Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries castles were built across North Wales by Englishmen and Welshmen alike, to act as fortresses for military, political, and social domination of the areas they commanded. Rhuddlan, one such castle, was constructed in the 13th Century in a concentric form (walls within walls), and as with most ruinous castles, much of the outer walls have now disappeared. However the inner walls, and the sections that once created the moat that ringed the castle can still be clearly appreciated by visitors to this day.
The historic site is now one of over a hundred monuments managed by Cadw, the Welsh Government’s Historic Environment service. To provide an accessible and well-protected historic environment they manage various programs of work to the wide range of monuments under their custodianship, and at Rhuddlan their most recent conservation program has ensured the consolidation of an extremely important area of the monumental ruins. Located to the southwest of the castle, is the clearly discernible Gillot’s tower. This is believed to be where access was provided from the river to the castle through a water postern, providing one of the castle’s four access points via a dock where ships could load and unload supplies and men. The u-shaped enclosure of the dock was composed of solid masonry walls, with a rubble core, which acted as a retaining wall to earth behind. Unfortunately much of the faced stone has been lost on the side furthest from the castle, but a large amount remains on the nearest side of the enclosure, allowing visitors to clearly see the make-up of the docksides and even discern the methods of construction where the rubble core is exposed.
To help conserve the dock walls, a programme of works was outlined by Cadw and architects from Donald Insall Associates. Paul and his team of masons’ first task was to ensure any vegetation was sensitively removed from the stonework, as this can cause significant bio-deterioration due to the penetration of root systems into open joints and cracks and the subsequent displacement or splitting of stones. A lesser known reason for the removal of vegetation growth is that it can also create chemical imbalances, altering the pH of the stone surface and mortars, a common cause of stone and mortar decay.
Once the sensitive removal of vegetation was complete, Paul’s team were able to begin the process of raking out any failed areas of pointing, cleaning away any earth deposits being forced through by water ingress from the banks behind, and repointing with new lime mortar. This process undoubtedly ensures a more sensitive and sustainable approach, giving the added benefit that the high skill level required not only guarantees a high quality of workmanship but is also more reflective of the skill and craftsmen originally employed during the castle’s construction.
Due to the exposed position and the nature of weather, water was pooling on exposed surfaces and entering the structure through cracks and open joints, accelerating the decay of this unique section of the castle. To combat this, areas of the remaining facing stones and exposed rubblework required extensive localised pointing. Other areas also required flaunching, a method that reduces the opportunity of water ingress and pooling on the stonework. Both flaunching and pointing are done with extreme care and consideration as, if applied too liberally, they can significantly change and even obscure a visitor’s understanding and interpretation of a site and thus be harmful to the heritage significance. At Rhuddlan the extensive collaboration between the client team and Recclesia helped to prevent damaging both the evidential and aesthetic value of the site, whilst confirming an approach that would be both financially viable and provide suitable protection of the castle dock walls.