Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

Date

19 July 2015

Location

Abergele, Conwy
SH 92909 77524; 53.28382°N, 3.60778°W

Information

The original 12th-century Norman castle at Gwrych was rebuilt by the Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffydd later in the century, and was destroyed in the 17th century by the Roundheads during the English Civil War. The current Gothic-Revival folly was built from 1819 to 1825 by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh on the site of an Elizabethan house belonging to his mother’s forebears the Lloyds of Gwyrch.

Lloyd’s son Robert Bamford-Hesketh (1826-1894) left the property to his daughter and sole heir Winifred Bamford-Hesketh (1859-1924), who in 1878 had become the Countess of Dundonald upon her arranged marriage to Douglas Mackinnon Baillie Hamilton Cochrane (1852-1935), 12th Earl of Dundonald. When they married, Cochrane was a Captain in the British Army and was later to rise to the rank of Lieutenant General. He served in the First Boer War (1880-1881), the Second Boer War (1899-1902), in which he was Commander of the Mounted Brigade, and the First World War (1914-1918). The couple had two sons and three daughters. Cochrane, however, spent most of his time in his native Scotland while Winifred lived at Gwrych Castle until her death in 1924, when she left the property to King George V. The bequest was, however, refused and the property passed to the Welsh Church. Cochrane later bought the castle back for £70,000, an acquisition that was financed by subsequently selling off its contents.

During the Second World War Gwrych was requisitioned by the Government and served as a hostel run by Jewish youth movement Bnei Akiva to house 200 refugee children saved by the ‘British Schindler’ Sir Nicholas Winton (1909-2015) as part of operation Kindertransport.

The 13th Earl of Dundonald sold the property in 1946 for £12,000 to Robert Rennie and two years later it was bought by Leslie Salts who opened the castle to the public for 20 years as ‘The Showplace of Wales’. In the 1950s world middleweight champion Randolph Turpin trained in the castle for his re-match against Sugar Ray Robinson. In the subsequent period up until its final closure in 1985 it had a number of different owners and in the 1970s it served as a venue for medieval banquets, markets and jousting.

Nick Tavaglione, an American businessman, bought the castle in 1989 with plans to convert it into a hotel and opera house. These were never realised though and the abandoned castle subsequently fell into disrepair with damage from travellers and vandals. In 1998 its roof and floors collapsed and it was later ravaged by fire, leaving only the shell of the structure standing. In 2007 it was bought by Clayton Hotels who intended to convert it into a 5-star hotel. However, having spent £500,000 on the site, the company later went into administration and the castle was sold in April 2010 to family-run business Edwards Property Management (EPM-UK), which had been founded in 2005 as a holiday-lettings management company.

EPM-UK together with its sister company Castell Developments were granted detailed planning permission in 2013 for plans for a £25 million scheme to convert the castle into a 77-bedroom luxury country house hotel and spa. The enterprise is currently seeking financial backers for the project.

Architectural historian and author Mark Baker, who had published his first book on the history of Gwrych Castle at age 13, founded A Society for the Friends of Gwrych in 1997, which was renamed the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust and registered as a charity in 2001. The Trust was set up to raise awareness of the castle and to work towards securing a solution for its restoration and it facilitated the 2007 sale of the property. With the cooperation of the current owners and financial support from the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Trust has embarked upon a three-year project to renovate the castle outbuildings and convert the Melon House and conservatory into a visitor centre. Clearance work for this started in March 2014 and the first building to be restored, the Gardeners’ Tower, was available for viewing by the public in an open weekend in July 2015. It took 10 volunteers six months to restore the tower, the first floor of which had been used as a writing room by Winifred Bamford-Hesketh, with its basement serving as the gardeners’ mess.

Gwyrch Castle is a Grade I listed building.

Further Reading

Gwrych Castle (2010);
Gwrych Castle (Wikipedia);
Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust;
Reopening Abergele’s Gwrych Castle ‘a dream come true’ (BBC News, 18 July 2015)

Gwrych Castle, November 2010

Gwrych Castle, November 2010

Gwrych Castle Open Day, 19 July 2015

Gwrych Castle Open Day, 19 July 2015

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

Restored Gardener's Tower

Restored Gardener’s Tower. This chamber was used by Winifred Bamford-Hesketh as her writing room and the tower is the first building to be restored at the castle.

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

John Edwards, Clark of the Works Gwrych Castle A.D. 1829

John Edwards, Clark of the Works Gwrych Castle A.D. 1829

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

Danger!

Danger!

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

Vestiges of stained glass

Vestiges of stained glass

Razor

Razor

Blocked up

Blocked up

Up there!

Up there!

Guide

Guide

Nikon

Nikon

Pepsi and a monopod

Pepsi and a monopod

Ponytail

Ponytail

Ink

Ink

Spiderman

Spiderman

Padlock

Padlock

PreservationTrust

Preservation Trust

15 thoughts on “Gwrych Castle

  1. excellent history and excellent shots. Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh & Douglas Mackinnon Baillie Hamilton Cochrane are names to muddle the brain! Love the people shots, what is that guy with the ponytail thinking??. It doesn’t make up for the lack on top! 😀 I am liking the Nikon Lady’s top though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Yes, that lot seem to have a penchant for excessively long names 😉 The tour guide had with him a portable PA system, which by some marvel of modern technology seemed to make his soft spoken tones even less audible. A spot of peoplewatching therefore provided an interesting alternative to trying to keep up with the commentary.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was announced in the local news in advance of the open weekend that a tower of the castle had been restored, so I was a little disappointed to see that this was just a small room in an outbuilding, rather than part of the castle proper. But I suppose the work has to start somewhere. It will be interesting to see how far it advances in the future.

      Didn’t see any sign of your guard!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your photos are very fine and the shots of the vestiges of stained glass and the distant views are beautiful. I never made it to Gwrych, but it still looks intriguing from the expressway. I had read that there was once a model railway, something like a 5″ gauge miniature line, that ran there. Must have a look on the web.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Had to miss the open day, so glad you were there though, brilliant people-detail watching! I guess the lack of progress on restoration is down to funding and available man-power? Looks like they’re doing a good job though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks! Yes, I guess the lack of funding is a major obstacle. Judging by the numbers attending when I was there though the gate receipts should have given their coffers a little extra boost.

      Like

  4. that castle is sooo beautiful… lovely shots of it from both 2010 and 2015 🙂
    we dont have anything like this here in Bulgaria, all fortresses and castles were destroyed in the Middle Ages… we have a couple of fortresses only reconstructed but they are brand new, you know, and not quite preserving the spirit…

    some fabulous portraits there too, Graham!! lovely post…

    Liked by 1 person

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