Historic Landscape Characterisation

Penmon - Area 2 Beaumaris PRN 33470

The church was built in the early fourteenth century

Wexham (originally Wrexham) Street

Key historic landscape features and processes

  • A planned town established alongside the castle with the outline of the town's development visible in its street pattern.
  • A textbook concentric castle and World Heritage site, the last of Edward I's castles in North Wales.
  • The development of a mercantile town as a borough with several buildings of historic or architectural significance from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries.
  • A coastal location, mediaeval port, access to important ferry crossings and fisheries on the shoreline.
  • A very fine English style church with several important monuments.


At the conclusion of the war of Edward I and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1283, Edward occupied Gwynedd, building strong castles in strategic locations and establishing walled frontier towns adjacent, as a mutual source of moral and commercial support. The pattern of royal administration would inevitably change. Three counties were established over the numerous commotes. The commotes still had a role to play but the over-riding official, responsible for taxation and justice, was the county sheriff. On Anglesey in the immediate aftermath of the war the sheriff was Roger Pulesdon. Whether on account of misunderstanding or an inability or unwillingness to understand, frustration and grievances began to emerge among the native population of Gwynedd. In 1294 a revolt erupted, led by Madog ap Llywelyn on Anglesey. The rebellion was put down but Edward, who was already in Llanfaes by April 1295, had determined to build a new castle on the Anglesey shore, at the northern entrance to the Menai Straits.

The castle building began in 1295 on flat ground with access to the sea. The master of works was James of St. George who implemented a text book design in concentricity, the walls rising higher and higher in relation to the nerve centres of the castle, the two great gatehouse ranges. The Scottish wars and the drain on resources, stalled the completion of the defences and the upper storeys were never finished. The castle was surrounded by a wet moat and a protected dock allowed quite large boats to come up against the castle walls. There must have been a channel across the present Green but there is no sign of it now.

The castle was built on the southern boundary of the township of Llanfaes, the former maerdref of the commote of Dindaethwy. The town was laid out closely adjacent to the castle across land of the former township of Cerrig y Gwyddyl. The tenants, who were displaced on account of the building works, were compensated with land in other parts of the commote. The town wall was not built until the fifteenth century, after Owain Glyndwr's supporters had occupied the castle for two years.

The early development of the town
Beaumaris town received its charter in 1296. Llanfaes, lying adjacent, had been a thriving community under the princes, but it was damaged severely during the Madog revolt of 1295. The nascent town of Beaumaris had to prosper and, to aid its development and growth, the community of Llanfaes was required to remove to a new location at Rhosyr in the commote of Menai, allowing Beaumaris to appropriate its ferry business and its seaborne trade. An equally important and pressing concern was to populate the new town with settlers willing to take up tenancies in Beaumaris. One incentive was the offer of rent-free land for the first ten years of the developing town and a shilling a year rent thereafter, for each burgage. It is not surprising that a majority of tenants came from the north-west of England and, in the course of time, the Lancashire and Cheshire contingent would become a major influence in the town. During the first quarter of the fourteenth century, Beaumaris had attracted the take up of over 150 burgages, some tenants holding more than one burgage. Although Beaumaris was intended to be an exclusively English borough there would seem to have always been Welshmen in the town, some holding positions of importance and influence.

Beaumaris lay in the parish of Llandegfan and although the church of Llanfaes stood only a mile away, the community of Beaumaris had a journey of nearly three miles each way to reach Llandegfan. In bad weather the routes by land and by ferry, it is claimed, were impassable.

The nave with two aisles, north and south were built in a distinctively English style with arcades of four, two-centred arches either side. The tower is also of the fourteenth century with nineteenth-century work in the upper storey. The chancel was rebuilt in the fifteenth century with large four-centred arched windows in the north and south walls. The east window in perpendicular style has been partly restored, as have the side windows.

The layout of Beaumaris
The plan of the settlement would have been laid out from the beginning, disposed around the crossing of the two main streets, Castle Street and Church Street, with its southerly extension, Wall Street, to the shore. Rotten Row, in the northern angle of the main streets may have been part of the design or, perhaps more likely an expansion from an original west-east street, off Church Street and parallel to Castle Street. This is shown on Speed's 1610 map as a much wider street than the present Little Lane. However, this may be, if these core streets were lined with burgages 80ft by 40ft (approximately 24.4m by 12.2m or 300 sq m) and taking into account the thirteen or more burgages lost to the storm and sea in the fourteenth century and the thirty burgages destroyed in digging and building the town ditch and wall in the early fifteenth century, the total area would correspond very closely to the 45,000 sq m of the one hundred and fifty burgages tenanted in the mid-fourteenth century. By the early seventeenth century, settlement had expanded north-west along Wexham Street, past Henllys Lane and south-east into Townsend. A lane, immediately outside the walls of the town on the west side, led to the shore at the Watergate.

The later development of the town
Beaumaris survived the Civil War intact, structurally, if not financially, nor without harm to certain reputations.

Beaumaris includes a good survival of 16th and 17th century buildings, albeit part hidden beneath later treatments. Beaumaris is one of the few timber towns in north-west Wales and it might be expected that timber framed structures or the evidence for them, might be found in Beaumaris.

Number 32 Castle Street, the Tudor Rose, is an example. The Tudor Rose is thought to have originated in the early fifteenth century as a winged hall of which a large part of the hall and a south wing survive. Diagnostic features include arch-braced collar-beam moulded trusses with wind braces and bosses underneath the collar, including the Tudor Rose motif.

At No. 8 Castle Street, square headed windows with chamfered jambs and mullions were recorded as were stop-chamfered beams, considered to be of the sixteenth century. Most recently, very similar and important, timber structural features of 16th century date have been identified at a premises on the corner of Church Street and and Castle Street. The George and Dragon, adjacent on Church Street, provides further evidence of timber framing with later detail of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hafotty, a short distance away from Beaumaris in the parish of Llansadwrn, is a particularly instructive point of comparison. The hall and east wing retain elements of its timber-framed origin in the wall posts which have survived, encased and not removed, when the house was remodelled in stone during the second half of the fifteenth century. The trusses in the hall and east wing, the demonstrably earlier elements of the structure, are king-post trusses with arch braces and quarter-round moulding on the underside of a tie-beam. It has been suggested that the moulding detail displays influence from the South Lancashire/Cheshire area, which is appropriate in the context of so many incomers from those counties..

Henblas on Church Street, before its demolition in 1869, was in many respects comparable to Hafotty although larger. At its original core was an open hall, flanked by two wings on two floors and incorporating a significant amount of timber framing. It was, for a long time, the Bulkeley residence in Beaumaris. Before the end of the sixteenth century, a second house had been built, immediately adjacent, on two floors and an attic. The windows of this second house appear to be a stone mullion and transomed type with pedimented heads.

In the 1580s, Owen Holland, of Plas Berw, who married Elizabeth, daughter of the second Sir Richard Bulkeley, in 1578, was actively expanding his estate, and also turned his attention to his house, a late fifteenth century hall. At about this time, Owen Holland, built a massive stair tower against the south-west wall at the solar or private end of the hall. At the same time he inserted an upper floor in the hall and added a fireplace to the existing external, lateral, stack. The windows in the first floor and attic space of the tower carry ovolo moulded mullions and jambs. A close parallel to the stone mullioned window has survived in the vestibule of the Beaumaris Court House and can be dated to 1614. Other abraded fragments survive in the porch of the David Hughes School, Beaumaris, which was established in 1603. A closer parallel may be found at No. 10 Castle Street, a house still within the late or sub-medieval tradition. The opposed doorways and the signalling of the use of space in the treatment and disposition of the beams suggest this. False-four-centred arched fireplaces on the first floor are in a style consistent with the mid to later 16th century. The rounded corbelled supports for the fireplace head in the east wall of the ground floor are of a style which runs through the rooms of Plas Mawr. The more rounded style of four-centred arch in the north wall of the ground floor has parallels with 16th century fireplaces on the island at Trefeilir (Trefdraeth) and Trecastell (Penmon). A massive stair tower adjacent to an external lateral stack at No. 10 is, plausibly, a secondary component. It too, has ovolo moulded windows in the tower. The dimensions of the two towers are very close, despite the difference in scale of the main buildings. Family connections between the Bulkeley family (a sometime landlord of No. 10) and the Hamptons of Plas Berw were likely to ensure that each was aware of current developments.

