us into the river Wye. But I’ve got permission to close these doors so just wait there a moment can I borrow the key? Can I close one of the doors? So these castle doors have been remade by the British Army in the 60s, the originals are still in the castle but have a look at the outside of these doors.
That's clad in iron . So you have a massive portcullis in front of you, a door shod in iron, but come behind them and have a look at the construction. I love these doors. How about that for a set of doors, amazing and this is the door key isn't that great and there you can see the portcullis behind. and they still work. Come and have a look at these. These are called put lugs.
And if I show you behind the other door quickly the put lugs here went all the way into the guard room so they just shoved them all the way through that hole behind the doors and then sealed them and when the portcullis was down here, you can only open the door so far anyhow. Oh gosh, but on a daily basis these doors were kept shut, they used to have a smaller door in them, that was the wicket gate but I’ll show you an original in a bit. So all this is open now, used to be inside a building, the remains of it are here, a guard room and if you look up you can see where the portcullis went, the fireplace for one of the upper stories and just here you can see where the archway used to go across.
So much of the castle missing, but so much of it is still here. Let's have a little look in the shop shall we. So just as you come into the shop part of the castle right there's actually a little turning here.
This used to be a guarderobe here, a toilet that emptied straight out into the river. This, people call this the dungeon. We don't know for sure and there are a few clues as to hmm what must it have been. The floor's changed because here if you look around over there, there is a beam, a put lug as they call it. Put a lug, put a log, that comes across here to there.
So either you had to stoop down, the floor was lower, or was it just half a shelf for sleeping and then the rest of it was storage. Also here this is actually a chimney, this is a stone fireplace just here and you can see this goes all the way up to the top of the castle. So let people say oh the dungeon, I actually, all right maybe a prison temporary prison, or was it a storeroom, was it part of the guard room were weapons kept in here? Whichever it was, it's, a it's a great little room and I’ve made many a heart leap in here by telling a ghost story or two, but we're gonna move through now. Let's go and have a look at the kitchens So here we are in the kitchen and you've got evidence here of where they used to have the big pottage bowl, but this room has changed so much if you look up there you can see there's an original archway that's been blocked up because we're actually in the cellar part the main kitchens were also upstairs as well, but it's changed so much over the centuries that uh it became an enormous affair. But my favorite part of this, follow me.
This is the very spot where the last person to be killed in action was killed here during the attack 25th of May 1648. It was a royalist officer apparently, and it was a sword fight against one of the Parliamentarian officers and he died on this very spot. These little bits of history that I’ve learned over the decades, they're a treasure.
But we're going to have a look in here, come follow me. So this this is all part of the kitchen yeah, you've got cupboards here built into the walls and this little room here. This is a full guarderobe, this is where you could sit and take what we call a tom- titty.
This is the bathroom, the toilet, and if you look down you can see where your sewage, your poop, your whatever would actually fall straight into the river Wye, and it was also the place where you put your clothing to hang. These were not rough rooms, they were plastered, painted white. There were hangers and things and the breeze would actually dry clothing and it would also, with the smell of urine so I understand, kill the fleas that live on your clothes. But during a siege, an attack, put a lid over this, lock it so nobody can get up and also you have a firing position or a shooting position either for musket or crossbow and if you look through one of these windows you can see across the river Wye into England.
So we're going to get down into the cellars, you have to be careful because I want Julie to focus on an extra piece here, so if you follow me to the edge of the steps let's have a look up. The roofing here, it's extremely rare to see this combination of roofing, this holds up an entire great hall. But now let's step outside. Now look at this for a view. This is how the castle controlled the traffic going up and down the river Wye, not just from the battlements but from this position here, bowmen, crossbowmen, gunners later on can sink any ship that tried to sneak by and it's a fascinating thing because I asked a question. All right, you've got a cog like
my world famous Thomas, he sails up there but he has to turn around how'd they do it? And this is another learning curve for Kev, they would sail in on high tide. Anchor. Boats will be rowed out from underneath the castle. Have a look at this, have a look down there all the way down.
