The Banqueting Hall Cruck Frame Marquee
The banqueting hall at Usk Castle was built in the early 14th century and hosted an incredible feast to celebrate the success of Elizabeth de Burgh in regaining her castle from the Despensers in 1326, and despite being ruined for hundreds of years there are still 4 walls and archways remaining, which provides a beautiful enclosed area.
We have had many temporary structures for events in this area over the years, but have long wanted to make this space more available for events, exhibitions by Usk Castle Friends, and community projects. However, the utmost care has to be taken to not impinge upon or damage this scheduled ancient monument in any way.
With an upcoming family wedding as a helpful catalyst to make this project reality, we spoke to local timber framer Bart Bagnall about making a free standing cruck frame marquee within the remaining walls. Bart has also helped us with similar projects using traditional techniques conserving other areas of the castle so knows the castle well.
Despite the challenge and complexity, Bart was keen to help us with this project, as long as we could provide the right timber.
Wood was sourced from our own woodland within a mile of the castle and from a family farm in mid Wales. These trees (Larch, Western Red Cedar and Douglas fir) were planted by relatives on both sides of the family around 50 years ago, so not only was the timber sustainable, but with special meaning and importance to the family and the castle. The timber was sawn in our sawmill on the family farm, and the frame created in Bart’s workshop locally. Making this masterpiece took 10 weeks of shaping, constructing and chiselling out joints precisely. The structure uses no nails at all just careful slotting together, skilled joinery and wooden pegs- traditional techniques by which the original banqueting hall roof may have been built many hundreds of years ago.
When the pieces arrived on site it was a careful and pain-staking task to get them up to the castle, unload them and lay them out ready to be joined and raised. Bart had made trolleys just for this purpose and some of the larger pieces went through the doorway with millimetres to spare. Under Bart’s instruction it took a team of 4 (family and friends) to get the frame up using free-standing scaffolding and winches.
We are delighted with the resulting structure which allows you to appreciate the beautiful stone walls, but is free-standing and beautiful. There is space for a dance floor and stage, a dining space or meeting area. The canvas cover was made to measure by Emlyn Canvas Newport, with a window to allow the old fireplace to be seen and let light in for day time events.