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It’s been nearly 80 years since a fire ripped through Ruperra Castle – leaving it in the ruinous state it remains in to this day.
The Grade II* listed Ruperra Castle, which is a scheduled monument near the small village of Draethen, was built in 1626.
A castle with a storied history, Ruperra was used as a base to train soldiers during World War II.
On December 6, 1941, when a unit of searchlight engineers were stationed at Ruperra, a fire broke out in the castle’s roof and quickly engulfed the castle, gutting it from the inside.
To mark the 80th anniversary of the fire, the Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust – which was set up 25 years ago to campaign for the castle’s restoration – has organised a drama performance.
The hour-long performance, which will bring to life the recollections of soldiers based at the castle during the war, will be held at Machen United Services Club on Thursday, December 9.
The play will be performed by Caerphilly-based theatre group Cwmni Cwm Ni.
Tickets can be booked on Eventbrite.
The trust is also offering a free copy of their book, Ruperra Castle War and Flames 1939-1946 – to any new member that joins the trust before the end of 2021. The book contains first-hand accounts from soldiers who were based at the castle, as well as residents who lives in the area at the time.
Jack Hanbury, Patron of Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust and Deputy Lieutenant of Gwent, said: “It is a great shame that Ruperra Castle, once truly a castle fit for a king, has been neglected for so long.
“The Trust wants to see the castle rescued from its current ruinous state, and for its magnificent setting to be respected as a haven for wildlife and as a lung for the surrounding conurbations of Newport, Cardiff and Caerphilly.
“We want to help and encourage the current owners to restore the Castle and protect its gardens and outbuildings. This is a great opportunity for the local community to help save this iconic building from collapse.”
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History of Ruperra Castle
The castle was once part of the Tredegar Estate, which covered 53,000 acres – the equivalent to more than 35,000 football pitches.
In 1875, Crimea War veteran Godfrey Morgan became Lord Tredegar. He then moved from Ruperra Castle to live in Tredegar House, Newport, as was tradition for whoever held the Lord Tredegar title, while his brother, Freddie, resided at Ruperra Castle.
After Freddie’s death in 1909, his son, Courtenay, continued to live at the castle and maintained it for his son, Evan, to inherit.
But Courtenay lived a lavish lifestyle and after his death in 1934, there were three large death duties to be paid.
This, coupled with the economic downturn meant the castle and its 3,000 acre grounds were put up for sale – but there were no offers to buy it.
With the threat of war looming, the Ministry of Defence saw the castle as an ideal location to accommodate and train soldiers, due to its size and location close to the Bristol Channel.
Base for soldiers
The first soldiers to move into the castle were from the Cardiff Territorial Army, which formed the Royal Corps of Signals when the outbreak of war seemed imminent.
They were to be trained as dispatch riders and to service the cars and transport needed.
Once the Royal Corps of Signals were trained and ready for action, the regiment moved out of the castle in June 1940, with a Royal Army Service Corps bakery unit moving in soon after.
Norman Baxter, who was from Gillingham, was part of the army bakery that moved into Ruperra Castle.
Having been sent to Normandy to hold back the Nazis, the bakers were ordered to evacuate from Dunkirk and return to Britain as the Nazis advanced through France.
They then headed to Ruperra Castle, via Hereford, where they were given blankets to sleep on the floor. They weren’t able to do any baking at Ruperra as all their equipment had been left in Normandy.
But while at Ruperra, the bakers still had to get up in the early hours to do drills in preparation for a possible Nazi invasion of the UK.
Between August and October 1940, a battalion of Dutch soldiers – the Princess Irene Brigade – were stationed at the castle.
A number of these soldiers had escaped the Netherlands before the Nazis had invaded.
Soldiers from the Royal Army Medical Corps were also trained at Ruperra, while soldiers from the British Indian Army were also based at Ruperra for a time.
Fire and legacy
Luckily, nobody was killed in the fire, but there were reports of injuries.
The fire was caused by an electrical fault, with the wet weather halting the spread of the fire to nearby farmland.
The next morning, the world woke up to news of Japan’s surprise military attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which resulted in the United States entering the war.
Despite the fire, the castle still remained a key training base during the war, with soldiers staying in the stables next to the castle’s burned-out shell, while other soldiers were provided with tents and nissen huts and stayed in the castle itself, sleeping on the floor.
In 1981, the castle’s south east tower fell down.
The castle is currently privately-owned. In 1998, it was bought by businessman Ashraf Barakat, who wanted to knock it down to build luxury flats. These plans were rejected in 2009, and so Mr Barakat sold the site.
In 2019, the current owners submitted controversial plans to turn the stable blocks next to the castle into flats, which would have required moving a protected bat roost. These plans were criticised by the Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust.
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