This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.
Latitude: 52.6501 / 52°39'0"N
Longitude: -3.1605 / 3°9'37"W
OS Eastings: 321584
OS Northings: 306453
OS Grid: SJ215064
Mapcode National: GBR 9Z.64K4
Mapcode Global: WH79P.FN66
Plus Code: 9C4RMR2Q+2Q
Entry Name: Powis Castle
Listing Date: 25 April 1950
Last Amended: 29 February 1996
Source ID: 7746
Building Class: Defence
Location: On a rock outcrop, in parkland to the S of the town.
Community: Welshpool (Y Trallwng)
Locality: Powis Castle
Traditional County: Montgomeryshire
Tagged with: Castle
Introduction: The castle was a Welsh stronghold, probably of Owain Cyfeiliog and his heirs, from c1170, and parts of the surviving structure are thought to date from the late C12- early C13. The castle was sacked c1275, and in 1286, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, Prince of Powys, paid homage to Edward I as Baron de la Pole. A substantial programme of rebuilding followed - the layout, and much of the structure of the present buildings were determined in this work of c1300.
Sir Edward Herbert acquired the castle in 1587, and initiated the creation of a country house from a castle. The first phase of a substantial Baroque remodelling was begun immediately following the restoration of Charles II (Powis had fallen in a siege of 1644 and was not returned to the Herbert family until the Restoration). William, Third Lord Powis who inherited the title in 1867 (and was created Earl in 1674
Marquis in 1685), was exiled with James II in 1688 - and although the Herbert's were not formally re-instated at Powis until 1722, a major programme of work on the castle and gardens was initiated by the family during this period, extending the scope of the Baroque remodelling.
Minor works were carried out during the C18, but the castle was suffering from neglect by the latter years of the century: in 1771, Thomas Farnolls Prichard, architect, of Shrewsbury, was commissioned to report on improvements, and he was responsible for the remodelling of the SW range as a ball-room wing in 1775-7 (for George Herbert, second Earl of Powis). In 1801, the castle was inherited by Edward, second Lord Clive, and the Powis Earldom was re-created for him (for the third time) in 1804. As heir to the Clive fortune, he was able to commission Robert Smirke to carry out improvements to the castle, between 1820 and 1830. Thereafter, the final major alterations to the castle were carried out by G.F. Bodley, c1904, for the Fourth Earl. On his death in 1952, the property was given to the National Trust.
The Medieval Castle: By c1300, the castle comprised an outer bailey to the W, with curtain walls to the N and W at least, and an inner ward built around a courtyard, with twin gate towers to its W. It had previously been assumed that the SE angle tower constituted the earliest surviving part of the medieval castle, but recent research has shown that the curved section of the S wall of the inner ward pre-dates it and may represent the remains of a late C12 shell keep, which was subsequently substantially rebuilt when the buildings were extended northward in c1300; the gate towers are probably contemporary with this c1300 phase, together with the N curtain wall of the outer bailey, with the lower storey of the accommodation on its inner face (the present ball-room range). The N range of the inner ward has not yet been investigated in detail, but it is thought to represent the hall range of the C13 castle: the walls appear to be substantially of medieval masonry. The E gate tower may have been added in the C15, when the castle was owned by the Grey Family.
The C16-C17: Major remodelling of the castle followed its acquisition by Edward Herbert in 1587, though largely within the confines of the medieval structure: he added the long gallery on the N and W sides of the inner courtyard, and perhaps the portal on its E side; there are fragments of C16 decoration in other rooms, and documentary evidence for much more, suggesting that the establishment of the interior layout of rooms en filade may date from this time. Most of the present pattern of fenestration was established in the C16-C17 period, although the window details have been several times renewed. While the internal layout of rooms as it survives on the first floor may be late C16, most of their detail and decoration is no earlier than the later C17, with much work of c1660. It now seems likely that a major Baroque remodelling was initiated after the Restoration, and as part of this, new entrances were designed: new pavilions flanking the W entrance were added in 1668, and the main portal at the E (with a corresponding portal at the W, subsequently re-sited), also appears to be late C17. The Baroque programme used local craftsmen at first, but under the direction of William Winde from the 1670's, it attained a greater sophistication of design and planning. The insertion of the grand staircase between 1674 and 1685 (attributed to Winde) entailed further alteration to the internal layout and it may be that the inner walls of the NW drum tower were cut-down at this time to accommodate it.
The C18: Documentary sources record work carried out at Powis between 1748 and 1754, by William Burke, but it is not known what this entailed. However, it is known that further refenestration took place during the C18 (largely probably using existing openings); illustrations of the castle record some sash windows, and in 1856, the Third Earl remembered the draughty 'French sashes' which were replaced by Smirke. Thomas Farnolls Pritchard was responsible for the remodelling of the ball-room range, which had been detached from the castle following a fire in 1725.
Smirke's Restoration: Some sources suggest that Smirke was working at Powis between 1815 and 1818: but others suggest 1820-1830, and Paul Sandby Munn's water-colours of the castle in 1816 clearly pre-date Smirke's involvement. He refenestrated the castle, re-instating stone mullioned and transomed windows, and also raised the E gate tower by an additional storey to enhance its picturesque status. He also added new embattling, and made some alterations to the internal layout, including enclosing the loggia underneath the long gallery.
