Saturday, 30 June 2012
The House on the Moor, Gwylfa Hiraethog
Driving the winding course of the A543, over Denbigh Moor between Bylchau and Pentrefoelas, the brooding remains of Gwylfa Hiraethog loom ominously on the skyline. Up here, it seems like the top of the world (actually it's just under 500 metres above sea level) as the moor stretches wide as far as the eye can see.
I've never been up here in decent weather. For the sake of consistency, we chose just such another dreich day to pull over at the forlorn-looking, lonely building once known as "The Sportsman's Arms", which is the nearest neighbour to the ruins. A dog barked as we got out of our car, while I was sure I heard the old inn sign creaking in the wind.
Staggering up the moor to the ruins, I saw how much the place had deteriorated since I had first encountered it in the seventies...
The warning daubed on the walls, "trespasses will be shot" (sic) had changed to an equally ill-spelt attempt at prosecution. Meanwhile, down at the inn, the dog continued to bark while we concentrated on trying to keep the camera still against the snell wind. It was obvious that the ruins had been a plaything for the elements for many years - the weather is a boisterous companion in these parts.
One thing that fascinated me was how the very finely cut lintels and support stones had numbers carved on their ends, to aid assembly I suppose. I wondered why these fragments hadn't been salvaged for use elsewhere, as they are of a very high quality. Cheap bricks lay around, along with some slightly more well-fired examples, while the entrance to a cellar grinned, it's mouth full of rubble. I wondered about the fine wines that had once been stored there.
I could just see the toff who had originally owned the place strolling around the rooms boasting about the view to his guests, while quaffing some of that fine wine.Apparently they kept a full staff of servants here. It must have been a full-time job cleaning the windows alone. And it is, reputedly, a fine view, although we couldn't see much of it on our visit due to the clouds rumbling overhead. I cursed the welkin for some sun, but the sky simply threw more weather at us, so we retreated back to the barking dog at the old inn.
Other folk have had better weather- the person who runs the wonderful "SatNav and Cider" blog has some fine photos.(snow had been arranged that day) and she has an interesting tale to tell.
Gwylfa Hiraethog is said to have been the highest inhabited house in Wales and to have the widest views of any other house in Britain. Paul White, in his excellent "Grand Decline" blog (superb photos!) says:
"The former war Prime Minister Lloyd George addressed a large crowd here from the balcony just after it was built (1908 –11). It is easy to imagine this scene and presume Lloyd George had a voice equal or as great as the winds that blow across the moors."
He must have had quite a voice.
One mystery remains, though. While researching facts, I came across frequent references to a mobile phone mast, recently erected by the house. There's no trace of it now.
The mansion was built by Hudson Eubank Kearley (the first Viscount of Devonport) The original Gwylfa Hiraethog was imported from Norway and built of wood in the late 19th century. It became known as Plas Pren (wooden palace). Lord Devonport admitted that it leaked like a sieve and in its exposed and elevated position at 1627 feet above sea level it was always in danger of blowing down.
It was rebuilt in 1908 as a baronial style mansion and was painted with lighthouse paint.( a subtle touch, that.) The Viscount's children had many happy memories of visiting their house on the hill as children. They would catch the train from London to Bodfari, and take the long uphill hike by horse and carriage, stopping enroute at the Crown Hotel in Denbigh for egg and rhubarb jam with their tea.
There was never a garden at Gwylfa Hiraethog, the heather came right up to the door. Due to the difficulties with employing servants the Viscount sold the property in 1925 and it was used thereafter for shooting parties until the last occupant moved out in the 1950's and it fell into disuse. It was sold again in the 1980's but never knew habitation again. (thanks to R.V. Knox for this information).
The inscribed Devonport coat of arms from above the front doorway has been relocated to Cwm-y-rhinwedd farm.
The house had a minor role in the Vincent Price film "The Fall of the House of Usher" where it is seen in the end sequence.