Since Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh said to his nurse as a young child, ?when I am a man I will build myself a castle upon that spot!?, Gwrych Castle?s distinguished history began. A fairytale dream, created from the imagination of one man in memory of his maternal ancestors, the Lloyds of Gwrych. The site has been in use since ancient pagan times when the Celts roamed the area, existence of them still remain in the form of ?Nany-y-Bella?, ?stream of the God Beli? and the original name of Gwrych, ?Y Fron?, ?rounded hill or barrow?. Gwrych also stands in the centre of an ancient Yew tree forest, some of which are nearly one thousand years old. Gwrych Castle was designed mainly by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh with the additional help of Charles Augustus Busby and Thomas Rickman. Busby submitted in 1814 plans for a ?Castellated Mansion? with a central keep and side wings. Rickman was mainly employed for the design of the Perpendicular Gothic windows but was also asked for building advice by Hesketh. Hesketh had in 1814/15 conducted a European Tour visiting many of the historic sites of France, Italy and Germany. The classical ruins of Rome formed much of the romantic ideals Hesketh desired and he brought many prints of them to furnish his new home. He also visited the great Lowenburg Castle in Germany, a house extended from the original medieval Castle in the castellated style. Rickman?s influence mainly came from the stained glass windows at Chester Cathedral, chiefly from the refectory. Rickman submitted several varieties of the Chester windows but ultimately it was Hesketh who chose the design. The towers are from several different influences: the round squat towers are taken from those at Beaumaris with the larger ones from Harlech and Conwy. The round tower with the small turret on top is a replica of the chapel tower at Conwy Castle. The square towers are more difficult to place but seem to be influenced by
the Welsh Castles such as Dolwyddelyn. The crenulations are similar to those at Raglan Castle and the corbelling is taken from a mixture of Raglan, Beaumaris and Harlech. Due to the various different builds at Gwrych there are several window patterns from the Gothic Revival of the nineteenth century. The original pattern made by Rickman in 1819 was still being made into the 1850?s. Wooden replicas of these windows were utilised by the Countess of Dundonald in 1914. Much of the heraldic stained glass was designed by Hesketh himself and filled the halls at the Castle. Gwrych today is a conglomerate of several buildings designs, which owe to its enormous size and complex layout. The Castle was not built as a military structure but if it was garrisoned it was estimated that 10,000 men would be needed. The Castle still attracts many a person, intrigued by this gothic pile built into the hillside. The foundation stone was laid on the 13th June 1819 and most of the central block was completed by 1822. On the death of his granddaughter, Winifred Countess of Dundonald in 1924, the Hesketh family left Gwrych after nearly 500 years of inhabiting the site leaving a vast hole in the community. Being major benefactors of the church and local populous, the family did lots to benefit those who lived around them. Robert and Ellen Bamford-Hesketh paid and built St Cynbryds, Llanddulas, the Church Complex, Towyn and the National School in Abergele. They also donated the reredos at St Thomas?, Rhyl and at St Asaph Cathedral. Today we can still view the magnificent Hesketh memorial window in St Michael?s, Abergele which was installed in remembrance of all of those who had gone before. The Hesketh?s daughter Winifred continued such benevolence, building the Church House in Llanddulas and becoming a founder member of the Church in Wales. In 1946 the Gwrych Estate was sold and came into the hands of a Mr Leslie T Salts. He transforme
d the former private home into the ?Showplace of Wales?, attracting over seven million visitors and employing up to 200 people. Gwrych became a vital section of the Abergele and districts economy. It served as an important tourist attraction and local amenity, not only to the local population but also to North Wales. Now sadly, this has been lost! A major contributing factor to the buildings rapid demise lies with the sale of 1968. Since then, Gwrych has had nearly 20 different owners, each failing to rectify the problems left by the previous. Over time sections of the house were closed, deemed unsafe, money was wasted on needless alterations, leaving the major problems such as the roofs and internal fabric untouched. Only four of the State Rooms were in use for such things as a bar and dining area, leaving the rest of the house to rot. In 1988, a Californian Property Developer purchased Gwrych with a consortium of backers. His intentions were to develop the main building into an opera school, while blasting away part of the hillside to construct an open-air opera centre. In addition to the main Castle site, he wished to clear away the surrounding woodland to create holiday chalets, thusly destroying the enchanting grounds and sublime setting. We should be thankful that such a disaster was averted but it is hard when we see what we have been left with. Take a look at www.gwrychtrust.co.uk and www.gwrych.co.uk for further information! There are also three books available on the history of Gwrych, available from www.gwrych.co.uk
Finally, I manage to log onto to Dooyoo in order to update this review. Clayton Hotels has now bought the Castle and a large proportion of the surrounding land and have set about clearing the Castle out in order to turn it into an executive hotel. Work progress has been slow but is ongoing. I, for one, am pleased to see it sold to someone who wants to see the Castle up and running again but I was slightly sad to hear it isn't going to be fully restored to how it once would have been. Clayton has said they will try to keep as many of its original features as possible but I do fear that they'll just gut it completely. I'll certainly be going for a nosey when it is all finished!
