Gwrych Castle, Abergele

Gwrych Castle is a fairytale mock medieval castle and 250 acre estate in Abergele, north Wales, which is registered as a Grade I Listed Building.

Gwrych Castle, Abergele
Gwrych Castle, Abergele. Photo by Gareth Morlais.

Early years

Gwrych Castle was built by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh (1788-1861) in memory of his mother’s side of the family.

It was built on the site of a mansion called ‘ Y Fron ‘ which since 1810 had gone to ruin.

By the time Lloyd had married Lady Emily Esther Ann Lygon (the daughter of Beauchamp) in 1825 the new house had been built and finished. A number of planners and architects worked together on its planning, including Charles Augustus Busby and Thomas Rickman. In the 1840s Henry Kennedy raised a new wing. When Lloyd died, Robert Bamford-Hesketh (1826- 1894) and his wife Ellen Jones-Bateman became owners of Gwrych Castle.

Robert added to the grounds and by 1873. The family also owned a number of coal mines in north Wales.

Robert and Ellen had one daughter, Winifred Bamford-Hesketh (b. 1859). She married Douglas Mackinnon Baillie Hamilton, 12th Earl of Dundonald in 1878.

WWII and beyond

During the Second World War, Gwrych Castle was used by the Government to shelter 200 members of the Jewish Movement Bnei Akiva as part of Operation Kindertransport.

As the war drew to a close  the Earl of Dundonald had to sell the estate for death duties. The castle’s connection with the Dundonald family was broken and for twenty years it was open to the public. At this time it was called “The Showpiece of Wales ” and tourist flocked to Abergele to visit it.

It was also used as the training camp of the boxer Randolph Turpin in the early 1950s. In the early 1960s, it was occasionally used by ‘ Dragon Rally ‘ motorcyclists.

Many of Abergele’s residents and visitors will remember Gwrych Castle’s jousting tornaments and banquets of the 1970s with great affection.

Since the 1980s

The castle’s doors were closed to the public in 1985, and a period of decline followed, with the fabric of the castle becoming badly affected.

It was bought in 1989 by Nick Tavaglione, an American businessman, for £750,000. But restoration of the building was not carried out and as a result the castle became ruined by vandals and the weather.

It was used in 1996 as background to the film Prince Valiant, which starred Edward Fox, Joanna Lumley and Katherine Heigl.

The American owner was forced to sell in March 2006 and the castle was bought by City Services Ltd, trading as Clayton Homes and  Clayton Hotels, in January 2007 for £850,000. Half a million pounds was spent on its restoration, but after Clayton Hotels was placed in administration, new developers got new planning consent in November 2012 from Conwy County Borough Council for the castle to be converted into a luxury hotel with 75 bedrooms and associated facilities. This plan was not realised.

On 13 June 2018, Gwrych Castle and its estate was sold to Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust https://www.gwrychcastle.co.uk/, with the help of a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

– written 17 April 2020, with acknowlegement of Wikipedia and other sources.

 

Read more about Gwrych on this site.

Rhyl Motor Club: two films of Abergele on the free BFI archive site

Albert Roberts from Abergele but now living in Romsey wrote to say:
“Just noticed a site that may be of interest to you and other Abergelians, where old (some very old) films have recently been digitised and made available to the public. There are two free films of Abergele including one of the 1971 floods, there may be others which are not free – but I have not yet explored the whole site.

The films are available at: player.bfi.org.uk

Here’s a still showing one of the two films playing:

Rhyl Motor Club video still copyright BFI
Rhyl Motor Club video copyright BFI

 

Gun and dogs in photo of staff of Gwrych Castle, Abergele, long ago

Here’s a photo of the staff of Gwrych Castle Gate, Abergele, in the building’s very early days from the Dennis Parr Collection. Date unknown.

It’s great that the gamekeeper holds both a gun and a gundog or two. It’s quite a warm pose for the time, with people putting their arms around each other’s shoulders. The top hat on the back row  is a standout too.

KO Katie? – headline in Abergele Visitor about Ffordd Las Fawr farm?

Christopher Lloyd wrote to us saying: “Hi, I’m trying to trace a newspaper between 1969 and 1975 not sure on exact year all I know the head line was KO Katie, this was my great nain, she apprehended a burglar rat the farm Ffordd las fawr I’m trying to trace the article Thank you in advance”
Please use the comments section if you can help.