Since the 18th century, two large mounds in the field behind the Carpenter’s Arms and the old Castle Inn have attracted the attention of antiquaries. In 1779, Edmund Jones suggested that the name Castell Taliorum was derived from a Latin name Castrum Italorum, meaning the “fort of the Italians” (Jones 1779, p. 59) and this led to speculation that the mysterious mounds might represent the remains of a Roman fort or watch-tower. Archdeacon Coxe visited the site in 1799 and gives a useful description:
“On the north-western side of the church are the remains of a fortified post, consisting of a small tumulus and circular entrenchment, which communicated with each other; within the latter are the vestiges of subterraneous walls, faced with hewn stone, and not less than nine feet thick; at a little distance to the west is a higher mound or barrow.”(Coxe 1801, 253)
However, excavations carried out in 1924 and 1925 proved the site to be the remains of a medieval castle (Lewis 1924 and 1925). The digs revealed the foundations of two large, stone-built towers. One was a cruciform keep-tower (King 1983, 285), some 21m (70ft) across with recessed corners. The cruciform interior was lit by round-headed windows and steeply-shelving arrow-loops. Some 6m to the east were the partly-destroyed base courses of a round tower about 19m (64ft) in external diameter. The interior may have been circular or multi-angular and there were traces of a central pillar. Local Pennant grit was used for facing the rubble and clay core, with dressings of stone from the Forest of Dean.
The excavations produced both 17th century and medieval pottery – though none was older than the 14th century (Bailey 1957, 26).
This unique combination of fortifications is very puzzling. The round tower was much larger than the other round keeps of south-east Wales and has been compared with fine examples at Pembroke Castle and Morlais, near Merthyr (Renn 1961, 142). The castle had almost certainly been abandoned by the 14th century (Rees 1948).
An entry in the Brut y Tywysogion (“Chronicle of the Princes”) for 1233 records that Llywelyn the Great burnt the castles at Monmouth, Cardiff and Abergavenny and “the castrum called Castell Hithell” (Bailey 1957, 26). If this were a genuine medieval entry, it would prove the existence of a castle at this site as early as the 13th century.
- Bailey, H. W. 1957. History of the Parish of Llanhilleth (Newport Ref. Library qM230 796.33.
- Coxe, W. 1801. An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire, Vol. II (repr. 1995 Merton Priory Press).
- Jones. T. 1952. Brut y Tywysogion: Peniarth MS 20 Version. (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) pp.4. 135
- King, D. J. C. 1983. Castellarium Anglicanum, Vol. I
- Lewis, 1924. “Excavations at St. Illtyds, Monmouthshire”, Archaeologia Cambrensis LXXIX, pp. 385-8.
- Lewis, 1925. “Excavations at St. Illtyds, Monmouthshire”, Archaeologia Cambrensis LXXX, pp. 372-80.
- Rees, W. 1948 South Wales and the Border in the 14th Century.
- Renn, D. F. 1961. “The round keeps of the Brecon region”, Archaeologia Cambrensis CX, pp. 129-143.