Visiting Chepstow


There are very few walled towns and cities which retain their entrance gates, yet Chepstow on the banks of the River Wye is fortunate in having its medieval Town Gate in a fine state of preservation.   Originally constructed during the 13th century, it was rebuilt in 1524 by the Earl of Worcester, and his coat of arms feature prominently on the outer face.  The gateway formed part of the old town wall, the Port Wall, much of which can still be seen.  With its narrow arch spanning the main street, the Town Gate was once the only western entrance to the bustling market town.  The River and castle guarded the eastern boundary long before the first bridge over the Wye was erected.  The gateway retains its high battlements and lancet windows on both facades.  Above these windows on the eastern side are coats of arms which are too heavily defaced to be recognisable.  From the early 14th century it was a toll gate where goods brought to sell in Chepstow were taxed.  The levies were payable to the Marcher Lord of Chepstow.  Following the death of the last 'Keeper of the Gate' in 1874, tolls were no longer collected.  The single upper room over the archway was once a prison, later used as a guardroom, in the 19th century a tailor's workroom and mid 1950s it housed Chepstow Museum.

Wales is a land of many castles and Chepstow Castle (shown above) can rightly claim special status as amongst the first of Britain's stone-built strongholds.  Started not long after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 by William Fitz Osbern, nephew of William the Conqueror, to secure new territories in the Welsh borders.   It was one of a new breed of castles which quickly spread across the landscape, replacing the old timber-and-earth fortifications.  The mellow-walled Chepstow we see today is an intriguing amalgam of different periods.  Started during the infancy of castle building, it was improved throughout the centuries right up to the Civil War and beyond.  It is one of the few castles in Britain which traces the evolution of medieval military architecture from start to finish.At its core remains the Norman stone keep, in later centuries, towers, walls, gatehouses and barbicans were added, until the long narrow castle occupied the entire cliff-backed ridge above the River Wye.  As a final complement to its strength, Chepstow was adapted for cannon and musketry after a long siege in the Civil Ware and continued in use until 1690.

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