THE HISTORY - (condensed from numerous articles) ...
Gwrych Castle is NOT a true castle at all, rather it is a Victorian folly built between 1812 and 1822 by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh as a memorial to his mother’s ancestors, the Lloyds of Gwrych. There had originally been an Elizabethan house on the site named ‘Y Fron (rounded hill) but by 1810 it had become totally derelict. By the time Lloyd married Lady Emily Esther Ann Lygon, the daughter of the 1st Earl of Beauchamp in 1825, the main building was complete. Some of the foremost architects of the time were involved in the design and realisation of Gwrych Castle including Charles Augustus Busby and Thomas Rickman, and later Henry Kennedy was employed to extend the castle during the 1840’s by the addition of a new bedroom wing, a staircase and a porch. Later still in the 1870's George Edmund Street designed the family chapel.
When Lloyd died the Castle passed on to Robert Bamford-Hesketh and his wife, Ellen Jones-Bateman. Robert and Ellen planted up much of the present gardens with enormous Monkey Puzzles and Yew trees though sadly the gardens are long since over grown and practically unrecognisable.
In 1894 Winifred Bamford-Hesketh LEFT , as the sole heiress of the Gwrych Estate inherited the castle and made it her official residence. She married Douglas, Earl of Dundonald RIGHT , who later gained great fame during the Boer War’s for his part in 'The Relief of Ladysmith’ and he eventually retired after a most illustrious military career. Winifred raised her children at the castle and became involved in Welsh affairs, becoming a founder member of the Church in Wales. During her time at the castle she employed Detmar Blow and Charles Ernest Elcock to construct a highly ornate Italian marble staircase and to renovate the state apartments.
When Winifred died in 1924 her will declared that Gwrych should be bequeathed to King George V and the Prince of Wales so that the Royal Family could have a permanent base in Wales but her request was turned down so it was given instead to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. The Knights Hospitaller of which the St. John Knights were one of several sub-orders, was also known as the Order of Hospitallers. They were a group of men attached to a hospital in Jerusalem founded around 1023. It evolved into a military order.
In 1925 the Earl of Dundonald (Winifred’s husband) bought back the Castle for £78,000 and sold the entire contents of the building a few years later in 1928 to recoup the costs. One can only wonder what had gone so comprehensively wrong with their marriage for Winifred to cut her husband out of her will!
When the Nazi persecution of the Jews began in 1930s Germany few people would ever have expected that Gwrych Castle would become a refugee centre, but shortly after WWII began Gwrych was requisitioned by Neville Chamberlin's government to house two hundred Jewish child refugees in an operation that was named, "The Kindertransport" LEFT . Many years later in 2006 a group of those refugees made a pilgrimage back to visit Gwrych Castle RIGHT and BBC Cymru reported upon it:
In an emotional visit, Osias Findling said: "This place created a bond which lasted for a lifetime". Amid tears, he said: "It's very emotional to see this place again after 62 years and remember the happy days we had, and to think that the future we had was entirely different to the one we had imagined then". Osias and his friends still share the fondest of memories during the saddest of times. They recalled their Sabbath suppers, the dance every Saturday night and the day one of the organisers of the Kindertransport was married at the castle.
Shortly after the end of the war the children went off to the new Jewish state of Israel and were settled there creating new homes in what had previously been the state of Palestine, and once again the castle was returned to the family. Whether or not it was the stresses inherent in the society of post war Britain at that time, or the far more likely issue of finance, is unclear but the writing was on the wall for the relationship between the 13th Earl of Dundonald and Gwrych Castle. In 1946 the castle and the surrounding estate were sold to Mr Robert Rennie of Chester and a gradual decline began. In 1948 an entrepreneur named Leslie Salts bought the castle and opened it as a show home and events location. This scheme was so successful it attracted almost ten million visitors over the best part of twenty years, even earning the nickname, "The Showplace of Wales". During this period two famous boxers, Randolph Turpin LEFT and Bruce Woodcock RIGHT , both trained here and many people came from all over the world 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 enormous dining room into a restaurant. During the mid to late 1970’s Gwrych became a medieval theme park with markets and jousting shows taking place upon the site of the old formal gardens and conservatory but the success of the earlier years began to decline with the advent of package holidays and the ever growing phenomenon of the "goggle box" in your living room. Gwrych Castle finally closed it's doors to the public during the winter of 1985, never to reopen despite the best efforts of a Californian named Nick Tavaglione who purchased Gwrych in December 1989, with plans to restore the Castle and create a five star hotel and opera house in situ. Sadly it never happened due in part to legal problems and in part to planning law.
In 1996 several scenes for the motion picture film "Prince Valiant", starring Edward Fox and Joanna Lumley", were shot at the Castle, but after that time the weather and the attentions of that foul breed, the New Age Traveller, have reduced the building to the point of near dereliction and there is now little of anything left standing within the shell of the main building. In 2006, after much hard work by the Gwrych Castle Trust, the sale of the castle to Clayton Hotels was arranged. Around half a million pounds was spent on consolidating the site with a view to converting Gwrych into a five star hotel and spa but unfortunately, Clayton Hotels went into receivership during August 2009 and the castle was put up for sale again. In 2010 Gwrych was purchased by Edwards Property Management who, with the help of the Trust, intend to continue with the plan for a five star hotel within the shell of the castle.
A little "fun" in The Sun...
On the 22nd. February, 2010, the paragon of objective newspapers published a report together with a photograph, supposedly of the ghost of Gwrych Castle. Being as this "news"paper is so reliable and truthful, and never, ever sensationalistic in it's reporting, I couldn't possibly fail to take their word as anything but 100% gospel.
Be afraid, be VERY afraid - here's the report... ahem... cough, cough... Photoshop!
MY PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GWRYCH CASTLE...
In the period of post war austerity in the late 1940s and the 1950s most people could not afford the kind of holiday we take so for granted these days. There were no Costa Brava package trips; no Aer Lingus prop-jet Britannias flying out of "Ringway" packed full of terrified working class mums and dads with baby on the knee, white knuckles gripping the seat arms when the plane slewed sideways as it left the tarmac! No frantic round of applause as the pilot touched down - all these dubious delights were still ten years or more away in the future! If you could afford a week all inclusive at Butlitz you were doing really well and my dad's wage as a bus conductor didn't stretch that far for a little while longer! As a small child in the late 1950s I am reliably informed that I went to Rhyl with our extended family to stay in one of the thousands of static caravans on the many sites which stretched for miles all along the beach at the side of the A55 under the eyes of the castle on the hill. Although I have no memory of it I am told that we visited Gwrych Castle for the day on one of those holidays. A little later at the age of 11 I can remember travelling to Penmaenmawr to stay in our next door neighbour's holiday cottage (they were posh, he was a solicitor!) and seeing the castle as if for the first time as we drove past. But sadly we did not go up to visit it. And then at the age of 21 I began SCUBA diving and we would regularly drive down to Anglesey on a Friday night, dive there all weekend then drive back past the castle on the way home. It always fascinated me and yet I never paid the old girl a visit until early June 2012. In the company of TJ and Carl, a new explorer, we trekked up past the golf course and did our thannng. It's so sad to see this once proud and stylish Victorian folly in such a state of dereliction and we can only hope that the latest in the long line of plans to resurrect the phoenix from the ashes comes to a succesful fruition before the walls begin to crumble and collapse in the same way that the castle interior has done but only time will tell.