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.


Some factoids:
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.


13 comments:

workbike said...

I'm often struck by the way that many older buildings in rural areas are abandoned, while at the same time, there are people (like me, for example) who can't afford a house. I understand that the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere isn't perhaps the most convenient location, and that it would mean the new inhabitants living in a very different way to the norm, but it seems odd that we can't try and link abandoned buildings up with people who could live in them.

Iain Robinson said...

I agree with you on that one. There are a lot of houses lying abandoned in Snowdonia, ones that would require a little TLC for sure, but that would be viable projects. Alas, the influx over the last 40 years of holiday home owners has pushed the price of houses up so much that locals can't afford to live here, even a tumbledown wreck of a place is beyond any sensible budget.

lustrebox said...

Great stuff, Iain. Looks like another one I'll need to add to my list!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. The only trouble is the lack of anything in the foreground for composition. There used to be an old rotten tree, but someone's dragged that away recently.

Rachel Knox said...

Hi there, I enjoyed reading your post. I'm researching this old house again and I wondered if you knew which of the House of Usher films it was used in. I'm thinking it would have been the low budget British one in 1949. Heard rumours that it was used in another film too, and that at one time Roger Moore and Tony Curtis were going to buy it (according to my mother and local gossip) but haven't been able to confirm any truth in any of this yet!

Iain Robinson said...

Hi Rachel, thanks for dropping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I'm sorry, I don't know which of the House of Usher films it featured in, but I must have found that information somewhere :-) I think it's a good bet that it would be the low-budget British movie though. It was also used in a science fiction series in the eighties, although I can't remember the name of it now... anyway, good luck with your researches, I hope you manage to unearth more information.

Iain Robinson said...

The sci-fi show was the mid-80’s BBC production, “The Tripods”. The house was used in two episodes. Season 2 episode 4 and episode 11.

Rachel Knox said...

Hi Iain, thanks for that info, just watched the episodes and saw the house. It's always good to see some record of it when it stood tall. Shame there's very few photos from that time, my family had ample opportunity to photograph the ruin as we lived close to it, (it was the only house we could see from ours) from 1979-1982, but we took very few photos, mostly just close ups of us standing in front of it. I suppose no one would have believed that it would collapse so quickly.

Iain Robinson said...

Hi Rachel, if you ever post your researches on line, I would be very interested, and the photos of your family in front of the house sound priceless. You are so lucky to remember it, even in it's declining years. Good luck!

Rachel Knox said...

I will post some stuff eventually, just researching for a novel atm. There's a talk by one of the last people to live there in April in Denbigh, so will be attending that. Her name is Eira Jones.

Iain Robinson said...

Good luck with the book...put me down for a copy :-)

carol williams said...

Sad to see the demise of this building. Over the years we ve been past it hundreds of times. It holds a bit of family history as my father and his father ( who was a blacksmith) from Glasfryn on the moors used to get some work up at the house. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and pictures ;)

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Carol, it is sad to see it decline so quickly. I remember driving past in the seventies and photographing it while it was reasonably intact. (wish I still had the photos!) My grandad was a blacksmith too...but in Coppenhall, near Crewe. Thanks for dropping by :-)

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