19 July 2015
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.