In the Welsh classic, the Mabinogian, Macsin Wledig has a dream in which he 'could see a great castle, the fairest that mortal had ever seen.' In reality Macsin Wledig was the Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus who ruled for a few years after 383 AD and married Elen, a British princess. As part of her maiden fee she demanded three strongholds 'And she chose that the most exalted stronghold should be made for her in Arfon, and soil from Rome was brought there so that it might be healthier for the Emperor to sleep and sit and move about.'
When Edward I came to build his castle at Caernarfon in the late 13th century he would have been aware of this legend which establishes the city as the seat of Imperial power in the Welsh imagination. So instead of a castle of simple limewashed rubble walls like Conway or Harlech, Edward commanded his Master of the King’s Works, James of St George, to design 'a great castle (with) many great towers of various colours.' The polygonal towers and the bands of different coloured dressed stone were intended to recall the image of Constantinople. By invoking these legends Edward intended to establish his own centre of government in Wales as a direct and legitimate successor to the ancient Imperial power, and at the same time use this authority to impress his rulership indelibly on the minds of the conquered people.
The town walls were built at the same time as the castle and most of the masonry was complete by 1285, although significant work was required only ten years later after parts had been 'thrown down' by the Welsh. The walls now stand practically as built, with only a few later openings and alterations to the towers. There are two main twin-towered gateways, and eight bastions - half towers originally open at the back. The encircling wall-walk would have been carried over on bridges. This survival of the walls is remarkable and is due at least in part to the poverty of Caernarfon in the 17th and 18th centuries which meant that it did not need to expand through or over them.
In about 1800 the Corporation set about renovating their dilapidated town. Some new gates were pierced through the walls, including the church gate, and St Mary’s church was rebuilt. During the 19th century, with the great expansion of population caused by the slate industry, houses were built against the walls, inside and out, so that they almost disappeared from view. In the 20th century many of these buildings were cleared to leave open space around the outside, and in places, inside as well. The result is one of the most complete survivals of a fortified medieval borough in Europe.
When Speed produced his map of Caernarfon in 1610, Bath Tower was still in its original open state, backing onto what looks like a formal garden, which were the grounds of a famous mansion called Plas Isaf. This house had gone by the end of the 18th century and its grounds continued as an open space until the Marquis of Anglesey built a Public Bath House in 1823 to help attract tourists. It is from this that the tower gets its name. This establishment was described as 'replete with every accommodation - hot, cold and shower baths, supplied with sea water by an engine, and furnished with every requisite appendage.' It also included a news room, museum, billiard room and concert room/theatre.
However the success of the Baths must have been limited because in 1856 they were obtained by the Bishops of Bangor and St Asaph for use by the North Wales Training College. Bath Tower had probably already been enclosed and annexed to the Baths by this time. The upper room with its large windows and fine views perhaps being used as a reading or writing room for its patrons. The College used the Tower as a pantry for such purposes as cleaning knives and shoes. In 1871 the upper room was adapted by the College for use as a chapel and the stained glass was inserted.
Ten years later there was a serious fire and the College moved to Bangor. The Baths now become the first County School in Wales, opening in 1894. The Bishops sold Bath Tower separately to a surgeon, John Williams who converted it into a dwelling. Unfortunately he died a year later, but his wife lived on until 1907.
To read more about the history of Bath Tower please click here.