Gwrych Castle, Abergele, North Wales

A Short History of Gwrych Castle and Estate

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Gwrych Castle was built in 1819 by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, grandfather of Winifred, Countess of Dundonald. Upon the site was an ancient house named ‘Y Fron’ (rounded hill). When Lloyd married Lady Emily Esther Ann Lygon in 1825, Gwrych was nearly complete.

The expertise of Thomas Rickman was utilised by Hesketh in the design of Gwrych and its many cast iron windows. Henry Kennedy subsequently extended the Castle during the 1840’s by the inclusion of a new bedroom wing, staircase and porch.

When Lloyd died the Castle passed onto Robert Bamford-Hesketh and his wife, Ellen. George Edmund Street designed the famous marble staircase during the 1870’s and also some fireplaces. Robert planted much of the present gardens with their enormous Monkey Puzzles and Laurels.

Winifred inherited Gwrych in 1894 and it became her official residence as Countess of Dundonald. She brought up her children there and sincerely loved it. In 1914 the building work of Elcock was complete and a new bedroom wing and alterations to the state apartments were added to Gwrych.

Lady Dundonald’s will declared that Gwrych should be bequeathed to King George V and the Prince of Wales. This request was declined and it was given to St John of Jerusalem. In 1928 the Earl of Dundonald (Winifred’s husband) bought back the Castle for £78,000 and sold the contents of the building to cover the cost. During World War Two, Gwrych was requisitioned by the Government and housed two hundred Jewish refugees.

A gradual decline began when Gwrych Castle finally left the family's hands in 1946, the 13th Earl of Dundonald sold it to Mr Robert Rennie. Then in 1948 Leslie Salts brought the building and successfully opened Gwrych to the Public for twenty years. The Castle was nicknamed ‘the Showplace of Wales’ and attracted nearly ten million visitors. Randolph Turpin and Bruce Woodcock trained there and many people came to see them.

Between 1968 and 1989 the Castle had many owners and many different uses. The library was turned into a bar; Winifred’s music room and drawing room were converted into a large bar lounge and the gargantuan dining room into a restaurant. During the latter part of the 1970’s Gwrych became a medieval centre where markets were held and jousting took place upon the site of the old formal gardens and conservatory. Gwrych finally closed to the public during the winter of 1985, never to open again.

An American businessman purchased Gwrych in December 1989. Prince Valiant was filmed at the Castle in 1996 and starred Edward Fox and Joanna Lumley. Since then, the weather, heartless vandals and new-age travellers have ravaged the building to the point of complete dereliction. Most of the roof has caved in and a large section of the south front has collapsed. One hopes that it will be restored back to its former glory so that everyone can walk through its marbled halls as Winifred did.

Mark Baker

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©Mark Baker 2003