Monday, 31 May 2010

Gwrych - The Castle of Adventure

I didn't have anything planned for Sunday, so decided after a bit of thought to head over to Abergele for a look round the Grade I Listed Gwrych Castle. This isn't your typical 'pay £4 and look round the roped off rooms' sort of castle, as it is completely derelict! One of my favourite books as a child was The Castle of Adventure by Enid Blyton and Gwrych has always strongly reminded me of the long abandoned castle in that story.

Built in 1819 to a design by Thomas Rickman for the Bamford-Hesketh family, Gwrych was one of the largest private houses in Wales and, to this day, is a familiar landmark to anyone travelling along the A55 though Abergele, as you'll see the castle on the hillside at the rear of the town.

Truly vast...Gwrych Castle (Photo Credit)

Winifred, Countess of Dundonald, inherited Gwrych in 1894. She was forced into marriage with the Earl of Dundonald. After the Earl's many affairs and an affair with the Archbishop of Wales on her behalf, they parted company. Due to these disagreements, the Countess left Gwrych to the Prince of Wales. This offer was refused so Gwrych was left to the Church of Wales and St John of Jerusalem.

It was in 1925 when the Earl of Dundonald bought Gwrych back (for £78,000) to spite his wife. He sold the Castle's contents in 1928 to cover costs. In 1946, Gwrych left the family's hands for the last time when the 13th Earl of Dundonald sold Gwrych to a Mr Rennie. In 1948, Leslie Salts bought Gwrych and opened it up to the public for 20 years as an entertainment venue, with the tagline 'The Showplace of Wales'. It attracted over ten million visitors during that time.

The View from Gwrych (Photo Credit)

During the 1970s, Gwrych became a medieval themed attraction where markets were held and jousting took place on the site of the formal gardens and Conservatory to the West of the castle. Gwrych finally closed to the public in 1985, never to open again. The Castle passed into the hands of an American property developer called Nick Tavaliogne in 1989, who had the dream of restoring the Castle into a 5 star hotel and opera house. Legal problems persisted though; this dream never became a reality. Security guards left in 1995, leaving the Castle open to the elements and the vandals. Halifax based Clayton Hotels bought the Castle in 2007 for £850,000, with the aim of developing it as a 5 Star Hotel. They removed all of the debris from the building's interior and tidied up the grounds but all work stopped when they went bankrupt in August 2009. The castle was again sold in April 2010, with the purchaser, Edwards Property Management (UK) Ltd of Widnes, paying £300,000.

The castle once had a total of 128 rooms including the outbuildings, an Outer Hall, an Inner Hall, two Smoke Rooms, Dining Room, a Drawing Room, a Billiards Room, an Oak Study, a Breakfast Room, twenty-eight Bedrooms, eight Bathrooms, several domestic Offices, Servants Hall, Wine Cellar, Coal Cellar, Butlers Sitting Room, Strong Room, Electric service lift, private Electric Supply, Laundry room, Cesspit, Gas Plant, a Bothy, Saddle Room, four Garages, a Pet Cemetery, a Stable Block suitable for six horses, an Ice House, and a Washhouse. There are nineteen embattled towers and the whole façade is over 2000 yards.

Chapel & East Wing (Photo Credit)

It's a truly vast place, built to impress. A lot of the castellated walls and towers are fake, built purely for their aesthetic value. Although its called a castle and looks like a castle, its actually just a mansion, so the fortifications may look impressive but serve no defensive purpose. If they had of done, the castle might be in significantly better shape today, as the legions of vandals and thieves that have destroyed the interiors may not have been able to gain access!

All a movie set (Photo Credit)

The actual mansion itself is situated in the middle of the run of battlements and is sadly now completely derelict, lacking floors, ceilings and a roof. As recently as the mid 1980s, I can remember visiting Gwrych when a Sunday market was held in its grounds and the castle building was completely intact, albeit slightly run down. Sadly, a succession of disinterested owners unwilling for pay for proper security have left the castle an ideal target for vandals and thieves who, between them, have stripped the entire building of anything of value and destroyed the remainder.

The main mansion at Gwrych (Photo Credit)

Inside the Mansion (Photo Credit)

Inside the mansion (Photo Credit)

Inside the Mansion (Photo Credit)

Inside the Mansion (Photo Credit)

One of the grandest features of Gwrych was its magnificent 52 step staircase (added in the 1870s), built out of white & green Italian marble at a cost of over £20,000 (a phenomenal amount in 1870!). Running down three floors of the building, the hallway it was situated in also had a number of high quality stained glass windows. This all survived into the 1990s, when the marble was all stolen and sold (allegedly by a party of new age travellers who had made the castle grounds their home). The stained glass windows were either smashed or stolen, even the ornate iron balustrades on the balcony section of the hallway were hacksawed through and stolen. There's not a lot left today, although you can still see the odd section of white marble that has escaped the attentions of thieves:

Not a lot left...the marble staircase at Gwrych (Photo Credit)

As it used to be...Marble Staircase in the 1960s

Surrounding the main mansion are many other buildings, including a Chapel, Stables Block, Conservatory (mainly demolished) and several other ancillary buildings. The formal gardens have now largely disappeared under undergrowth but there are still many pleasant paths winding through the gardens and woodlands. If you're feeling a touch more energetic, you can take the ten minute walk up to Lady Emily's Tower, which is situated on the hill behind the castle and has fantastic views over the coast:

Lady Emily's Tower (Photo Credit)

View from Lady Emily's Tower (Photo Credit)

You can view my full 100+ photo tour of Gwrych Castle & Grounds over on Flickr by clicking here.

