“ The peaceful rural setting of Llancaiach Fawr Manor gives no clue to the turmoil of its early years nor to the exciting living history it now portrays. Visitors today step back in time to the year 1645 a time of Civil War between King and Parliament - and meet servants who tell of the lives of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times. „
It's funny isn't it? For over 8 years, I lived within about 10 minutes' drive of Llancaiach Fawr, but never actually went there, yet when I was on holiday last year, happily drove across around 50 miles to visit it.
Llancaiach Fawr is located just outside the village of Nelson, near Pontypridd in South Wales. The A470 provides the easiest point of access and the property is well-signed on the usual brown signs. There is a large, free car park at the site, so you should have no difficulty either finding it or parking.
A Quick History Lesson
Llancaiach Fawr (pronounced Clan Ki Ak Faw Ur") is a fortified manor house dating from the mid 1600s, but which was still used a working farmhouse until the 20th century. During its heyday in the Civil War period, it was home to an important local family (the Pritchards) who played a key role in keeping South Wales neutral during that conflict, much to the dismay of Charles I who visited the Pritchards at Llancaiach to try and enlist their support.
Don't Make Such An Exhibition
Before entering the house, visitors pass through an exhibition area. The idea of this is to take you back in time through the house's history. It starts in the mid 20th century, when the property was semi-derelict and slowly takes you back into the 1640s, when the house was built.
This exhibition gives you a sense of both the history of the house itself and wider events that happened during the past 400 years and which impacted on the house and its inhabitants. It particularly concentrates on the Civil War period, which is when the owners were at the height of their powers.
Although the exhibition was well laid out and the winding path around it gave you a sense of moving back in time, I was actually a little disappointed with it. Much of the information was overly simplistic and seemed to be aimed primarily at children (something which is understandable, since it is a popular destination for local school trips.) However, it also lacked much by way of any real interaction and there was a lot of reading. I was left with the impression that the exhibition was too basic for most adults and too dull for children
A Walk Back in Time
Although the exhibition is a little disappointing, Llancaiach Fawr has to be given top marks when it comes to creating a sense of time. This is something that starts from the moment you pay your entrance fee. Instead of a normal ticket, you are given a "letter of introduction" written by Colonel Pritchard (the owner during that turbulent Civil War period) asking his servants to let you into the house in his absence. As you go around, you may encounter several "servants", all dressed in period costume and speaking "olde English" who will be happy to act as your guide if wish. We overheard several of these speaking to some of the visiting school groups and they were very good. Their language was authentic sounding, without be so thick and colloquial as to be unintelligible. They also did a very good job of making the history of the house come to life, talking about it as if it were still a fully functioning 17th century manor house. Holding the attention of a bunch of 30 ten year-olds is not an easy job, but the "servants" had them enthralled.
If you prefer, you can walk around the manor house unaccompanied, which is what Mrs SWSt and I chose to do. Since we are both historians by trade, we felt we did not need accompanying. We also found the little bit of interaction we had at the entrance with one of the servants made us feel uncomfortable - we just wanted to have a look around, not get involved in olde English. In fairness, the person who stamped our ticket recognised this and switched to "normal English" and it's clear that the staff are well-trained and don't force things on you.
Although none of the original manor furnishings survive, each room has been furnished with period pieces. So, whilst none of the furniture has any actual connections to the house, each room has been sympathetically reconstructed to give a good idea of what they would probably have looked like. It was genuinely fascinating to walk around the house and it has all been very faithfully reconstructed. The fact that the house is so complete (its basic structure has barely changed since it was built) really does help you to feel as though you have stepped back in time.
It was slightly disappointing to see that there was no extra information provided anywhere in the house - no information boards, no plaques or pictures, nothing. Obviously, this is because it is supposed to be a "history experience", a living museum and the idea is that the "servants" tell you the history. However, given that visitors do have a choice between a guided or non-guided tour, you would have thought there would have been the option to pick up a leaflet guide to each room, or have an audio tour available. Certainly, having chosen to look around by ourselves, we did feel that we probably missed out on some things that would normally have been talked about by the servants.
It's clear that at certain times of the year, one of Llancaiach's main activities is to provide "living history lessons" for school children. When we went around there were several school parties being taken around each room by "servants" and talked to at some length. This made it quite awkward for your ordinary visitor to get to some areas, as there were children sitting on every bit of floor space. Indeed, there were a couple of rooms that we didn't see, as they were simply too crowded for us to get in and we had no idea how long they would be in there. We didn't feel that this particularly spoiled our visit, but you do need to bear it in mind.
The 21st Century Experience
Sadly, the staff outside the manor house were not quite as good as the "servants" inside it. At the main ticket office, we had to wait for a good 5 minutes before anyone acknowledged our presence, despite several people walking past whilst we were waiting. A visit to the tea rooms proved similarly interesting. When we walked in we got the distinct impression we were a bit of a nuisance for daring to order some food and drinks (the place was deserted when we entered) and when it arrived, the waitress had managed to spill half of the coffee onto the tray and the cups she brought were not terribly clean.
Entry to Llancaiach Fawr in 2011 costs £6.50 for adults (£5.50 for concessions and £5 for children). This is more expensive than some of the other places we have visited, but we felt that it offered reasonable value for money. It might not be the biggest place you will ever see, but it is very interesting and the faithful reconstruction of both the buildings and people of the Civil War period makes it well worth a visit.
Llancaiach Fawr Manor
© Copyright SWSt 2011
I would have to agree that this location is one of the best days out for the whole family - even ,my dad enjoyed it and he hates places like this!
The basic concept is that rather than just walking around an old museum building looking at objects, you are taken around the building by an actor in 16th century costume, playing the part of one of colonel Pritchard's faithful staff members, and as they do so they can actually explain what things are, how they work etc - this makes for a far more interesting visit!
This place really comes into its own when children visit with schools - this is the fun way to learn history - to see it and live it! I work with children and its amazing how many of them if talking about a trip to Llancaiach a number of years ago can still tell me of the things they learned - you cant ask for more! Even now, i work with young boys with often challenging behaviour, but when we take them to Llancaiach they sit there silently listening to what they are told - its great to see and they love it!
It really is a must visit if you love in or visit the area! In fact its worth visiting the area for!
As for the hauntings, well thats another long story..........
Llancaiach Fawr Manor House is a Living History Museum based near Caerphilly. The idea is that you visit the Manor and 'step back in time' to the year 1645, and upon entering the Manor you meet servants who may have worked in the house during that time. If you're really lucky, you might also meet members of the Pritchard family.
The history of the Manor is described in full on the official website: www.llancaiachfawr.co.uk, so I won't try to condense it on here. Instead I'll concentrate on the experience you'll encounter if you visit this award winning museum.
Unlike other historical houses, Llancaiach Fawr is very hands on. When you arrive you'll be greeted by a servant and offered the choice of either making your own way around the house, or to have the guidance of a servant - always go for the latter! It's a much more worthwhile experience and history really does come alive. (There are occasions on very busy days - summer bank holidays, 'Kings Day', etc - where you might not be given that choice, but there's normally plenty of things going on to make up for that.) You travel from room to room under the guidance of a servant, often with other members of the public, and you're told about the use for the room, you're in, some of the features of the room, and most importantly the lives of the servants you're talking to. All the staff speak in 'old english' and it is impossible to catch them out of character - no wonder they are award winning!
On key days throughout the year you can also find additional activities taking place in and around the manor - butter making, pottery, children's games, seasonal celebrations - all the dates for these are on the website.
There are also special events in the evenings - for example, the Christmas promenade theatre is a great family evening out!
Thousands of school children visit Llancaiach Fawr throughout the year, and the experience they encounter is a wonderful way to immerse them in the history of the Tudor and Stuart times. Depending on prior arrangements by the school, the children are often invited to participate in a craft, which they can then take home as a momento. The presentation from the Manor to the children is especially designed to tie in with the National Curriculum.
The Living History aspect is the main feature of Llancaiach Fawr, but that's not where it ends. Due to well built function rooms, Llancaiach Fawr can also cater for weddings, parties, conferences, or any event you can think of.
Oh, and have I not mentioned that it's haunted? Llancaiach Fawr has features on Living TVs Most Haunted (series 2) and is known for being one of the most haunted locations in Wales. Throughout the winter months - if you're brave enough - you could go on a Ghost Tour, Ghost Tour Extra or even a Ghost Watch (details of all are on the website.).
Llancaiach Fawr really is a fantastic day out, come rain or shine.
Admission Charges 2009
Prices for evening tours and ghosty related events can vary, so take a look at the website!