Wales is blessed with a landscape rich in ancient monuments and historic sites. Caernarfon’s East Gate, Porth Mawr, is a significant part of this rich tapestry. It stands as a captivating reminder of Caernarfon’s past and how life there has changed over time.
The borough of Caernarfon was established by Edward I under the Statute of Wales in the late 13th Century and was the centre of government for North Wales. It was protected by the erection the Town Wall, with Caernarfon Castle located at its South end. As part of this extensive system of defence Porth Mawr was the main landward entrance to the medieval borough. It has greeted all those, friend or foe, who wished to enter the town over the centuries. But it stood as more than just a gateway it was a symbol of power and oppression, further emphasised by its housing of the Exchequer in its upper storey. This made it the financial and administrative centre for the shire counties of North Wales. Today Porth Mawr remains one of the most significant pieces of the town’s built heritage, as part of the UNESCO designated Castles and Town Walls of Edward 1 World Heritage Site, which helps to bring huge economic benefits to the community.
Built in the 13th century, Porth Mawr has been rebuilt and altered numerously over the centuries, with the last major reimagining of the historic structure occurring in the 1960s when the present gabled parapet was put in place of a 19th Century Guildhall.
With this great heritage in mind Recclesia completed the first two phases of conservation and repair work to the "big gate" for Cadw alongside conservation architects Donald Insall Associates of Conwy.
The first phase in 2019 saw the building investigated to inform the architectural design work, and dried out, with archaeological work, temporary roof coverings, removal of cementitious pointing to the internal and external walls, and delicate insertion of new services and utilities.
Phase two, which was interrupted by the pandemic, saw further archaeological investigation work undertaken, revealing the tops of the original medieval town walls, along with dungeon-level prison cells and a staircase. The conservation of the external envelope was also completed in this phase, repointing in hot lime, conservation of cast iron windows, structural masonry repairs, and new natural stone windows. This phase also included some complex masonry cleaning using an Nd:YAG laser system which we have been deploying on conservation sites for several years. All of the work was completed in house by our very talented team of conservators and craftsmen.
The nature of the works and very central location of Porth Mawr within the town required carefully planning to allow full access to the structure for the conservation works, whilst minimising disruption to the surrounding community. Recclesia and Cadw worked closely to develop the approach to the works ensuring the best for the structure and the community of retailers, residents and hospitality venues which surround the ancient streets and passages around Porth Mawr.
Phase three of this project will see the North Tower become a visitor centre with exciting interpretive architecture, whilst the South Tower will become two unique holiday apartments.