Right at the bottom there, there is an inlet under the castle which is where they kept the castle boats, so the ship would drop anchor, boats would row out fill up with supplies come all the way back in, then there was a great big jib overhanging the castle up here that lowered down the nets and then men running in great big wheels would hoist it all the way back up either to the wine cellar down below the food cellar which we're going to have a look in a minute but it's how the ship turned around that gets me. So it would wait, high tide it's come in, then the tide goes down and as the tide goes out they lift the fore-anchor and the actual tide turns the ship around and then they simply get swept out to sea. Wow yeah, some of the things I’m learning but let's go down into the cellars it's quite interesting. So here we are in the cellars we have the echo yeah,
this is where the food was stored originally. Of course they were all plastered nice and clean there were wooden beams across to hang like smoked ham and things but this room people once again they miss a lot come over here and have a look at this. So this is a working room but look at the finial here. This, 800 years, look at the shape of it now all of this and if you follow this all the way up to the cross part. I always ask the question how did they build it? Well this was built when the castle had no top to this part the great hall is above us, so this is an open space it's also a canyon where a river tribute comes a tributary of the river comes underneath the castle so they built a massive bridge a stone bridge across it. Then they put this floor then they build the walls then they built all of the arches but I asked the question how'd they keep the arches up there, and what I was told blew my mind. So you get up to here, no problems.
These go back into the wall almost a meter, but it's when you get a little bit higher the stone mason set the stone but they'd filled the room with soil they're actually standing up there when they get to the very top they are poking up out of the top and they simply left it to dry. Then, manpower not being a problem, they took all of the soil out and you had all of these ribs and arches and then they infilled them from the top and then poured concrete, would you believe, into the voids and then the great hall will be built on top of it. We often think we're clever don't we of the modern age, but when I was told how this was actually built, wow.
So we're going to leave the kitchens and we're going to go up into the great hall mind the steps as you come up they're always uneven. Here we are in the great hall, there's not much left of it. Much of it was destroyed during the civil war. They weren't that big these great halls, they were just big enough to have your food, your feast, but many of your soldiers would rough it in here and it's quite misleading because during the Victorian times they pulled a lot of this down to make it look more like a ruin but the main way into this part of the castle was over here.
This was the front door to get into the great hall. You had to come into a tower, which is now gone, there were portcullises there were drawbridges, all have disappeared and then come back here and let's see if we can show you. So I was with my old friend Andrew, right, all his life devoted to these castles and I says to him this room was all locked up and I said why don't we open it why don't we clear it out and he put the suggestion forward and they did they emptied it out built the steps it was wonderful because we needed a home for the original doors but when they'd done it I’m in here you know waiting for my school kids to arrive and I’m looking up and I saw two ghostly shapes on the wall can you see the two shields. Those two shields are set in the original plaster those seven, eight hundred years old? It's incredible isn't it we've never been able to identify them but we know Mr and Mrs, somebody arriving maybe their shields will be up there, who knows but look at this. This is the original Chepstow castle doors. And you can see you have your cross bracing yeah, this is your great put lug to lock it and here is the wicket gate, this is your daily gate yeah, you keep this open. And what I used to get the school children to do and this is giving me a bit of a thrill
right you put your thumb here and you draw this bolt back this bolt here has actually worn through where countless thumbs have actually opened and closed it. The step worn so much it's been replaced in the ancient days. This to me is a marvel and I can reach around the front and there are still parts of iron plates on it. Why'd they put iron on doors facing out of a castle? Makes them heavy, why'd they do it? I’m going to leave you to ponder. Let me know in the comments why you think castle doors were shod in iron. Let's go and have a look at the earl's chamber.