Finally...a warning. Although the grounds at Gwrych are very pleasant to stroll around, the main mansion building is in a very dangerous state and I don't recommend anyone enters the building. Several areas of stonework have collapsed in recent years and it's only a matter of time before more comes down. I wouldn't like you to be standing underneath when that happens!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Llanrwst Almshouses Festival

I popped over to the market town of Llanrwst today and was surprised to see that the whole of the town centre and surrounding streets had been taken over by what resembled a miniature version of the Llandudno Victorian Extravaganza.

This turned out to be the Llanrwst Almshouses Festival, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Almshouses (which are just off Ancaster Square). They were built by John Wynne, who lived at Gwydir Castle, and provided accommodation for 12 local poor older men. Residents had a wear a long cloak that carried their benefactor's crest.

The Festival was a very well organised event, with a wide selection of stalls, sideshows and childrens rides, all of which had a Victorian theme. It was also pleasing to see that practically every shop had gone to the trouble of mounting a Victorian themed display in their window. Many of the townspeople were dressed in the Victorian style and also of note were a group of what I believe were Performing Arts students (maybe from Llandrillo College?) dressed in costume, who stayed in character the whole day. Very good! The town was very crowded and I'm sure the event was a great success - let's hope something similar can be carried out annually.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Oriel Mostyn Gallery

Had a very enjoyable look around the Oriel Mostyn Gallery in Llandudno which reopened today after a £5.1m renovation and extension - very impressed. A far bigger series of exhibition spaces, a proper reception & shop area...and a Cafe! The new Cafe runs the entire length of the First Floor and has fantastic views over Vaughan Street.

Do pay a visit if you're in town, admission is FREE.

Staircase to First Floor (Photo Credit)

(Photo Credit)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Not Alicia Keys...

Lots of excitement among the North Wales blogs today following the appearance of what was supposedly a new version of the Alicia Keys song "Empire State Of Mind" to coincide with the Radio 1 Big Weekend being held at Bangor at which Ms Keys will be appearing. The rewritten version featured the attractions of North Wales, including Llandudno Junction, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Conwy & Abergele! In the end, it turned out that the song was actually performed by a session musician...but still, to be fair, a great song that was well performed.

The song itself can be heard below:

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Park Revival

Fountain is working again...

Queen's Gardens, the small park in the centre of Colwyn Bay, had begun to look rather tired and run-down in recent years. I was very pleased, therefore, to see the Parks Dept have been busy replanting several areas of shrubbery that line three sides of the park and, more importantly, have managed to clean out the circular pool and install a new fountain. As a result, the park is probably looking the best it has done for many years.

Well done to all concerned!

New planting in the shrub borders

Time & Tide

Those of you of a sea faring nature may find these links to the local Tide Table useful. Land lubbers may find it of occasional use, as well. Information courtesy of the National Oceanography Centre.

Time of High & Low Tides:

Highest Tides ( Previous & Predicted Future):

Saturday, 15 May 2010

What's wrong with this picture...?

What's wrong with this picture? (Photo Credit)

Ah yes...the brooding majesty of the 700 year old Conwy Castle, a World Heritage Site situated high above the tidal Gyffin Estuary, teeming with wildlife. What could improve this view....certainly not the remains of the derelict Billingtons Garage, an eyesore for many years when it was open, let alone now it has been closed and boarded up for the last few years. I've said it before, I know, but...can not Conwy Council dig deep into their £50m+reserves, buy the site, flatten it and landscape the area. Please?

Friday, 14 May 2010

Let's go to work...

Feztastic (Photo Credit)

Shades of Reservoir Dogs but with yellow rugby shirts and a Fez? Gents from Sedgemoor Rugby Club on a Stag Weekend in Llandudno.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Candle Factory, Gyffin

Candle Mill by you.
Candle Factory at Gyffin (Photo Credit)

Although it looks like a traditional mill, this building by the Gyffin stream on the Henryd Road in Conwy was actually a Candle Factory. It was established in the late 19th Century to make tallow candles (they apparently drip significantly less than wax candles), mainly to supply candles to the miners in the numerous local lead mines.

Animal fat was collected from several slaughterhouses in the area by the owner, Owen Owen (and later Llywelyn Evans), melted down and then poured into dipping troughs. The wicks were attached to a rod hanging above the trough and then dipped into the fat until the required thickness was reached. Unfortunately, the early years of the 20th century brought a decline in local mining, the introduction of oil lamps and the onset of electricity - all of which sent the candle business into steep decline. The mill eventually closed around the time of World War I and appears to have been abandoned ever since.

Some stabilisation of the building was carried out by its owner, Daffydd Roberts, a local farmer, in around 2004/5 but there appears to be no plans to bring the building back into use. Without a roof to protect the structure, its long term survival appears uncertain.

I think it would make a great artist's gallery or a set of small craft workshops, maybe even including a candle maker?

The Candle Factory by you.
Closer look at the building (Photo Credit)

Thanks to Stan Whittaker and Christopher Draper for the information used in this post. Christopher Draper has a great book called 'Walks From Conwy', which combine a series of gentle walks with lots of historical information.

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