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!


Airman (Air) said...

Thanks for that. I remember going to a great party there, must have been about 30 years ago!

Oscar said...

Great post, loved it, never even been close to the place I am ashamed to say.

Fester said...

An amazing insight into a wonderful old and sadly dilapidated marvel.
But, I had read newspaper reports not long ago saying that this castle was ''well on the way to complete refurbishment''.
A company from Halifax owned it and had already invested millions in renovation work. They were something like 75% of the way to creating some kind of clinic or luxury re-hab facility. I was waiting for the grand re-opening. It looks like I will be waiting in vain!

Chameleon said...

@Airman - what was the party for then, who was living there?

@Fester - that was Clayton Hotels (part of Clayton Homes), from Halifax. They went bust last August and so the castle will be going up for sale again probably. They'd done a bit of work clearing out all the interiors and removing all the ivy off the outside walls but that was it.

Airman (Air) said...

I'm afraid that I can't remember whose party it was! I'm not sure if anybody was actually living there but vaguely recall that it could be hired out for functions. I seem to remember some kind of medieval banquet evenings there.

Mike said...

Regards the evening party, I think I can date this fairly accurately at May/jUNE 1983. At that time the castle was either owned by--or under the control of a lady from Anglesey. This is hearsay. But Mr Les Hughes of Kinmel Bay will certainly know, he "got in" with this lady and started operating sunday markets there and during the week mediaevel banquits at night. I well remember a very attractive and extroverte young lady getting on my bus (owned by Les Hughes Transport) and telling me she had been the "serving wench" at the previos evenings do. Mike

Chameleon said...

Thanks to both Airman & Mike for their memories.

Mike, I think the lady's name may have been Ruth(?) Williams, who also owned Plas Coch on Anglesey?

Anonymous said...

I wonder what Edwards' Property Management plans are for the building?

Chameleon said...

Anon, I'm told that they will be continuing with the same project as Clayton Hotels, namely the Hotel.

infromthestorm said...

Always wanted to see Lady Emilys Tower,From the A55 it looks inaccessible,Now I know, For years Iv'e called it "The Watchtower",Great info,Many thanks

Chameleon said...

@infromthestorm - it's actually a fairly easy 15 minute walk from the footpath behind the castle, I was expecting it to be tricky to get to as well!

AbergeleOldBoy said...

During the last war the castle was home to 200 Jewish children who had been smuggled out of Nazi Germany.

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