So here we are in the earl's chamber up until the 1950s people actually lived here the custodians of the castle but it's been put back just to show you what a medieval room was like but actually some years ago they refurbished it and tried to make it look as it did in the day of the earls the ancient knights but when they put the new roof on they were told by an old workman here, great guy "don't do it like that". Now he had been a stonemason all his life and he was now in his late 60s early 70s and he says that will leak and they dismissed him and he said "you watch Kevin that'll leak" and sure enough it leaked, so badly this room was closed down for years, and it's a shame because he's now dead and gone and his secrets, many of them have gone with him. So you imagine, this is your medieval fireplace, fire roaring there in the winter warming this whole room up they certainly lived in more comfort than you'd think. Castles weren't quite as cold as you would think. So we're in the lower bailey of the castle this is the youngest part of the castle you see Martin's Tower there, that's Tudor. A lot of Tudor work in there.
There would have been like a little town in here, this would have had all your smiths, people would have lived in their little shacks and in fact there's a piece that I know about let me show you come over here. So I used to bring my school groups up here all my children and students yeah and I’d say fireplace and they'd all go into the fireplace and I’d say why is there a fireplace up there and they'd be going oh? oh they just couldn't figure out why we had two fireplaces and then I’d show them there's a stairway up there, any ideas? I'd say look around for clues well they didn't realize you can actually see the remains of part of it. This was a house, one of your black and white timber houses, all the way across here this is the middle of it.
The other side is out the back in the next bailey so it's like a bit of a Tudor mansion that stood here all wood and thatch and that kind of stuff which I think is just wow. But there's a trick here, you imagine the enemy capture this part of the castle all right. They come streaming over the walls and you retreat into the middle bailey. Let me show you the trap, try and follow me
here, it's a blind. As you come around here, it's a trap. If you look behind you men on the battlements can still shoot at you even the doors you could shoot through them, we've got some of the original doors here look at these old doors, musket loops cut in them from the civil war.
There was also a building above your head, long gone, that had your murder holes and then the tower when the castle became peaceful was converted to a bakery. Kitchen and a bakery in here and I’ll have you know I’ve actually baked bread in here but interesting, this will be sealed up when you opened it all the smoke went up this chimney and came out halfway up this chimney so this was a kitchen but originally this was the front of the castle before they extended the castle down this was one of your front defensive towers, so there were no doors either side. Let's go through the door have a look at the middle bailey. So we're in the middle bailey, but when it fell out of use it was the front part of the castle that there was the living quarters if you like. This had lots of defense things and you would have had workshops here but the most interesting thing is the great tower, the first stone-built castle in Britain. This is where I actually shot the incendiary arrow down into the far corner there if you've seen it on one of my previous videos, but this is the great tower and a lot of the red stone that you see is actually Roman as I pointed out this tower was built so quickly because they used so much Roman stone let's have a look inside. This never used to be here, this has all been put later in the medieval times, all part of the defense and these steps didn't exist if you wanted to get into the great tower you had to go wooden steps across a drawbridge all on a wooden frame and that would be knocked down if they were under attack. It's called a great tower because it's not a keep
right, it is the great tower this is the entrance way here. you turn left as you came in that took you up the stairs which brought you out up there. Look at the size of the put lugs the holes for the beams the main chamber was upstairs we're in the in the cellars and it's built on solid rock it's not, it doesn't have foundations because it is actually on the cliff. This is one of the reasons they could build it so quickly because literally straight onto the stone an incredible arch went across here, it must have been wow. But it's downfall was the fact that it was too big, but William Marshall himself would have been in here, this was one of his favorite places.
The top of the little niches there, when the sun shines on it you can still see some of the original paint they were just crosses but it was original paint and there are still some of the old things left here that people miss, finials and a king's head or two. And this shows you that this was a one two three four story building. Well the other little secret in this incredible tower is the secret doorway up there goes behind the screen and up onto the battlements.
So here we are at the original end of the castle, the great tower behind you then the original back gate let's have a little look. A lovely old yew tree here. So this is the original back door. These have been preserved, they have musket loops in them.
There was a drawbridge here, a massive drawbridge this is the false castle at the back of Chepstow castle. This is for nothing but defense, this is for soldiers and look at the commanding view you have of the river Wye. So this, as I said, was one of the towers at the back of the castle this is actually accommodation, accommodation for the ladies so I understand, but if you have a look through this loop here you can see along the castle, it gives you a commanding view, you can enfalade anybody coming up the hill, and if we have a look around the corner through a musket loop. So this is a musket loop from the 17th century from what it was called the English Civil War it gives you quite a view, you imagine two or three musketeers on each loop yeah, they've got plenty of scope to shoot.
