St Donat's Castle

St Donat's Castle is a medieval castle in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, overlooking the Bristol Channel in the village of St Donat's near Llantwit Major, and about 25km west of Cardiff. Since 1962 the castle has housed the international Sixth form college Atlantic College.

The castle lies on a promontory with precipitous sea cliffs on the west.

An inner court about 40m across within a polygonal inner curtain wall is closely surrounded by an outer court and curtain wall with a dry moat facing the eastern approach. The outer wall mostly survives and has a small original tower entirely contained with it on the north, and a square gatehouse on the east. The inner court is entered by an arch on the east side beside the rectangular Mansell Tower. The curtain walls date from c.1300, having been built by the first Stradling (or perhaps by his widow's second husband. The western part of the inner curtain wall is gone, making room for the early 16th century north-western and western ranges; the north-eastern range is of the late 15th century; the late 15th century Great Hall is on the south of the court.

Beside it, squeezed in between the inner and outer curtain walls, is the Bradenstoke Hall, consisting of the inner curtain wall, the somewhat realigned inner curtain wall, a modern wall on the east end built at the point so that an early 14th century roof (brought from Bradenstoke Abbey in Wiltshire) would¨fit. The western range has been largely replaced by a three-storey building whose ground floor is a large modern dining hall with a 15th century roof, probably Flemish in origin but imported from Boston Stump Church (Lincolnshire). The Lady Anne tower on the south-western corner of the castle has been rebuilt many times.

Ownership

The earliest surviving parts of the castle were built in the late 12th century by the de Hawey family. Ownership passed to the Stradling family in 1298 through the marriage of Sir Peter Stradling to Joan de Hawey.

The Stradling family (which included a notable recusant, a well-known antiquary and a Latin poet – an earlier Stradling heiress, also the subject of a particularly hyperbolic lamentation by the Welsh poet Tudur Aled) owned St Donat's Castle until the death of Sir Thomas Stradling in 1738, when ownership of the castle passed to Sir John Tyrwhitt. Archbishop James Ussher resided there for a time during the Civil War.

Thereafter the castle fell into a state of disrepair. Partial restoration was started by Dr John Nicholl Carne, who claimed to be descended from the Stradlings, and bought the castle in 1862. Morgan Williams, the owner from 1901 to 1909, carried out extensive and careful restoration.

After seeing photographs of the castle in Country Life magazine, it was bought and revitalised by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1925. Hearst, who at the time was having an affair with the actress Marion Davies, spent a fortune renovating the castle, bringing electricity not only to his residence but also to the surrounding area. The locals enjoyed having Hearst in residence at the castle; he paid his employees very well, and his arrivals always created a big stir in a community not used to American excesses. Hearst spent much of his time entertaining influential people at his estates. He is renowned for holding lavish parties at St Donat's; guests included Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and a young John F. Kennedy. Upon visiting St Donat's, George Bernard Shaw was quoted as saying: "This is what God would have built if he had had the money."

Hearst's newspaper empire fell on hard times; the castle was put up for sale but requisitioned for use by British and American troops during the war. Hearst died in 1951 and the castle was bought in 1962 by Monsieur Antonin Besse II (1927 - ), son of the late Sir Antonin Besse (1877-1951), and given to the Governing Body of Atlantic College. Monsieur Antonin Besse II is a Patron and Honorary Vice President of the United World Colleges.

Residential sixth form college

The castle now houses Atlantic College, an international Sixth Form College (the Sixth Form is the last two years of secondary school in Wales & England) founded in 1962 as the first of the twelve United World Colleges.

St Donat's Arts Centre

Within the castle grounds lies St Donat's Arts Centre, housed in a 14th century tithe barn which has been converted to a professionally equipped theatre, together with a contrasting new addition of the Glass Room. This offers stunning views across the sea towards Exmoor to create "one of the most inspired and inspiring public buildings in Wales". The centre provides a varied programme of cinema, exhibitions, festivals and live shows.

Hauntings

St Donat's Castle is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Wales, and is associated with numerous tales of the supernatural. An exorcism was reportedly performed in the early 20th century, which was claimed to have succeeded in ridding the castle of several apparitions, including a hag and a mysterious disembodied eye in several guest rooms. The owner at the time, Godfrey Williams, disliked the castle and may have been responsible for the spread of these stories.

Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator
  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com