Hidden histories

Dinefwr is famed for its White Park cattle, an ancient breed

Dinefwr is famed for its White Park cattle, an ancient breed

People have lived at Dinefwr for more than 2,000 years. Buried under the parkland are an Iron Age farm, two Roman forts and an 'English' town created by Edward I about 700 years ago. Still standing is the castle, created by the Lord Rhys and rebuilt over the centuries to leave the great building we see today.

Dinefwr White Park cattle

  • There have been White Park cattle at Dinefwr for at least 1,000 years
  • They're mentioned in the Laws of Court of Hywel Dda, an early ruler.
  • The king could be paid compensation in white cows for wrongs done
  • Emblem of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust these beasts really are rare
  • The word sirloin derives from these cows
  • The number of cows, head to tail, would stretch for three miles

Rise from nowhere

Looking down on Dinefwr Castle

Edward I destroyed the power of the Welsh princes and in 1276 the English crown took over the lands of Dinefwr. The castle survived, and by 1425 was once more controlled by a powerful Welshman: Gruffydd ap Nicholas.

Power and glory

His son, Rhys ap Thomas, led his army into battle at Bosworth in 1485. He’s said to have killed Richard III, helping Henry Tudor become king of England. Rhys was knighted and given great wealth and power in Wales.

Downfall and loss

The land and honours won under Henry VII were all lost under Henry VIII. Rhys ap Gruffudd, the grandson of Rhys ap Thomas, was charged with treason and executed in 1531.

Landed gentry

Dinefwr reclaimed

The Restoration house built by Edward and Griffith Rice in the 1660s © National Trust

The family changed their name to Rice and began buying back the family’s lost land. By 1659 Dinefwr was back in the family and Edward Rice started to build himself a new house. Old paintings of Dinefwr show the castle standing in mature trees, looking down over spindly rows of young plants and the newly painted house.

Graceful grounds

View of Newton House at the end of the 18th century © National Trust

By the 18th century these early formal gardens were gone. You can just see the remains of avenues of lime and chestnut trees among the informal clumps which were added by George Rice and his wealthy wife Cecil. They spent much of their time in London and were influenced by new ideas of philosophy and culture, especially the view that nature could be art.

Picture perfect

Victorian view of Dinefwr Castle © Charles Vaughan Johnson

Later in the 18th century, people of fashion adopted a more rugged approach to landscape design known as the Picturesque. The south and west of Dinefwr Park, with its mature trees and ruined castle looming on the skyline, provided a ready-made Picturesque landscape. It became one of the most significant parks in Britain, frequently painted, sketched and written about.