Great Castle House

In 1673, after the Restoration of the Monarchy, Henry Somerset (the wealthy third Marquis of Worcester who later became the first Duke of Beaufort) built Great Castle House to exalt his standing as Lord President of the Council of Wales and the Marches.

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The building stands on the site of the Round Tower of the old Castle which had been pulled down after the Civil War, and stones from ruined parts of the Castle were used to build it.

Great Castle House is noteworthy for the quiet dignity of its facade, good proportions, simplicity of detail, and perfect symmetry. But it was built as a statement of prestige and so it is all frontage and has little depth. At first it was free standing - the side wings being added in 1863. A striking feature of the interior is the extravagant plasterwork on the ceilings.

After Henry Somerset left the scene the Assizes moved in from the Great Hall of the Castle. To facilitate this the five rooms on the first floor were merged into one large room, where criminal and civil cases of the Assizes were heard at the two ends simultaneously - often producing very different moods.

But soon the Assizes moved to the purpose-built Shire Hall, leaving the house to provide lodgings for the judges, and later it housed a school for young ladies. In 1853 the Militia moved in and the barrack wings were added soon after.

Today Great Castle House is in daily use as the headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) and is rarely open to the public.

Within the house the hall suffers from the addition of supporting pillars and an internal porch, but the fireplace and mantel are original. A plain but solid dog-leg staircase leads upstairs, jutting back behind the house to give more space inside. The first floor is one large room, but the ceiling pattern shows that originally there were five rooms. The plasterwork on most of the ceilings was applied by travelling craftsmen from established patterns. But in the Duke's sanctum the plasterwork was lavishly fashioned with pendant floral festoons laced with ribbons, and is ostentatiously impressive - although the detail is somewhat unrefined. The wood panelling in the room is crude and ill-fitting as it was added later for the makeover of the court room.

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Great Castle House was a power base - it was not the family home of the Dukes of Beaufort. They developed Badminton as their stately home, and also owned Troy House outside Monmouth.