When Gwrych Castle was finally sold in June 2006 after twenty years of neglect, dereliction, fires and theft, there was much praise and relief locally that the once-beautiful “showplace of Wales” was to be rescued. Bought by Yorkshire-based Clayton Hotels for £860,000, they estimated that once planning permission had been secured, the restoration would take between 2-3 years and cost an estimated £6m – however three years later, the major part of the restoration work has yet to start.
Built between 1819-1825 for Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, grade-I listed Gwrych was one of the largest ‘castlellated mansions’ in Europe, part of a ‘gothick’ revival which included some of Britain’s most picturesque country houses such as Eastnor Castle, East Cowes Castle, Lea Castle, and Castel Coch and many more. Following its sale by the 13th Earl of Dundonald in 1946 it was opened to the public in various forms and under various owners until 1989. The failure of the redevelopment plans led to the castle being left unprotected against the ravages of the weather, travellers, and vandals, leaving the castle a mere shell, the fine interiors rotting in piles in the collapsed ground floor.
The plans unveiled by Clayton Hotels in 2007 showed that the castle would be fully restored and largely based on the original layout. Mark Baker of the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, who had campaigned since he was 11 to save the castle, welcomed the plans and for many it seemed that the end was in sight. In February 2009, Wales Online (‘Welsh ruin to be transformed with techniques fit for royal home‘) trumpeted how the design work for the restoration was starting under the care of Donald Insall, one of the best conservation architects in the UK. However, in May 2009, a story on BBC News (‘Slow economy delays hotel plans‘) explained that the slow economy had delayed plans and also the cost for the project had risen to between £12-14m.
Now a recent story (‘Clitheroe man haunted by ghostly image in castle window‘) about a ghost in a window included some interesting quotes which raise some questions about the status of the project – or perhaps just the intended future clients.
A Lancashire businessman who combines being an optician with “psychic management” claimed to have taken a picture of a girl standing at a window where there is no floor. Kevin Horkin claimed he was visiting the site as “I buy property and was looking at the castle with the view buying it.” and the story ends by saying that “Kevin has put a bid in for the castle which he hopes to turn into a luxury psychic retreat.”. Despite the obvious convenience of a psychic who wants to open a hotel taking one of the clearest ever pictures of a ghost, it does raise questions about why he is saying the hotel is for sale? The Clayton Hotels website is one page with an email link and with the dramatic rise in restoration costs and the difficulties of the property markets, is the castle being quietly marketed ‘off the record’? Perhaps the quotes are misconstrued, or perhaps Clayton will refurbish the house but lease it Mr Horkin, but either way, Clayton Hotels should perhaps clarify exactly what is happening to this iconic part of Wales’ architectural heritage especially as so many people have spent so long campaigning for its rescue.
More information about the house: ‘Gwrych Castle Trust‘