Gwrych Castle, Abergele, North Wales

The Welcome Home of Lord Dundonald

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The Earl, despite his period of command having expired, landed at Cape Town after the Boers attacked Natal in 1899. Lord Dundonald just departed from England without informing his wife. She had to learn the news from the Earl’s mother. He left with the Gwrych Castle coachman, Rumph, his valet and two horses from the Castle’s stables. Lord Dundonald, on arriving in South Africa, offered his services to Redvers Buller and was given command of the South Natal Field Force. With this force he was engaged at Colenso and in early 1900 took command of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, with which he took part in the Tugela fighting and on 28th February entered Ladysmith. Later the same year, he commanded the combined 3rd Mounted and Natal Volunteer Brigades in the fighting on the Biggarsberg and at Laing's Nek and in the eastern Transvaal. When Buller resigned in October 1900 the brigade was broken up and Dundonald returned to England. For his services in the campaign he was mentioned in despatches six times and promoted to Lieutenant General.

The Chairman of the Urban District Council, Mr Thomas Williams, called a public meeting to decide how to honour the ‘Hero of Ladysmith’. Over £300 was subscribed and a committee was formed consisting of delegates from all surrounding urban and parish councils. It was decided to present the Earl with a Sword of Honour and an Address of Welcome.

This sword is still in existence in Loch Nell Castle, Scotland. It has the handle and scabbard of massive gold, the blade of the finest etched steel. The top of the handle is ornamented with a finely moulded head of British Lion, with emerald eyes, this being the emblem of valour. On the other part of the handle it is richly panelled containing embossed figures, one representing Abergele, presenting the ‘wreath of fame’ and the other a typical trooper serving under the 12th Earl. They are executed in repoussee on an enamelled ground. The hilt is studded with stones terminating at either end with horses heads, being the crest of the Earl. A central panel, which is surrounded by a central wreath, contains a finely enamelled miniature of the Earl, the reverse his armorial bearings and various other weapons.

The scabbard is richly panelled in repoussee, which are filled with appropriate devices. Shells form the opening of the scabbard; the panels below bear the initials of Dundonald and Abergele in enamel, surmounted by their respective coronets. The one below contains the enamelled Flags of Great Britain under the Royal Crown.

A central escutcheon on front bears ribbons inscribed with the various engagements the Earl took part in: with the arms of Wales on the reverse. Panels below contain Civic and Military Trophies, the lower ones containing engraved views of South Africa and Abergele. The scabbard terminates in a shell-like form. The blade is treated in panels, containing appropriate emblems and devices, the large one in the centre is devoted to the Inscription. A view of Gwrych Castle is shown and his initial and crest, with the initial of the town. The lower part is decorated with festoons of plants of national character. The firm of Jones & Sons, jewellers, Chapel Street, Abergele, supplied the sword.

Extensive preparations were made for the decoration of Abergele, both by the Committee and by private enterprises. Every house had its flags, festoons of garlands, streamers etc…

On a Friday afternoon, under lowering skies but amid scenes of wild enthusiasm and the clash of triumphant music, the Earl of Dundonald received his welcome home. The train arrived upon the be-flagged Abergele Station and the Countess arrived by landau with her mother, Lady Grizel and their youngest son, Douglas. In her own carriage was the Earl’s mother, the dowager Countess of Dundonald. Lord Dundonald then departed in the best carriage from Gwrych Castle with Winifred, young Douglas, and Rumph, the Earl’s coachman. The carriage was drawn by one hundred men and supported by a guard of honour, composed of Welsh Fusiliers. Twenty-eight members of the Gwrych Castle tenantry upon horseback preceded it, the Colwyn Volunteer Band and Abergele ‘H’ Company then followed. On the journey, the Countess stopped off at the National Schools, built by her parents, for the presentation of a bouquet to Winifred and Lady Grizel. Miss Nellie Thomas, Pen-y-Banc, presented a bouquet of red, white, and blue flowers to the Countess. Miss Cissey Williams presented a similar bouquet to Lady Grizel. The schoolmaster led the children in singing ‘Soldiers of the Queen’ and the National Anthem. A brief stop was made at Glanaber where another bouquet was presented to an elated Winifred.

The procession finally wound its way through the Gwrych Castle Gates for about one mile along the drive to a raised dais, in front of the Castle. Here a square enclosure had been roped off and lined by various Fire Brigades. Waiting were the Lord Lieutenant of the county, Colonel and Mrs Cornwallis-West, The Rt. Reverend the Bishop of Bangor, Canon Roberts of Llanddulas, Mr Owen Williams of Cefn, Mr Thomas Williams and his wife, Lady Florentia Hughes and Captain Hughes of Kinmel. The Lord Lieutenant called upon Mr Crabbe to read the illuminated address, and then himself presented the Sword of Honour (a cavalry sword due to the actual one was still being made). Thereupon the Earl responded at length and then accepted an address of welcome from the Workingmen’s Club, Llanddulas by Canon Roberts.

The procession then moved up the drive to the left onto the west terrace of the Castle, where the military formed a square, as the carriage reached the main door. Here were assembled Lord Cochrane, Lady Jean and Marjorie, and all of the Gwrych Castle staff who had been watching from the battlements.

©Mark Baker 2003