Jacobean & Georgian beginnings
Ruperra Castle was built by Sir Thomas Morgan, who, as Surveyor of the Wood to King James I, had been knighted in 1623. As steward to the Earl of Pembroke, he would have been one of the most powerful men in Wales at that time. The revenue he gained from these occupations, and from having made a favourable marriage, enabled him to complete the building of his house at Ruperra in 1626, probably on the site of an earlier mediaeval house.
The castle entertained a royal visitor in 1645 when King Charles I stayed from 26th to 29th July (longer than he stayed at Tredegar House or Llancaiach Fawr). This was the king’s last desperate effort at gathering support in South Wales after his defeat at the Battle of Naseby. Sir Thomas's grandson was host on this occasion and the royal coat of arms was subsequently added to the decoration on the South Porch. The present public footpath from the Rudry approach to the Castle is still known as the 'King's Drive.'
During a visit to the castle in 1684 Thomas Dineley, an artist in the service of the Duke of Beaufort, made a famous sketch of the south elevation and mentioned the 'majesty of the old oaks' and the 'proud park of deer'.
A century later Ruperra Castle was destroyed by fire. The architect Thomas Hardwicke was employed to rebuild it and the earlier gables were replaced by flat battlements, depicted in an engraving by J P Neale in 1820. The antiquary Benjamin Malkin described as 'singularly beautiful' the effect of the harvest moon shining on the Bristol Channel as he walked across the park.
Victorian & Edwardian times
New lodges, namely Ruperra Park Lodge, East Lodge and West Lodge and Ironbridge Cottage were built around the castle in the Victorian era. The Iron Bridge, now listed, and recently restored by Newport County Borough Council, had been built in 1826 to take the new carriage-way from the castle through Coed Craig Ruperra and across the Rhymney river to Lower Machen church, where the family and their servants attended Sunday services. This route can be partially followed alongside the public footpath accessed from the Draethen-Michaelston road, leading past Ironbridge Cottage over the bridge to Lower Machen and Draethen.
By 1900 the buildings at Ruperra were in need of repair with the stable block already having been destroyed by fire in 1895. After the death of Colonel Frederick Morgan in 1909, his son Courtenay embarked on a programme of refurbishment to include a new east entrance porch, new stables, a new power house fitted with duplicate steam-driven generators, dynamos and boilers and a new reservoir and pump house in the deer park. The brew house, laundry and dairy range, built in the 1840s, were converted to accommodate the valets, footmen, chauffeurs and garden staff.
In spite of the splendid building works, Ruperra was now very much only the second home of the Morgan family, who lived mainly at Tredegar House in Newport. With only a small domestic staff installed, Ruperra Castle was used instead for hunting and shooting and weekend parties. Even so, the gardens were maintained to a high order, with Mr Angus McKinnon heading a large staff, with his wife Agnes supervising the domestic arrangements.
By 1935 the fortunes of the Morgan family had declined and the 3000-acre estate was put up for sale. However, there were no offers, and the contents of the castle were disposed of in a three day sale. What remained was taken to Tredegar House; the castle was abandoned and the gardens left to go wild.
With the outbreak of World War Two, Ruperra Castle was requisitioned and from 1939 to 1946 a succession of Royal Army regiments - Signals, Mobile Bakery, Searchlights, Medical Corps –and a variety of troops including Indians and Dutchmen, were sent to Ruperra to be trained and moved on. At the end came German prisoners of war.
On December 6th 1941, when a British regiment of Searchlights were in occupation, a large fire broke out in the castle, caused by faulty electric wiring. Flames were visible for miles around, but in spite of the number of fire engines attending, the castle was gutted by the fire.
In 1956, the whole of the Tredegar estates of 53,000 acres were sold off, including the now ruined castle of Ruperra. The castle has remained in private ownership since then. In 1982, the south-eastern tower collapsed, and there are large cracks in the other three. To date, no suitable plan for its restoration has been approved despite the efforts of local people and Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust to ensure its survival. It is Grade Two* listed by Cadw and is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The first Sir Thomas enlarged the 16th century deer park at Ruperra and there were still deer on the park at the beginning of the 20th century.
A document of 1559 refers to 'Rhiw'r perrai', the 'hill or slope of pear trees' but their exact location is not known. The Trust has in recent years planted more wild pear trees on site, which it is hoped will thrive
The 1764 estate map shows a formal landscape style which may date from a century earlier, with 'lights' (clearings through the trees) and terraces. The remains of those historic terraces may still be present.
In 1699, William Winde, the famous gardener, records in a letter to Lady Bridgeman, that he had moved trees of ‘considerable bigeness withe good suckcess’ at Ruperra.
By the end of the 18th century, the new informal style had taken over. The 'lights' disappeared and the enclosing structures in the castle grounds were removed. The formal gardens became lawns and were enclosed by a curved fence.
The splendid Edwardian gardens, contemporary with the building works of Courtenay Morgan, are still remembered today, as is the head gardener, Angus McKinnon, whose grave is in Lower Machen churchyard. The listed glasshouse, the only one in Wales built by the famous Mackenzie and Moncur of Edinburgh, has survived since 1913 in amazingly good condition, half hidden now by thick brambles.
After the end of the war the gardens and parklands were left to return to nature. While the Castle grounds are in private hands and inaccessible to the public, there are magnificent views from the Motte Path on the woodland of the remains of this romantic ruin. It remains an important part of the history of Coed Craig Ruperra.
Ruperra Conservation Trust is committed to resurrecting or conserving the historic features of the landscaped gardens in the woodland where practicable, e.g. by building a new arbour on the site of a previous one marked on the 18th century estate map. This approach is at all times constrained by the need to ensure that any such work undertaken does not risk adversely affecting the wildlife on site. Where possible, interpretation boards (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cadw and Cydcoed) have been erected to give the visitor an idea of how the site would have looked during the various stages of its long history.