So what we have on the top here, that's what the castle used to look like, it had proper castellation so all changed for when they had guns. So we've seen the inside of the castle, we've done the tour, now we're going to go outside and see the outside of the castle, you'll be amazed at what's still there. This is a favorite part of Chepstow Castle for me. This is where a battle actually took place, 25th of May 1648. You can see musket loops at the top of the curtain wall that's still left standing, but over here to the right of it you can see there are buttresses holding up the wall you can see it, it really does look unstable and that's because uh just before the attack Oliver Cromwell’s artillery which had been brought down from the siege of Gloucester fired straight at the base of the wall and bought the whole thing down. Now when the Parliamentarian troops charged across here
they were under fire from that tower, this tower and then yet another tower over there. So once the castle was taken, they rebuilt the wall and they put an artillery piece inside the wall you can't see it now it's all been bricked up and they put cannons on top of these towers that were on a, a revolving platform so they could actually be moved around, but these musket loops here that you can see in front of you they're quite rare to be so purposely made. We're going to move up and you'll see some more of the castle. It's quite amazing really you know we're looking all of this that was damaged in the civil war this is all actually an extension of the castle you know the original part of the castle we haven't even got to it yet, there is so much of this. And it's difficult to hit because Chepstow Castle you'll see is actually very narrow so to drop arrows or to drop shot inside it can be quite difficult and of course as you move up you come under fire or come under shot from so many different towers it's one of the best defensive positions I’ve ever found.
So we got the remains of the medieval curtain wall. Unfortunately because after the civil war these places were slighted they were reduced so they couldn't be used uh against parliament again but this is where we get into the original part of the castle. A thousand years of history here. This is the earliest part of the castle behind me what they call the great tower and it was the first stone-built castle in Britain it was uh commissioned on the orders of William the Conqueror, so 1067 he commissioned and they used stone from a local Roman ruins here there's a roman town at Caerwent and Caerleon and they robbed lots of the stone, so every now and again you can spot a piece of Roman stonework. And what you have behind it is yet another extension,
the rear of the castle finishes just there. Pople think it goes on and there's all this around it but that's a trick right, it's an after castle, the back bit is for nothing but defense for killing the castle officially finishes where that tower is there and it was accommodation for the ladies yeah and it was very good accommodation too. Here we are at the rear entrance of the castle and it's amazing because there should be a giant drawbridge that came across all of here, then three portcullis gates inside but this is a castle around the back door you can smash away at this you can try and get in but once you get in there's another drawbridge and another set of doors just to get into the castle. This, it's almost like the forgotten part of the castle come and have a look just how high up on a cliff Chepstow Castle is. You cannot be attacked from the eastern side, that is the river Wye it's at low tide at the moment, at high tide you can get ships up here yeah. In fact up until the 1920s coal ships used to come up and turn around, small ships but in the medieval times there was a full harbour here Chepstow castle was supplied by ships.
This nowadays is called the gateway to Wales back in the medieval times it was actually the entrance to a hostile territory. Just one more thing before we go around to the front this is an arrow slit, this is an original arrow slit that's not been repaired, but I’m going to show you what they look like we have a repaired one just round the corner this is a refurbished rebuilt arrow slit very, very narrow on the inside barely two fingers wide. What I’m going to do is I’m going to get Julie my camera person to actually just back down because this is where there is a secret to the castle. Right I’m going to overtake you. This is the postern gate. This is the escape, the way out for spies,
for sneak attacks for all of that kind of stuff. There was some kind of structure in front of it, you can see some of the remains of, of what used to be here and it concealed the postern gate, the secret way in and out of the castle. This is how the spies got in how the spies got out. So I hope you enjoyed our little tour of Chepstow Castle my favorite castle in the world. If you did thumbs up, if you're a subscriber hey thanks a million,
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