Jacobean and Georgian
Ruperra Castle was built by Sir Thomas Morgan, one of the most powerful men in Wales at that time, as steward to the Earl of Pembroke. As Surveyor of the Wood to King James I, he had been knighted in 1623. The revenue from these occupations, together with a favourable marriage, enabled him to complete the building of his house at Ruperra in 1626 probably on the site of an earlier mediaeval house. The architect is unknown.
Ruperra was deemed 'fit for a king' in 1645 when King Charles I stayed from 26th -29th July, longer than at Tredegar House or Llancaiach Fawr - gathering support in South Wales after his defeat at the Battle of Naseby. Sir Thomas' grandson, was host on this occasion and the royal coat of arms was added to the decoration on the South Porch. The present public footpath from the Rudry approach to the Castle is still known as the 'King's Drive.'
In 1684 the Lord Lieutenant of North and South Wales, the Duke of Beaufort, then Lord President of the Council of the Marches, stayed at Ruperra with a large retinue while inspecting the militia during his 'official progress' through Glamorgan. Thomas Dineley, the artist, in the service of the Duke, made a famous sketch of the south elevation and mentioned the 'majesty of the old oaks' and the 'proud park of deer'.
A century later Ruperra Castle was destroyed by fire. Thomas Hardwicke was employed to rebuild it and the earlier gables were replaced by flat battlements, depicted in an engraving by J P Neale in 1820. Benjamin Malkin, the antiquary, collecting material for his new book published in 1803 described as 'singularly beautiful' the effect of the harvest moon shining on the Bristol Channel as he walked across the park.
Victorian and Edwardian
New lodges, namely Ruperra Park Lodge, East Lodge and West Lodge and Ironbridge Cottage were built in the Victorian era. The Iron Bridge, now listed, had been built in 1826 to take the new carriage way from the Castle through Coed Craig Ruperra and across the Rhymney River to Lower Machen Church where the family and their servants attended Sunday services.
By the end of the century the buildings at Ruperra were in need of repair. The stable block had been destroyed by fire in 1895. After the death of Colonel Frederick Morgan in 1909, his son Courtenay embarked on a programme of refurbishment to include a new east entrance porch, new stables, a new power house fitted with duplicate steam-driven generators, dynamos and boilers and a new reservoir and pump house in the deer park. The brew house, laundry and dairy range built in the 1840s, were converted to accommodate the valets, footmen, chauffeurs and garden staff.
The Last 100 Years
In spite of the splendid building works, Ruperra was now very much only the second home of the Morgan family. Courtenay, the current Lord Tredegar lived at Tredegar House and his son Evan did not make Ruperra his home as previous ‘sons in waiting’ had done. With only a small domestic staff installed, Ruperra was used for hunting and shooting and weekend parties. Even so the gardens were maintained to a high order, with Mr Angus McKinnon heading a large staff. Angus’ wife Agnes supervised the domestic arrangements.
By 1935 the fortunes of the Morgan family had declined and the 3000 acre estate was put up for sale. But there were no offers. The contents of the Castle were disposed of in a three day sale. What remained was taken to Tredegar House, the Castle abandoned and the gardens left to go wild.
With the outbreak of World War Two, Ruperra Castle was requisitioned and from 1939 to 1946 a succession of Royal Army regiments, Signals, Mobile Bakery, Searchlights, Medical Corps, Indians, Dutchmen, were sent to Ruperra to be trained and moved on. At the end came German prisoners of war.
On December 6th 1941 when a British regiment of Searchlights were there, a large fire broke out in the castle caused by faulty electric wiring. Flames were visible for miles around but in spite of the number of fire engines attending, the castle was gutted by the fire.
In 1956, the whole of the Tredegar estates of 53 000 acres were sold off, including the now ruined castle of Ruperra. The castle has remained in private ownership since then. However nothing has been done to stop its continued deterioration. As a result, in 1982, the south-eastern tower collapsed. There are large cracks in the other three.
Thomas Morgan built Ruperra Castle when the ideas of the European Renaissance, promoted by the new profession of architect, had already swept into England. He thus put Wales on the European architectural map. The great English Elizabethan and Jacobean houses like Woolaton, Hardwicke Hall and Lulworth in England are in a special class and the design of Ruperra had a sophistication not previously seen in Wales. The houses of the Welsh gentry in Wales at this time were late medieval semi-fortified manor houses to all intents and purposes. However the Welsh new rich who had flocked to the court of the Tudors wanted to emulate the great English landed gentry. Unlike some, Thomas Morgan built his great house in Wales. The architect's name unfortunately is unknown.
Houses no longer looked inwards to a courtyard in the Tudor style but out onto the beautiful parklands. Private rooms no longer opened off one another and the fireplaces were now placed centrally instead of around the outside wall.
Ruperra is a typical Jacobean pretend castle unique in Wales and marks the transition from medieval to modern design.
Although the houses no longer needed to be defended from attack as in mediaeval times, (indeed their walls were not strong enough) their design showed a nostalgia for the towers and battlements of times gone by, which were proudly added to the square building. Heraldry, once intended to distinguish friend from foe, now became a means of expressing pride of pedigree. Hence the heraldic decoration on Ruperra's south porch.
Thomas Hardwicke designed the building replacing the earlier one destroyed by fire in 1785.
Both Lulworth and Ruperra were burnt out in the 20th C. Recently the restoration of Lulworth was completed by English Heritage. Ruperra has not been so fortunate.
Excellent books on the Castle and its history written by Pat Jones-Jenkins are available to purchase from the Trust.
To purchase or inquire about either of these books please either click on the email link below or write to: