Fortress and Fairytale

Dear John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute,

Thank you for Castell Coch.

Of course, you were not entirely responsible for it – you inherited the ruins and employed William Burges, architect, to rebuild and embellish – but your vision and interest in history (not to mention, vast wealth – weren’t you one of the world’s richest people?) fuelled the project.


You intended it for an occasional short stay in the summer but I can easily imagine living there. For a castle, it’s modestly sized. That’s part of its approachability. The red architraves and shutters look cheerful in a way one does not expect of a castle and the whimsical flourishes, inside and out, (you must have had fun, the two of you) offset its sturdiness. The towers limit the rooms to proportions to which an individual can relate. There are moments of grandeur but it has the intimacy of a home. It’d need some wardrobes of course. And better mattresses.


I’d keep the bed frames though..


Basin in a wash stand in Lady Bute’s bedchamber.



I’m not sure what I’d do with the dungeon – a bath and shower room perhaps.

Burges’s sloping roofs on the towers proved controversial (“Not true to English 13th-century medieval design” bla bla) but I’m glad you gave the go-ahead. They are a triumph of fairytale over fortress, of inspiration over the dullness of (debatable) accuracy.


You planned rooms for purposes and for people and I find there are also spaces for moods – evoking or sustaining them. There’s tranquillity in the round and octagonal rooms beneath their ornate domed ceilings.

IMG_4613 copyblur man

Aesop’s fables were all the rage in your time, Marquess. Nice touch in the drawing room.


Lucky Lady Bute – again.

The balconies issue an invitation to run, bubbling with laughter at the chase. And that lower chamber in one of the towers? Calming and restorative.


The walls are 3m thick.

I know you didn’t intend it as such, but winching the portcullis up and down would be a great way to blow off steam.IMG_4619

You rarely visited Castell Coch after its completion in 1891 but today it brings pleasure to many people. I am one of those. I find it enchanting, as perhaps you hoped your family and visitors would.

Yours sincerely, Anne


A dragon’s tail curls from the Kitchen Tower to the Well Tower.

Castell Coch is 10km north of Cardiff, Wales. It began in the late eleventh or early twelfth century as a Norman earth and timber defensive structure. In the late 1200s, it was converted into a stone castle but was probably damaged in the early 1300s, after which it fell into disrepair.



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