Is Gwrych Castle for sale again?

Gwrych Castle, Wales (Image: geograph.co.uk)

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

Welsh ‘Versailles’ still awaiting saviour: Kinmel Hall for sale

Kinmel Hall, Conwy (Image: Hannells)

When Kinmel Hall was bought in March 2006 by an investment company it was almost immediately advertised on their website as a ‘a unique development opportunity’ with plans for use as either hotel, spa, offices, conference venue or apartments.  Yet, nearly four years later, this impressive mansion is still languishing without a clear future.

The Kinmel estate was bought in 1786 using the vast wealth generated for the Hughes family in the eighteenth century through their half-ownership of the copper mine in Parys mountain which generated up to £150,000 a year at it’s peak (equivalent today to about £200m measured against average earnings).  The Hughes family lived in the house already there until it was rebuilt in 1842-3 in a Palladian style designed by the famous Georgian architect Thomas Hopper for the 1st Lord Dinorben.  When this house burnt down shortly afterwards in 1848 their huge income meant that an even larger house could be built to replace it.  Designed by William Nesfield in a monumental chateau-style and built between 1871-76 it was for an age of lavish house parties and featured 52 bedrooms and accomodation for 60 live-in staff.  The Hughes family lived there until 1929 when it became a health spa, then a hospital during WWII and then a school from 1945 until a large fire forced them out in 1975.  Restored in the 1980s, it was sold several times before being purchased by Derbyshire Investments who still own it today.

The original descendants of the Hughes’ still own the 5,000-acre Kinmel estate – all that remains of their original holding of 85,000 acres they once owned across the area.  The grade-I listed Hall and the 18 acres of walled gardens would make a magical location for what ever final purpose is decided – but the important task is to determine that future.  I suppose it’s too much to hope that it will again be a family home but any sensitive use which preserves this historic house as part of Wales’ architectural heritage is to be encouraged.

More details: ‘Kinmel Hall, North Wales‘ [Derbyshire Investments]