Since I was a child, I'd heard stories about the fabulous Grade I Listed Gothic mansion (designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and built between 1861-1866) high in the hills above Colwyn Bay. In the days before the Internet (remember them?), information about such places was scarce and it was only the odd news story in the North Wales Weekly News that provided any information. Even then, its actual location was a complete mystery and it was more by luck than planning that I caught sight of its high clock tower as I wandered along a back lane by Llangernyw in about 1997.
I took the opportunity to have a little wander around the outside of the mansion and a look through its Grade II Listed (but very overgrown) gardens. The terraced gardens are worth a visit by themselves; believed to contain over 1,200 species of exotic plants, many are said to have been planted by the botanist and horticulturalist Sir William Hooker or his son J. D. Hooker. Back in those days, the mansion was empty and, apart from some minor vandalism, was in fairly good condition. In fact, its condition was such that you could almost imagine that there was someone still living there, shades of Great Expectations!
In fact, the family that had built it (the Sandbachs) had long since departed and it had suffered a succession of institutional owners, culminating in a stint as a nursing home under the notorious ownership of Les Whittingham - a man from the Morecambe area who loved buying unusual buildings but who didn't like spending any money whatsoever on maintenance. The nursing home was eventually closed down by Clwyd County Council in the mid 1990s and it remained empty until Les Whittingham's death in about 1999. It was then put up for sale and was eventually sold to SFJ Limited, a Colwyn Bay property developer, who announced plans to develop the mansion into a luxury country house hotel, with about 90 log cabins in the grounds. The locals were none too keen on this plan and put up a spirited campaign of opposition. The battle between developer and community ended on the night of the 14th October 2004 when two youths broke into the mansion and set fire to it. Despite a determined effort by the Fire Service, the main section of the mansion was completely destroyed....
And there its history almost stops, for the mansion and its 50 acres of gardens were effectively abandoned and have been left to their gentle decline ever since. It's been up for sale for the last couple of years but no sale has been concluded, almost as if the Estate Agent didn't really want to sell it. In the meantime, the mansion itself deteriorates little by little every year and the brambles in the garden grow ever higher.
Update: January 2010: I hear that Hafodunos has finally been sold. I also understand that discussions have taken place with both Conwy Council (who are willing to issue a grant towards stabilisation works for the Hall) and CADW (regarding renovation grants). CADW have issued a grant of £21,000 for emergency stabilisation works.
I viewed the Estate twice in 2008; the full set of photos is on Flickr (see link at bottom of page) but here's a selection to give you a feel for how Hafodunos looks now. I thought it important to document it as fully as possible, before the decline becomes overwhelming:
Main frontage in 2008 (Photo Credit)
Side of the Mansion & Main Entrance in 2008 (Photo Credit)