= = = Introduction = = =
First things first, for you English folk, Gwrych (pronounced gw-reek, kind of, obviously you need to learn how to pronounce 'ch' in Welsh to give it the real pronunciation!). Gwrych means 'hedge' in Welsh.
= = = Where is Gwrych Castle? = = =
Gwrych Castle can be found in Abergele, North Wales. Overlooking the sea and the main route in North Wales (the A55) you can't fail to miss Gwrych Castle as you pass by.
= = = History = = =
The foundation stone for Gwrych Castle was laid on the 13th June 1819 and was built by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford Hesketh.
The expertise of Thomas Rickman was utilised in the design of Gwrych and its many cast iron windows.
Gwrych Castle once had 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, washhouse, and, of course, the 52 step marble staircase. The latter of which was, and still is, one of the most impressive features of the Castle, designed by George Edmund Street and built by Robert Bamford-Hesketh during the 1870?s.
When Lloyd died, the Castle was left to Robert Bamford-Hesketh.
Winifred, Countess of Dundonald, inherited Gwrych in 1894. She was forced into marriage with the Earl of Dundonald. After the Earls 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 Castles? contents in 1928 to cover costs.
It was in 1946 that Gwrych left the families hands 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.
During the 1970?s, Gwrych became a medieval centre where markets were held and jousting took place on the formal gardens.
Gwrych finally closed to the public in 1985, never to open again.
The Castle passed into the hands of an American businessman in 1989 with the hope 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.
= = = Gwrych Castle today = = =
There is now a registered charity set up to try and save Gwrych Castle, the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, founded by Mark Baker.
The Trust is now working towards a feasibility study, which could make the Conwy County consider compulsory purchase.
For more information on the Trust please see the end of this review.
The Castle has been left to deteriorate over the years. New age travellers moved in and stripped Gwrych of its marble dado running alongside the marble staircase along with its fireplaces and chandeliers and any other items that could be sold. Since, vandals have continued to transform the, once spectacular, Gwrych Castle from a grade 1* listed building into a grade 1 listed pile of rubble.
The Trust, being a registered charity, accepts donations and grants towards the restoration of Gwrych. Millions would need to be spent on the Castle to restore i
t fully. The slates stolen from the roof would have cost just £10,000 to replace in 1994.
= = = Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust = = =
A Society For the Friends Of Gwrych (ASFOG) was founded by Mark Baker in 1997. It later became the registered charity, Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust in 2001.
Both societies were founded to raise awareness for the plight of Gwrych and to find possible solutions for the conservation and preservation of the site.
For a glimpse of Gwrych Castle and to learn more about the Castle and the Trust, presented by Mark Baker, please see the video presentation here:
The Trust hold a number of events annually, including fayres and exhibitions. The Summer fayre on July 12th was a great success.
You can join the Trust for just £5 per year. To join the trust and receive quarterly newsletters please see:
= = = Mark Baker = = =
So, who is this Mark guy you keep hearing about? You may have noticed his name cropping up quite a few times in this review by now so I thought it was about time to introduce him.
Mark became interested in Gwrych Castle through passing the Castle on his way to school everyday. He decided to start researching the Castle and its previous occupants. At the age of 13 his first book was published, titled ?The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle?:
(Which is now sold out)
He continued researching the Castle and set the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust up in 2001.
His second book, the ?Gwrych Castle ? A Pictorial History? was released in 2000. You can buy these for £7.95 through www.gwrych.co.uk.
His latest book launch, in collaboration with the Gwrych Castle exhibition at Abergele Library between August 4th and 15th saw
his latest books released.
His latest book is a reprint of ?The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle? with the addition of ?Winifred, Countess of Dundonald ~ A Biograph
y? which can be bought for £7.95 through www.gwrych.co.uk.
