Confirmed: Gwrych Castle is for sale again

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

Following earlier concerns, sources have confirmed that the grade-I listed former ‘showplace of Wales’, Gwrych Castle, is once again for sale.

After many years as a deteriorating ruin, it’s outlook improved when the castle was finally sold for £860,000 in 2007 to City Services Ltd (trading as Clayton Homes – a separate company to Clayton Hotels which is still trading). They soon announced ambitious plans to convert it into a luxury 5-star hotel using the original layout as the starting point.  Initial work on site has included the removal of over 1,900 tons of asbestos and debris from within the shell and the vegetation stripped from the exterior. The site was ready for restoration to start and Donald Insall architects were working on the designs for restoration.

Unfortunately 2007 was the height of the property market and the subsequent fall hit many companies including Clayton Homes which went into administration on 12 August 2009.  Deloitte (Leeds) were appointed as administrators and have been quietly marketing the assets including Gwrych Castle.  This was highlighted by the story of the businessman who was viewing the castle as a possible site for his ‘psychic school’ when he conveniently saw a ghost at a window.   Kevin Horkin has apparently submitted a bid for around £850,000 – which may secure him the site but to complete the project to the required standard will require at least another £6m-12m depending on his ambitions.  This is a significant level of investment if he is to restore this wonderful house to the appropriate standard.  Hopefully Cadw, the Welsh equivalent to English Heritage, will keep a very close eye on the project and ensure that any plans are at least to the same standard as those approved for Clayton Homes.

Many people have taken a keen interest in Gwyrch Castle and had hoped that the sale would lead to this once grand house again taking a key role in the local area and also to save this important part of their architectural heritage.  It would be tragedy if the work already done to create a secure and viable foundation for restoration was allowed to deteriorate again – the house must be sold to a sympathetic owner who has both the vision and funds to complete this project in a way which befits this beautiful house.

More details:

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]

Drop added to ocean – grant to Hafodunos Hall

Hafodunos Hall, Denbighshire (Image: SnakeCorp on flickr)

When idiot arsonists set light to grade-I listed Hafodunos Hall in 2004 they largely destroyed one of not only North Wales’ best country houses but also one of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s finest works.  Built in 1861-6 at a cost of £30,000 for Henry R. Sandbach, son of Samuel Sandbach, a Liverpool merchant and shipowner who had bought the original, 17th-century house in 1831.  Hafodunos was also designed with Sandbach’s collection of sculpture including works by John Gibson (1790-1866) which were incorporated into the walls and left exposed after the fire (but now removed for safe-keeping).

So a glorious house by one of the greatest Victorian architects which featured some of his trademark interiors including decorated doors, ribbed ceilings and fine chimneypieces was reduced to a burnt out shell and has remained as such despite attempts to sell the house and begin restoration.  As the house continues to deteriorate efforts have been made to limit the damage through grants.  The latest from Cadw (the Welsh version of English Heritage) is for £21,000 to pay for emergency work to stabilise the structure – which if you look at this gallery on flickr you’ll see is a drop in the ocean compared to total required for full restoration.  However, any work is positive so hopefully this will help preserve what remains until a more secure future for the house can be found.

Full story: ‘Heritage cash boost for Denbighshire landmarks‘ [Denbighshire Visitor]

Quick news roundup: Gelli Aur, Raasay House, overseas buyers

Welsh mansion appeal for armed forces retreat‘ [BBC News]

Raasay House: ‘Work to start on fire hit centre‘ [BBC News]

Overseas buyers snapping up country houses‘ [Country Life]

Welsh mansion under threat from crass developer

As if Wales hasn’t lost enough country houses already, another is currently under threat of demolition.

Plas Dulas, in Llanddulas, Conwy is currently in a poor state but restorable if swift action was taken.  Built in the 1840s, and visited by Evelyn Waugh, it is remarkable in that the whole estate is complete including gardens, gatehouse, walled garden, and stables.

A local couple, James and Caroline Burt, who have successfully restored another local house into a hotel, made an initial offer of £250k to the owner, who bought the house and estate for £190k in 2002.  According to Mrs Burt, the owner, Alex Davies, replied ‘If you’re not willing to talk around £1m then I’m just going to leave if for another eight years and let it fall down’.  A thoroughly crass and ignorant approach, I’m sure you’ll agree.  Mr Davies is determined to press ahead with his plan, which has been submitted to the council for approval, to demolish the house and destroy the estate with 29 houses.

He has claimed that it would cost £1.5m to restore the house but it’s highly unlikely that it would cost this and is more likely a randomly high figure plucked from the air to justify his vandalism.

The Victorian Society and the renowned local campaigner Mark Baker have both objected but unfortunately CADW is unable to get involved due to its unduly narrow focus as to what is worth saving.

So, hope appears to rest with the local council, national and local pressure, and a miracle conversion for Mr Davies from vandal to someone who appreciates his local heritage.

Full story:

Campaign to save Llanddulas landmark famous author visited‘ [North Wales Weekly News]

 ‘Couple go to Waugh over future of historic mansion‘ [WalesOnline]