Districts & Places
High above Brynhyfryd and Landore stands a ruined building known variously as ‘Llewelyn’s Castle’, ‘Castle Graig’ and ‘Morris Castle’. The building was called a castle from a very early date, it was constructed between 1768 and 1774 and it was topped by a fake battlement made of copper slag, the remains of which can still be seen. Morris intended it as a landscape feature, when intact it must have been an imposing building and above the smoke.
Early references to the Castle: - The Morris family records contain this reference - 20th July 1774, Castle building paid a year’s rent to MichaeImas.
J. T. Barber tells us about the Castle in a book published in 1803: 'On the summit of a steep hill Morriston castle, a quadrangular building, which is the habitation of upward of 30 families; these building owe their origin to Mr. Morris, a gentleman who, in partnership with Mr. Lockwood, conducts one of the leading works'
About 1774, 'Sir John Morris, Bart, of Clasemont near Swansea seems to have been the most extensive individual builder of comfortable habitations for the labouring class. He erected a kind of castellated lofty mansion, of a collegiate appearance, with an interior quadrangle, containing dwellings for forty families, on the summit of a steep hill, on Graig Trewyddfa, all colliers excepting one tailor and one shoemaker, who are considered useful appendages to the fraternity'. The miners were from Pembrokeshire, brought in to break a strike by local men.
John Morris who inherited the Forest Copper Works from his father in 1768 saw the need to provide housing for his workers and education for their children, built a high rise block of flats, one of the first in Britain . Comfort came from a form of central heating, provided by diagonal chimney flues with open fire grates. There was a centralized system of rubbish disposal; families living in the upper parts had chutes besides their windows taking their waste into a large container.
Map of 1840
This rough drawing from an old map shows a simple plan and the shape of the original building, with its pathway from the north
2nd March 1811
'The Cambrian' newspaper included this advert:
“To be let or sold, for a term of thirty four years, subject to a reserved rent of £2 8s per annum. A building, containing twenty four convenient cottages for workmen, with gardens adjoining, in a healthy situation, within two miles of Swansea. For particulars apply to Mr. William Bevan, of Morriston, near Swansea”.
Morris was selling the castle, the land belonged to the Duke of Beaufort.
It was occupied until 1850, when nearby quarries made it unsafe. Its popularity was never high owing to the impossibility of obtaining and adequate supply of water and to the dislike of communal living.
As early as 1876 it was described as the ‘Morris castle ruins’. The building was shown, perched above developing quarries.
The idea that colliers living there had to walk to work, they may have been employed at a Treboeth colliery.
Despite its modern ideas Morris Castle was a failure; its elevated site meant there was never an adequate supply of water. Also for miners who had worked a 12-hour shift, had a steep walk home, their families had to clamber up and down stairs to live above and below each other. Workmen and families did not take to living in flats but preferred their cottages, although the building housed some people up to 1850. By 1870 the structure looked like the remains of a dilapidated castle.
Today, there are just three corners remaining of the ruins of Morris Castle, so often called the Castle on Landore Hill, high above Brynhyfryd and Landore, overlooking Cwmlevel Road.
1870 guidebook to Swansea states:
“on the brow of the hill, you see what might strike a stranger as the remains of a dilapidated castle, with a quadrangular tower at each corner. It is not a castle, it is an agglomeration of flats intended to be residences for working men, but of course it is entirely unsuccessful, because no families in their right senses would clamber up and down stairs to live above and below each other.”
View of Morris Castle from Brynhyfryd showing Cwm Pit and the tramway linking Pentre Colliery with the canal at Landore 1885
Castle Graig Landore, 1895 with the Morris Castle on the brow of the hill
Cwm Landore, with Morris Castle just visible at the top of the hill in the background, 1920
The mine building in the centre is the Cwm pit. The posts mark the route of the tramway which terminated at Cwm Level Road where St. Peter’s Catholic Church stands.
A view of Castle Graig from Landore showing St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church early 1950s
Morris Castle situated on Trewyddfa Road, it was a block of flats to house 40 families, mainly colliers and included a shoemaker and a tailor. Most of the building fell down due to mining in the late 19th Century
The building material used was local sandstone, brick window edgings and string courses of black copper slag. These bold black strips serve to deflect rain water, which would otherwise run unchecked down the stonework, but they are also decorative.
The ‘Castle’ was built around a central courtyard with a massive tower of four floors at each corner. The towers were linked by three storey blocks and the whole was crowned with a mock battlement. Evidence suggests that each family’s flat would have comprised one floor of a tower together with all or part of an adjacent wing except on the top floor of the towers.
An early 19th century accounts states that there were 40 families housed in the building, but 20 may be more likely considering workers’ houses.
What survive are the end walls of the north-east and north-west towers, the rest having been destroyed by quarrying in the late 19th century.
These end walls stand to their original height and it is possible to pick out the outline of the mock battlement of black slag and fragments of the lead flashing which helped waterproof the flat roofs.
On each floor a fireplace survives with its flue rising through the battlements.
The four stories are visible, the fireplaces and chimneys, the central windows, the traces of plaster and the hint of staircases. Sockets are visible for the floor beams. If a family occupied just one floor, four towers mean just 16 families, unless the linking buildings included accommodation.
Many window opening can be seen, edged in original brickwork, which contrasts with the slag blocks and native sandstone used elsewhere. Several doorways edged in brick and slag leading from the towers to the linking blocks can also be seen, as can the sockets for the floor beams and joists and the imprint of partitions and staircases in the internal wall plaster. On the outside faces can be seen prominently ‘string courses’ of slag blocks, included for architectural effect and also to throw off rain-water washing down the broad expanses of stonework.
The apparently isolated position of Morris Castle is misleading. At the time it was built there were very many cottages up here on the Graig, convenient to the many coal levels, while most of the adjacent valley settlements of Landore, Brynhyfryd and Plasmarl were still open fields.
The City Council bought the castle and grounds from the Beaufort Estate and has carried out restoration work on the stonework. The castle which is a unique feature is scheduled as an Ancient Monument, one of the youngest in the country.
The castle has superb views over Swansea and the bay.
Graig Infants School pupils celebrate the National Year of Reading year 2000
Painting by J.Young on display in the Treboeth Community Centre (July 2008)
The early morning sun caught between the walls of Morris Castle on 26th December 2008
Morris Castle has been called ‘possibly the first block of workers flats in the modern world’ and a world landmark in multistory living. In use for about 80 years, it far outlived the live span of some of our own tower blocks and can hardly be termed a failure.
A fierce storm on 25th January 1990 destroyed a large section of the ruin.
Described in the South Wales Evening Post – Castle wall falls – One of Swansea’s best known landmark, the twin towered Morris Castle, which overlooks Treboeth, lost its east wall in the hurricane, a gust reduced one of the towers to rubble.