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Castle Builders

Architectural historian Dr Nicola Coldstream examines the careers of two master masons, one from Savoy and one from Chester, who helped create some of the finest castles in Wales.

It is generally conceded that, following his triumphant conquest of Wales, Edward I ordered to be constructed some of the finest castles in Britain. But who exactly designed them? And who managed this massive construction project? In general, little is known about the lives and careers of medieval master masons - the equivalent of today's architects. However, as architectural historian Dr Nicola Coldstream argues, we are fortunate in the case of these particular castles to be able to follow the careers of two men in particular: Master James of Savoy, and Master Hugh of Chester. In recent years, much has been made of Master James' architectural genius, a man drafted in from the continent to help bring Edward's project into being. However, as Dr Coldstream argues, Master James' knowledge has been exaggerated. Instead, it appears more likely that his genius lay more in project management than in castle design. Not that that was any lesser task: overseeing various building sites, where thousands of craftsmen were deployed, was no sinecure. There is little doubt that the King valued both James' and Hugh's efforts: they were privileged to have audience with the king, and it is possible that Edward had some involvement in the design of the castles by which he would seal his conquest of the Welsh people.

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