Love My Wales is trying to raise £1400 to save a collection of architectural drawings for Plas Gwynfryn, Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd. The full set of 40 original drawings date to 1875 when the house was rebuilt by the Ellis-Nanney family. We are asking for donations of £35 to help save this collection for the Welsh Nation. When we have raised the monies required, the drawings will be deposited with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales to celebrate their move to the National Library of Wales during summer 2016.

The Story of Plas Gwynfryn

In the south-east corner of the Llyn Peninsula, overlooking Cardigan Bay and with the grand panorama of the Snowdonian mountain range to the east, is Plas Gwynfryn, resplendent in an ancient parkland where veteran oaks and the remnants of Victorian ornamental planting still endure. The site has been associated with the Wynne family since the dawn of the Tudors, but the estate passed by marriage to David Ellis of Bodychan during the mid-seventeenth century. His great-great grandson, also named David Ellis, added the surname Nanney on inheriting Cefndeuddwr from his bachelor uncle; he became attorney general for north Wales under the Great Sessions dispensation. No lawyer in north Wales was said to have been held in higher esteem than David during the early nineteenth century, and his knowledge combined of ‘common law and good common sense’ was renowned. He died without issue in 1819 and left the estate to his nephew, Owen Jones of Brynhir, who assumed the additional surnames of Ellis-Nanney as a condition of his inheritance.

Owen Jones Ellis-Nanney was described as a ‘bucolic character, and a thorough-going Welshman, indistinguishable at sight from the neighbouring farmers; indeed he would at times take a delight in being mistaken for an out-of-work farmhand, and would ask a stranger, met when out for a walk, if there was any chance of getting a job at the Plas.’ Owen’s young wife died four years after giving birth to a son and heir, Hugh John Ellis-Nanney, in 1849. Owen purchased the neighbouring Plas Hen estate, adding hugely to his lands, which were eventually settled on his young son and heir. Hugh was educated at Eton and Oxford, becoming a firm Conservative and a most eligible Welsh bachelor. On his twenty-first birthday, Hugh came of age and set about elevating the standing of his family home. George Williams was employed as architect, building a sturdy baronial mansion in the castellated style, echoing nearby Deudraeth Castle. The house was approached by a full size porte-cochere opening onto a top-lit central stair hall. The dining room suite lay to the service side of the castle, and the parlour and other reception rooms to the front. Work was completed in 1876 and estimated to have cost nearly £70,000 – a prodigiously large expenditure for the 1870s.

Hugh married the Hon. Elizabeth Octavia Dillon, younger daughter of the 3rd Lord Clonbrock. The marriage produced two children, the eldest, Mary Elizabeth eventually inherited the estate, while a son died tragically at the age of eight whilst on holiday at Bournemouth, much to the grief of his parents. Hugh was passionate about politics, becoming M.P. for Caernarfonshire. He was one of the strongest candidates against Lloyd George in 1895, being defeated by only 194 votes. In 1897, Hugh was created a baronet and enjoyed the last twenty-three years of his life happily at Plas Gwynfryn. Lady Elizabeth survived him by eight years and died in 1928. Their daughter Mary Elizabeth moved from Gwynfryn to Plas Hen, renaming it Plas Talhenbont and leased the Gwynfryn mansion to the newly established Church in Wales as a home for the clergy. It was sold off when the entire estate was broken up in 1959, becoming first a private hospital for the elderly and then a hotel. During the early 1980s, while under redevelopment, the house mysteriously caught fire and was gutted. A squatter took over in more recent times, attempting to carry out repairs but was evicted before trying to claim the building as his own. Presently, there are no plans in place for its future as the owner is believed to be abroad and cannot be traced.

Dr. Mark Baker

March 2016

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