Robert Fitzhamon, Tewkesbury Abbey and the Roath connection

A look back to 2019 when our Society had an outing to Tewkesbury Abbey

In c1100, Robert Fitz-Hamon (Robert son of Hamon), a kinsman of William the Conqueror
established the Norman Lordship of Glamorgan. Within the curtilage of the old Roman
Legionary Fortress in Cardiff, he had built a Motte and Bailey, heavily fortified and for the
purpose of controlling the local native tribes. This structure dominates the Castle Arena to
this day.

The Motte is a man-made mound circa 40 feet in height, surrounded by a ditch, with
drawbridge access. The Bailey is the stone-built Shell Keep on top of the mound, probably
constructed with stone from the old Roman fort. The original structure would have been
much larger than is seen today and it was here that the Lord of the Manor, his retinue and
family would have lived, with numerous soldiers in adjacent accommodation. This was the
true Cardiff Castle. The large building on the west side is not and never has been fortified
and serves no military purpose. It was built as a residence for later Lords of the Manor and
developed over the years into the ornate and palatial building we see today.

Photos of Tewkesbury Abbey

Such large numbers required food supplies and other essentials, for this purpose an
agricultural enterprise was established several miles east of the castle, on the site of the
former Rath, which would have been situated in pre-Norman times, on the approximate
site, that Roath Court occupies today.

Rath is an Irish-Celtic word, that refers to a settlement consisting of a group of primitive
wattle and daub dwellings, surrounded by a high earth bank. The construction would have
a stout wooden palisade around the top and be surrounded by an outer ditch. There would
only be one, heavily guarded entrance.

Photos of Tewkesbury Abbey

The demesne would have been run on well organised, feudal lines. There would have been
a manor house, from which the area was administered and the work of the agricultural year
planned and implemented – when to sow, reap, harvest etc. Minor disputes and
infringements could also be settled at the manor, as reflected in the name Roath Court.
At a later stage, the manor of Roath was subdivided and parts were granted or gifted to
several religious houses. Towards the end of the 12th. Century, a portion of the land
surrounding Roath Court had been granted to Tewkesbury Abbey, a wealthy Benedictine
order, the Abbey Church of which having been established by Robert Fitzhamon, as was the
chapel of St. Margaret of Antioch (St. Margaret’s Parish Church). The area was then
designated “Roath Tewkesbury”. Another gifted section, became “Roath Keynsham”.
At the time of the dissolution of the Monasteries, the lands which had been gifted to these
religious houses reverted to the Crown. In due course they were redistributed, either by gift
or purchase and were eventually acquired by families such as the Butes, Tredegars and
Mackintoshes, who went on to develop these lands as present day Roath.

Therefore, an intimate connection exists between Tewkesbury and Roath through one man,
Robert Fitzhamon. The Founder’s Chantry is in the traditional position to the north (left) of
the high altar.

R.L.H.S. Research Group (Peter Gillard)

Tongue in cheek commentary of our visit to Tewkesbury

Went to Tewkesbury Abbey today see this guy, William Fitzhamon, and ask him
what he was playing at marching into Wales, defeating our Welsh prince and
establishing a Norman castle in the middle of Cardiff. He didn’t have a lot to
say for himself – he’s been dead 900 years. Being a second cousin of William
the Conqueror he probably thought he could do what he liked, but that’s no

So what’s it got to do with Roath? Well, having built a castle you suddenly find
everyones a bit peckish. That’s where Roath comes in. It becomes the
breadbasket of Cardiff, rearing the animals, growing the crops, and milling the
flour at Roath Mill, all so that William Fitzhamon and his followers could be
supplied with sandwiches.

And where does Tewkesbury come into it? Well, it was Fitzhamon’s HQ. He
was Baron of Gloucester as well as lord of Glamorgan. William Fitzhamon
founded Tewkesbury Abbey in 1102, though didn’t live to see it finished but
they did have the decency to bury him in a prime spot, next to the altar.

Towards the end of the 12th century Roath, which covered a much larger area
of Cardiff than it does today, was divided up and a large part of it gifted to
Tewkesbury Abbey and hence called Roath Tewkesbury. It may still be called
that today had it not been for the Dissolution of the Monasteries in around
1540 when the land reverted to mister tubby himself, Henry VIII. Over time it
got flogged off to people like the Butes, Mackintoshes and Tredegars, who in
turn gave bits away, or flogged it on again to builders so we can have the
Cardiff we all know and love today.

Ted Richards

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