Books are also available in local bookshops too for those who happen to live locally.
Marks fight to save Gwrych Castle has brought him into contact with quite a few high-flying people, e.g. Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Lord Bath, to name just a few.
He has also appeared on a few TV programmes, including the Big Breakfast , Country File and That?s Esther, to name a few.
There is to be a 30 minute documentary about Gwrych Castle on Tuesday August 26th at 7:30pm on ITV1 Wales titled ?If Only Walls had Ears?. They filmed Mark at the Castle a few times and at his house along with at the Gwrych Castle exhibition on Monday August 12th whereby they filmed some of the Trusts? trustees, the librarian and myself (eek!):
= = = How I got involved = = =
Like I said earlier, you can?t fail to miss Gwrych Castle if you ever travel along the A55. I?d often wondered about its history. It was when I became increasingly interested in the paranormal I started researching the Castle a little further.
It was a pure stroke of luck that I happened to discover Gwrych had its fair share of ghost stories. Once I knew that there was no stopping me! When I set the North Wales Paranormal Research society up I started making enquiries into doing an investigation at Gwrych.
I sent a few emails to an email address I found on a website but had no replies. I read around a bit, did some google searches for this Mark Baker chap and finally found another email address. Amazingly I got a reply saying he and some members of the Trust would like to join us on our investigation at Gwrych. And, the rest is history, as they say!
(N.B. I've since learned you?re unlikely to get a response if you email the email address on the .org.uk website, you're far more likely to get a response if you email to t
he address on the www.gwrych.co.uk site).
= = = Ghosts of Gwrych = = =
Of course I couldn't write a whole review and omit a section on ghosts. You should know better by now!
I?d heard, on the grapevine, that a paranormal research society had spent a night investigating at Gwrych and had had some interesting results. Our first investigation date was set. We were to spend the night of April 12th at the Castle. Mark and some Trust members were to attend this investigation. I hadn?t realised how knowledgeable Mark was as regards to Gwrych prior to this. He took us all on a tour by torchlight of the Castle and dazzled us all with his endless knowledge of the Castle and its previous residents?. He turned out to be a valuable guest that night!
We had a good time investigating at Gwrych and had some interesting results. Nothing definitely paranormal but we all felt it was worthy of a further investigation. We were to go again the week later. Mark decided he?d like to attend again so April 19th we all met up again to spend yet another night in a cold, drafty, derelict Castle. (Yes, we must be clinically insane!)
As time went on we realised there certainly were some interesting occurrences at Gwrych.
We have since been on six overnight investigations and many shorter visits to Gwrych. We have yet to leave a night with no interesting footage or experience of some kind or another.
Mark has since joined North Wales Paranormal Research and has become a regular member and a committee member nonetheless!
There are plenty of ghosts at Gwrych. The main ones are those of the Countess and Earl though. The Earl isn't a very nice ghost (and he wasn?t a very nice man by all accounts!) The Countess on the other hand is nice, if only she?d show us a full apparition sometime (and preferably on video camera!)
I?m not going to give all the trade secrets away about the
ghosts of Gwrych in this review. If you?re that interested then you?ll just have to join North Wales Paranormal Research!
= = = Interesting facts = = =
· The Castle is important as it is one of the only estates still surrounded by its perimeter walls. The walls are grade 2 listed.
· During the 1950?s Gwrych Castle attracted 4,000,000 people to Abergele.
· During May 1990 a Scout group, the Mayor of Colwyn and Emile Ford were shown around inside the Castle by its American owner. This was before the vandalism kicked in?.
· Queen Victoria stayed at Gwrych during 1832. She stayed in the Victoria bedroom (naturally!). These rooms can be seen from the front of the Castle, situated in the round tower on the first floor.
· In 1996, Prince Valiant was filmed at the Castle starring Edward Fox and Joanna Lumley.
· Gwrych Castle was used as a training camp by boxer, Bruce Woodcock, prior to his defeat of George London for the British heavyweight championship. In 1951Randolph Turpin also used Gwrych as a training camp prior to defeating Sugar Ray Robinson to become World Middleweight champion.
· Only 2% of buildings listed in the UK reach the grade 1* listing.
= = = Links = = =
For the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust and publications website set up by Mark Baker please see:
For a further video presentation made about Cefn Ogof, near to Gwrych Castle where the English tried to defeat Wales, please see: