- Gwydir Castle
Gwydir Castle is situated in the
Conwy valley, North Wales, a mile to the west of the ancient market townof Llanrwstand convert|1.5|mi|km to the south of the large village of Trefriw. A fine example of a fortified manor housedating back to c1500, it is located on the edge of the floodplain of the river Conwy, and overlooked from the west by the now-forested slopes of Gwydir Forest.
There has been a fortification of some sort on the site since AD 600, and in the
Dark Agesa large number of skirmishes were fought in this area between the various rival Welsh princes and their forces, the most significant being in 610 and 954.
By the 14th century some form of
manorialhouse had evolved, and the first recorded owner was Howell ap Coetmore, who fought in the Hundred Years' Warand was a commander of longbowmen under Edward, the Black Princeat the Battle of Poitiersin 1356.
Wars of the Rosesthe castle was rebuilt by Meredith ap Jevan ap Robert, the founder of the Wynn dynasty. The house incorporated re-used mediaevalmaterial from the dissolved Abbey of Maenan. The square turret at the rear of the Solar Tower contains a spiral staircase taken from the Abbey and many elaborately carved stones can also be seen. The turret was added around 1540 and Sir John Wynn's initials can be seen above the main entrance in the courtyard gatehouse along with the date of 1555. The surviving buildings date from around the year 1500, and there were alterations and additions in c1540, c1600 and c1828, the latter after Lord Willoughby had done a fair bit of demolishing in c1819.
Although called a castle, it is a fine example of a
Tudor architecturecourtyard house or fortified manor house, rather than a traditional castle, such as those built in North Wales by Llywelyn the Greatand Edward I.
Gwydir was home to
Katheryn of Berain. King Charles is said to have visited Gwydir in 1645 as the guest of Sir Richard Wynn, 2nd Baronet, Treasurer to Queen Henrietta Maria, and Groom of the Royal Bed Chamber.
The Gwydir Estate
During the 16th and 17th centuries the Gwydir Estate under the Wynn family dominated North Wales, and at the centre of this huge Estate, Gwydir itself stood in a deer park of some 36,000 acres. In 1678 it passed by marriage to the Barons Willoughby de Eresby, based in
Lincolnshire(and from 1892 also to the Earls of Ancaster). The 18th century consequently saw a period of some neglect, and by the early 19th century the Estate largely comprised the parishes of Dolwyddelan(where the Wynns also has an ancestral home), Llanrhychwyn, Trefriw and Gwydir, totalling some 55 square miles. This land, however, was mostly mountainous and poor quality, and although there were some 30 slate mines on the land, of varying sizes, this slate was not of a particularly good standard, much of it more suited to slabs than roofing slate. Nor was production high, and the output of all the quarries over the 150 years of their existence totalled, for instance, just two years' worth of output from the Blaenau Ffestiniogquarries. Prior to the arrival of the railway in the 1860s, most slate was carried by cart to the quays at Trefriw. The Estate also owned a number of mineral mines, mostly in the area of today's Gwydir Forest.
Much of the Estate was, however, under continuous mortgage, and in 1894 Dolwyddelan was sold off, followed in the next two years by most of Llanrhychwyn and Trefriw. The sale of the house in 1921 by the Earl of Carrington saw it passing out of inherited ownership for the first time in over 400 years, and virtually all other lands were subsequently sold off. Today the Estate comprises just the 10 acres in which Gwydir Castle sits.
The 20th Century
In 1921 the castle was desecrated. The 1640s panelled main dining room was totally stripped, the carved and gilded panelling being bought at auction by
William Randolph Hearst, the American press baron. On his death, the panels were inherited by the Metropolitan Museum of Artand until recently languished in storage. The new owners of Gwydir succeeded in tracing these long lost panels and negotiated with the museum which generously allowed their return to Wales. They have been carefully replaced in their original setting and the restored dining room was recently re-opened in 1998 at a ceremony attended by the Prince of Wales.
In 1922 a fire broke out and gutted the Solar Tower, leaving it roofless. A subsequent fire in the West Wing made the place untenable, and it was abandoned, remaining unoccupied until 1944. In this year it was bought by Arthur Clegg, a retired bank manager, who, together with his wife and son, started a 20 year programme of renovation.
A further period of abandonment followed, when damage was caused by squatters.
The castle is now privately owned by Peter and Judith Welford, who are continuing sensitive restoration with authenticity as the main consideration. The story of this recent restoration (which is being done with the backing of
Cadw) is told in Judy Corbett's book "Castles in the Air" [http://www.gwydircastle.co.uk/castlesintheair.htm] .
The castle is set within a
Grade 1 listed, 10- acregarden, which contains some ancient cedars — one of which was planted in 1625 to commemorate the wedding of King Charles I to Queen Henrietta Maria. One yew tree, known as the "Lovers Tree" or "Giant Yew", is estimated to be between 600 and 1000 years old, and therefore pre-dates the castle itself.
The raised terrace contains an imposing
Renaissancearch, probably dating from the 1590s.
Dutch Gardencontains ancient yew topiaryand an octagonal fountain.
The Royal and Statesman's gardens contain Welsh Oaks planted during the royal visit of 1899, and in 1911.
An Elizabethan causeway called the Chinese Walk runs across the felds to the River Conwy, where the remains of the Gwydir Quay can be seen. The river Conwy is tidal up to this point.
The castle has the reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in Wales, the "Grey Lady" being the most commonly seen, together with the ghost of a monk said to have been trapped in a tunnel leading from the secret room, and Sir John Wynn himself. Many local people will testify to having seen ghosts in the castle.
Gwydir Uchaf Chapel
Gwydir Uchaf Chapel, in the woods above Gwydir Castle, was built in 1673 by Sir Richard Wynn as a family memorial chapel for the Wynns of Gwydir. The simple exterior provides a direct contrast with its beautifully painted ceiling, depicting the
Creation, the Trinityand the Last Judgement.
This chapel should not be confused with the one adjoining
LlanrwstChurch, called Gwydir Chapel. (This was built in 1633 by an earlier Sir Richard Wynn, and is said to have been designed by Inigo Jones. It has elaborate wood panelling, several family tombs and a stone coffin said to be that of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, moved from Maenan Abbey at the Dissolution.)
* "Gwydir Castle — A Brief History and Guide", by Peter Welford, 2000
* "Gwydir Castle" — A leaflet for Visitors
* "Gwydir Slate Quarries", by M.C. Williams & M.J.T. Lewis, 1989
* "Castles in the Air", by Judy Corbett, Ebury Press, 2004
"(It is acknowledged that some of the above information has been taken from Gwydir Castle's own guide.)"
* [http://www.gwydircastle.co.uk/ Official Gwydir Castle site]
* [http://www.castlewales.com/gwydir.html A more detailed history]
* [http://snowdoniaguide.com/gwydir_castle.html Illustrated guide to Gydir Castle]
* [http://www.worldwidewales.tv/html/movie-400.php history with a movie]
* [http://www.colc.co.uk/cambridge/gwydir/name.htm Origins of the name "Gwydir"]
* [http://home.freeuk.com/stcrwst/page4.html Gwydir Chapel]
* [http://www.geograph.org.uk/search.php?i=2768090 www.geograph.co.uk : photos of Gwydir Castle and surrounding area]
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