After 1600 we might expect more of a Renaissance feel if any major works were to be put in train at a property already in Bulkeley hands. Sir Richard died in 1572 and was succeeded by the third Sir Richard who built Baron Hill in 1618. The first house at Baron Hill was completely rebuilt in the early nineteenth century. However, it was probably the third Sir Richard Bulkeley that added a Renaissance style house in the late sixteenth century, adjacent, and at right angles, to Henblas, the Bulkeley family home in Beaumaris.

On the rise of Allt Goch, on the western fringes of the town, stands a block of almshouses. These are single-storey in four ranges around a central courtyard. They were built jointly by David Hughes and Sir Richard Bulkeley in 1613 as attested by plaques on the south and east walls. The accommodation was in poor order in the early twentieth century and was repaired by Richard Williams Bulkeley in 1937.

Eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century buildings are well represented. Wexham Street is characterised by late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century cottages of single storey or one and a half storey with dormer types on both sides of the road leading out of Beaumaris towards Llansadwrn. Rotten Row in this period, was less well populated than might be expected but nevertheless comprises a row of early nineteenth-century cottages, on the north side. Church Street and Castle Street were the hub of activity in Beaumaris. Two very important buildings stood to the north and south of the parish church on the west side. Plas Coch to the north of the church, was a large property, divided in its later years into eight apartments. To the south of the church stood Hen Blas, for long the Beaumaris home of the Bulkeley family. This part timber-framed winged hall of the fifteenth century was demolished in 1869. At that time the old house had accommodated fifteen apartments under its roof. Elements of two other timber, or part-timbered, houses survive close to the site of Hen Blas on the same side of the street, near the corner with Castle Street and mentioned above.

Castle Street and, formerly Watergate Street, was an axial road, parallel with the Straits and aligned on the gates of the castle. There were several inns, hotels and public houses on Castle Street and Watergate Street in the early nineteenth century, of which the Bull's Head with its stable yard was the foremost. The town hall stood opposite the junction with Church Street, with the Crown Inn and stables adjacent. Along the sea front there was a news and billiard room at Green Edge next to the Court House and private and public bathing houses on the shore. In the 1830s Beaumaris was given a boost with Joseph Hansom's development of the impressive classical Victoria Terrace and the Williams Bulkeley Arms Hotel, consciously presenting a monumental fa├žade towards the Straits.

During the mid-nineteenth century new streets were laid out towards the Straits at Alma Street and Raglan Street, joined along Castle Street by Bulkeley Terrace.

The historic character and landscape is inextricably linked at Beaumaris. The castle is part of a World Heritage site and is important in its textbook design and the circumstances of its construction. It was the last of Edward I's North Welsh castles, built after the war had ended, to provide a counterpart to Caernarfon at the Northern end of the Straits, on Anglesey. The grievances of the Welsh in the face of new administrative procedures, in the wake of the conquest of Gwynedd and the result which ensued, was the catalyst for the castle building. The layout and development of Beaumaris saw the adjacent commercial town, and former royal maerdref of Llanfaes, swept away to allow Beaumaris to grow. In these respects, Beaumaris and its town is a symbol of the transition from one order to the next.

The layout of the planned town can still be identified in its present streets. The town was intended to become an English colony but, in fact, the population was more cosmopolitan than that. Nevertheless, incomers from north-western England, and further afield, made their mark in the town and introduced new influences which contributed significantly to the town's character. The church is in an English style and with its monuments, is a very fine building at the centre of the town. There are several survivals of earlier buildings, mostly encased within walls, and by treatments, of later styles. There are also very impressive early nineteethth century buildings which were deliberately designed to impart a particular character to the town.



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