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History of Magram Castle

Margam Castle is set in 850 acres of beautiful parkland where there is evidence of over 4,000 years of continuous habitation and use. The country estate is situated two miles east of Port Talbot on the narrow coastal plain, set on the southern slopes of Mynydd Margam, a forested mountain. Its history can be traced back even to pre-historic times, and in fact Bronze Age and Iron Age relics have been found close by, evidence of Roman and Celtic occupation.

The Castle is one of three notable buildings situated in what is known as the Margam County Park, which was once owned by the Mansel Talbot family. The other two are Margam Abbey, a Cistercian Monastery, and the 18th century Orangery. The Abbey was built in 1147 by Sir Robert, Earl of Gloucester, the illegitimate son of King Henry I. At the time it was the largest and wealthiest Abbey in Wales, however during the Dissolution period proclaimed by King Henry VIII in 1536, the last monks remaining were evicted and the site fell into the hands of Sir Rice Mansel of Gower. The remains of the Abbey are extensive and the remains of the Chapter House are to be found between the Castle and the Orangery. There were various restoration attempts on the abbey throughout the 19th and 20th century, which altered it significantly since it was rebuilt in the Norman style. The magnificent Burne-Jones windows in the west end are to be noted. The surviving buildings form a unique record of the historical and architectural development of the Castle.

In the early 19th century the park was further enhanced and extended and the present Margam Castle was built in the ‘Tudor’ style. The Margam Estate had been in the Mansel Talbot family since 1536, however Thomas Mansel Talbot had demolished the original mansion house in 1787 to replace it with the Orangery that can be seen in the gardens today. The house we know as Margam Castle at present, started to be built in 1830 and took 10 years to finish, at a cost of £50,000; the equivalent of several millions of pounds today. It was Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot who took this project upon himself as soon as he finished his Grand Tour of Europe and came back to Wales. He chose the site for the new big house deliberately for its historic associations and picturesque position at the foot of the wooded hill Mynydd-y-Castell, which was the site of Margam’s oldest habitation.

The new Castle was designed in the Tudor Gothic style by the architect Thomas Hopper. Elements of architectural style were borrowed from Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, which was the ancestral home of the Talbots, as well as Melbury House in Dorset, home of his mother’s family.

Henry Box Talbot, Mansel’s cousin, was a frequent visitor to the Castle. Fox Talbott was a pioneer in the field of photography and the Castle featured in some of his early photographic experiments. Margam is in fact known as being one of the earliest locations used in Welsh photography, as one of Fox Talbott’s most well-known photographs shows the south west facade of Margam Castle.

Christopher Rice Talbot died in 1890, leaving ownership of the Castle to his daughter Emily Charlotte Talbot, who made various changes to the house. New bathrooms and plumbing were installed and the central heating was improved. The billiard room was also added. After her death in 1918, the Castle passed on to her nephew, Captain Andrew Mansel Talbot Fletcher, who often opened the grounds to the public, hosting events and celebrations. He converted the old stable block to a squash court and garage in 1930. In 1942 the Castle was sold to a local landowner David Evans Bevan, who let it fall into disrepair.

During World War II, both the British and American troops were posted at Margam Castle. In 1973 Evans Bevan decided to sell the whole Estate, which was purchased by Glamorgan County Council for £400,000. In 1977, there was a fire which caused quite substantial damage. A restoration programme was undertaken, which is continuing with the aid of the present owners, the Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council.