Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Lost World of Brynkir

One of the many lost houses of Wales, this fascinating ruin lies at the foot of Cwm Pennant, near Dolbenmaen. The site is thought to have been the centre of a medieval deer park, possibly belonging to Owain Gwynedd, whose court, or "Llys" was just along the valley where the present-day hamlet of Dolbenmaen lies.

There is known to have been a stone-built hall on the site in the C15th, inhabited by Owain Gwynedd's descendants, who took the name Brynkir, Bryncir or Brynker. Bryncir in welsh means "the hill of the deer". Records do not tell when the "k" crept into the spelling, as the use of the letter is rare in the Welsh language. Thus, the house passed from generation to generation of the Brynkirs.

The next owners were the Huddart family, who took over the estate of some 8,000 acres in 1809 and commenced a massive programme of upgrading. It became an imposing country residence, faced with fine microdolerite ashlar style blocks from a quarry further up the cwm. Elsewhere, lodge houses were built, the plas farm upgraded and a fine stables and coach-house constructed. Two bridges were also either built or upgraded at the same time. 

The first Huddart to own Brynkir was Captain Joseph Huddart, an important and influential English hydrographer, chartmaker and inventor who had made his considerable fortune from various entrepreneurial ventures, principally with some unique steam-driven machinery for binding rope. The estate, however, passed in 1816 to his son, also named Joseph Huddart, who continued improvements- notably the construction of a tower, which will be featured in another post. It is this Joseph Huddart who enthusiastically backed many doomed mining enterprises in North Wales, earning him the epithet: "Huddart throws money down a hole and calls it mining". This may or may not be strictly fair, since many of the schemes were thought to be early "job creation" exercises for men who had returned from the Napoleonic war and found themselves unemployed.

However, the Huddarts' unwise backing of too many doomed speculative ventures spelt financial ruin for the family and the house was abandoned by 1910. It was used as a Prisoner of War camp during World War 1 and later partly demolished. In April 1930 the estate was broken up and sold off in lots.

Last summer, a Cardiff University archaeological dig and survey, led by postgraduate researcher Mark Baker, has shed some new light on the house and it's surrounds. Pottery and porcelain shards have been found, some of Buckley pottery, dating part of the present remains of the house to the 1700's. The area around has been further confirmed as the site of a medieval deer park prior to 1230 when it is known that Llywelyn moved his regional centre elsewhere, to Criccieth. The investigation, sponsored by the National Park and the charity "Love my Wales" has shed some new light on a wonderfully magical place. Tree growth has been cut back and work done to eradicate the thick infestation of Rhododendron around the grounds. Many fine deciduous trees still grow closely around the site, giving it an air of something encountered during an expedition through some remote jungle. Elsewhere in the grounds there are some beautiful specimens of beech, dating from the late 1800's and of course, a monkey-puzzle tree. 

The house itself is too far gone to ever be restored; indeed, the walls look in many places as if a strong breeze would topple them, but we were grateful to have the opportunity to explore this haunting spot before nature takes it's inevitable toll on the place.


Anonymous said...

When I look at 'unwanted' places like this my imagination takes off and I think hoe great it could be if the remaining plots could be sold at an affordable price to people willing to run smallholdings and be semi self-sufficient in a loose community.
The plans could include routes for people to walk and cycle through the area, and encourage people living there to open tea shops and sell crafts. You'd get people working part and full time, life back in the valley and a boost for the local economy which would be resilient against large economic changes, and an increase in the people using older traditional skills to manage the area.
I'm sure there will be a dozen people who will say it couldn't work, but it seems a better idea than just letting the Rhododendrons take over again when the grants run out and the charities can't afford to keep the place running any more.

Iain Robinson said...

I agree. There was an initiative just like the one you describe in Formakin, Renfrewshire some twenty years ago. I lived nearby at the time and helped out. It was a magnificent, neglected stately home, although still with the roof on and diversified into craft activities and other initiatives. It almost worked, and I feel that somehwre nearer to a centre of population could have carried it off. I wonder what happened to the place...

Anonymous said...

Nice work, Iain. Interesting history. I shall have to add this one to my list :-)

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham, glad you enjoyed it.

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