Bodley's Restoration: G.F.Bodley made minor alterations to the external appearance of the castle (for example removing the curved angle turret to the N of the E gate tower and replacing it with a canted oriel, and renewing windows, largely in earlier openings), and considerable alterations to the interior, including changes to the layout of rooms (notably the creation of the dining room from two smaller rooms), and an extensive programme of redecoration.
Red sandstone rubble throughout, with freestone dressings. Main entrance between the two spurred drum towers of c1300, approached up steps with balustraded parapet which were added c1670 (the twisted urns on the parapet appear to be later additions). The original arched entrance with its tiers of stepped-out mouldings was re-exposed when Bodley re-sited a C17 portal which had previously obscured it. In the S elevation, the central section curves slightly in plan (the possible vestigial C12 shell keep), with a rectilinear tower at the SE angle.This retains some (partially recut) C13 flat- headed lancet windows (one with relieving arch); the rest of the fenestration was established in the C16-C17, including the oriel window of the long gallery immediately right of the W drum tower, but the detail is largely C19-C20 renewal of the earlier mullioned and transomed windows. N elevation has corbelled angle turret (medieval?) to NW; fenestration largely on the C16-C17 pattern, as renewed by Bodley. The stair tower towards the left of this elevation may have been added by Smirke when he moved the kitchens into the outbuildings on the N side of the castle.
E elevation is dominated by the projecting gate tower, probably added in the C15. Rectangular in plan, with curved angle turrets. Fine lierne vaulted ceiling to gate-house passage. Its E portal is late C17: ashlar, with engaged Doric columns flanked by niches with restored statues of Kings Offa and Edgar and surmounted by a balustraded parapet (the portal at the W entrance to the castle, removed by Bodley to the orangery, was originally similarly detailed).The tower was given an additional storey and stair turret by Smirke, and re- fenestrated, presumably at the same time. Some blocked earlier windows are visible, and illustrations suggest that there had previously been sash windows over the entrance. The S portal onto the garden may be by Bodley, reworking an existing feature. Fenestration in the flanking walls also largely renews a pattern of openings set in the C16-C17, but the canted oriel in the right hand angle of the gate tower was added by Bodley, replacing an earlier curved turret.
Inner courtyard is well coursed and squared rubble and balustraded parapet to S and W - associated with the construction of the long gallery, which is lit by a series of wide sash windows. Loggia below the gallery - 4 bays with Doric columns carrying semi-circular arches - was filled-in and glazed by Smirke. The N and E walls of the courtyard appear to be largely late C19-early C20 work: the N wall at least associated with Bodley's work to create the dining room; E portal however is probably late C16 or early C17 (perhaps contemporary with the long gallery?): lozenge rusticated arch carried on Doric columns on high bases; entablature surmounted by twisted urns.The W portal into the courtyard post-dates the long gallery and may be an early C18 interpretation of the classical.
Old kitchen and servants quarters: These buildings form a continuation of the building line of the N curtain wall, immediately N of the main body of the castle. The 2 sections to the E are rubble-faced with brick dressings, and seem to be substantially of C17 date; the rubble embattled wall to the W conceals an earlier layout of buildings - this refronting was probably carried out by Smirke, who moved the domestic offices into these buildings during his restoration of 1820-30. Heavily detailed with bold roll mouldings, and corbelled crenellations.
Gate passage is canted in plan, with stone vaulted ceiling and two portcullis slots. The two flanking towers retain their internal layout and structure substantially intact, but elsewhere (with the exception of the E gate tower), the internal arrangement owes more to the C16-C17 than to the medieval period. The long gallery is the principle surviving feature of the late C16 period: its wainscoting is painted with trompe l'oeil panels, and the plasterwork of the deep frieze, overmantles and ceiling, all belong to this period. There are other surviving traces of this period in the plaster relief ceilings in window embrasures in the dining room and oak drawing room. Similar plasterwork in SW tower bedroom, with its wall panelling, may also be late C16-early C17.
The late C17 baroque remodelling was probably begun immediately after the Restoration, but its richer later character probably reflects the involvement of William Winde. The state bedroom for instance is largely c1660, although the balustrade which separates the bed alcove from the rest of the room may be slightly later - contemporary with the great staircase, and the panelled lower room in the N tower may also be c1660. The great staircase is attributed to William Winde, and was probably installed between 1673 and 1685, by the First Earl, William Herbert, whose coronet appears in the painted ceiling. The staircase is richly worked, and the symmetrically grouped doorcases at first floor, with enriched pulvinated friezes and scrolled volutes to pediments form part of a single composition with it. The ceiling over the staircase was painted by Antonio Verrio, and has been dated to 1673- 1685, while the wall paintings are by Lanscroon, and are dated 1705. Other late C17-early C18 interiors include the library with its ante-room, both with painted ceilings by Lanscroon (although the rest of the room was re-ordered by Smirke), and the panelled blue drawing room which opens off the head of the great staircase.
Smirke re-ordered the S range of the castle, moving the kitchens, and creating bedrooms in what are now the private apartments. The dining room and oak drawing room were re- modelled by Bodley in 1902-1904, in a Neo-Elizabethan idiom that drew on surviving earlier features in the house (the frieze of the long gallery forms the source for the oak drawing room frieze, for example), as well as sources from elsewhere.
Powis Castle is an outstanding monument which charts a progression from medieval fortress to country house: the extensive survival of the medieval external structure forms the framework for a remarkable series of later interiors, amongst which those of the late C16, and the late C17 Baroque are of exceptional importance.
External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.
Other nearby listed buildings