20 February 2016
John Hay Williams (1794-1859), who was descended from William Williams (1634-1700) 1st Baronet of Gray’s Inn who acquired Bodelwyddan Castle, became the 2nd Baronet of Bodelwyddan in 1830. During the 1830s he held the posts of High Sheriff of Anglesey, of Flintshire and then of Denbighshire. In 1842 he married the daughter of the 1st Earl Amherst, Lady Sarah Elizabeth Pitt (1801-1876). She was a proficient artist, having trained under English landscape painter Peter de Wint (1784-1849), and she made sketches of castles and country houses while the couple toured the Loire region of France. They had two daughters, and so with no male heir, Sir John’s title and properties were to be inherited by his younger brother, Hugh. He therefore decided to build a dower house as a residence for his wife and daughters in the event of his death, and it was to be Sarah’s drawings of chateaux that were to serve as inspiration for its design.
Birkenhead architect Charles Verelst (1814-1859) – known as Charles Reed until he inherited his uncle Harry Verelst’s (1773-1837) estate at Aston Hall, South Yorkshire – was engaged to draw up plans for the main structure based on Sarah’s sketches. In 1849 Beaumaris builder John Rogers started construction of the French gothic villa situated on the banks of the Menai Strait between Menai Bridge and Beaumaris. The Hay Williams took charge of the design of the interiors themselves and construction was completed in 1850 or 1851. Careful thought was given to the name of the villa – Plas Rhianfa (rhianfa meaning lady’s place in Welsh) – which was suggested by Reverend William Hicks Owen of St Asaph.
Following Hay Williams’ death in 1859, Sarah lived in the house until she died in 1876. Their eldest daughter, Margaret, inherited the property and she in turn lived there until she died in 1930. Margaret’s grandson, Dr Andrew Verney, received the property as a wedding present in 1955. The Verneys, however, sold it off in 1957. Most of the grounds were sold separately, with three of the original 12 acres remaining with the mansion, which was then subdivided into individual holiday apartments.
In 2003 Beaumaris architect Peter Bailey and his partner Vivienne Serene purchased Plas Rhianfa and resolved to re-integrate the apartments into a single home. In 2004 they secured a Grade II* listing for the building and, guided by the diaries of Sarah Hay Williams, embarked upon the process of restoration. However, ill health forced Bailey to discontinue the project and the property was put on the market in 2008 as a 15-bedroom mansion, together with Gate House, Coach House and Stables, set in three acres of grounds for £3.25 million.
Plas Rhianfa was eventually sold in 2011 for around £2 million to Buckinghamshire-based holding company Clarenco LLP for its AmaZing Venues division, which operates a portfolio of prestigious hotels and events venues in iconic country properties. After 16 months’ renovation, Clarenco opened the property in 2012 as Chateau Plas Rhianfa, a five-star luxury hotel and wedding and events venue. In May 2015 its restaurant was named Top Hotel Restaurant of the Year by the Foods Wales Awards. The hotel currently has 22 bedrooms plus three self-catering cottages and in September 2015 it was granted planning permission to convert a dwelling linked to the Chateau into an additional eight bedrooms.