Saturday, 19 April 2014

Baron Hill

Early spring is definitely the best time to visit abandoned places. Later in the year, boskage and the ferocious growth of brambles/nettles makes exploring and photography difficult.

This spring we set off for Beaumaris and found the place very easily. It must be the worst kept secret in Wales - there is a well-worn path to the place and it appears to be a popular venue for young folk, explorers and homeless folk, despite being hidden in dense woodland. There's a long avenue, presided over by several gatehouses and a bridge over the main road. Once into the grounds proper, the gardens present a tangled picture although it is possible to pick out the ruined temple, water features and ornamental walks among the vigorous tree growth.

One of the gatehouses on the driveway.

Nearer to the house, or what remains of it, we found the stable block and coach house. The number of doors gives an indication of how wealthy the owners must have been.

The house is a teetering shell of a place, very dangerous, with the plaster decoration crumbling from the brick walls. One feature I found most impressive were the cast iron joists holding the walls together, supporting invisible floors which had long since rotted away. Graffiti covers the walls, something I love to see, especially on an old mansion like this. I know folk get very heated about graffiti, but to me it adds to the atmosphere and so often contributes a note of humour, even when that was not the original intention. No doubt, back in the halcyon days of the mansion, the owner would have been a magistrate and would have put away a good few local youths in his time. Not these youths, anyway.

I found the doors and windows particularly evocative, flaking paint adding to their fascination.

I always feel ambivalent about "stately homes", mansions and their builders. In my early teens, I was sent away to a posh school in a grand country house, full of young toffs. Having a northern English/Scottish accent, I was vilified by the little lordlings. Of course, I developed a  robust defence which ensured I was left very much alone after a few unfortunate incidents, but since then I have always disliked the idea of a "ruling class" and all that goes with that ethos. That's probably why ruined places like this delight me. I will acknowledge that many people were provided with jobs as a result of these folk and that in their own patronising way they were a stabilising influence within the community, but the prosperity gap between the people who could build something like this mansion and the ordinary folk of Beamaris was vast. The Bulkeleys seem a relatively civilised bunch, not having gone in for slavery like the folk over at Penrhyn, although if old accounts are to be believed, they did dabble in a bit of poisoning- the grasping for the family fortune became a little intense at times. Finally, death duties helped to suck the little remaining life out of the place.

The old kitchen, where cooks and maids worked long hours to provide food for the house.

Now the broken windows of the Bulkeley's mansion gaze emptily over the fields above Beamaris. Yet,  I imagine that the place has as much fascination, if not more, than it ever has. Old photographs show a rather charmless place, neat and tidy but much like any other rich man's pile of bricks. Now nature's artistry has added something else, something special that we can all appreciate. By the look of the wealth of material on the web about the place, it seems that many folk have been doing just that, for at least the last thirty years.

Much has been written on the forums and blogs about this fascinating ruin, mostly filched from Wikipedia, so I won't add to the white noise by repeating the same mantra. Here's the link for the history.

Finally, there are many more photos on my Flickr stream of the explore here.


Anonymous said...

I'm very much in agreement about the 'ruling classes': it's all very well to say they 'provided employment' but this maintained a system where many people with vast potential to learn, discover, or create were left uneducated so they could clean the drains, muck out the horses and cook the vegetables -until they were too old or infirm, of course, whereupon they were turfed out.

And these were the lucky ones who were not slaving in mines financing the system.

The people claiming they 'provided employment' could have done so much more: they could have funded education instead of horses, they could have helped people instead of making shooting estates. They could have created communities where people were able to live well so only one member of the family had to have 'employment' and their old folk could be cared for and their children wouldn't die at three. But they chose the 'must haves' like the stables and the big crumbling house instead, when they could have had a real legacy.

My goodness, what an outburt before coffee...

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Andy...what a magnificent bit of writing, I couldn't have put it better had I tried for hours. You have nailed the whole thing. Now, this country is once again ruled by toffs and the wealth gap increases daily. Soon our hospitals and schools will be down to largesse and patronage from the wealthy, rather than being there as of right. I was at Chatsworth a few years back looking at all the disgusting symbols of the aristocracy's wealth when the Duchess appeared. Oh, the obsequious fawning and cap tugging, the bowing and scraping. It seems there is still a great desire by so many in this country to be oppressed by the minority, our "betters"...

Paul B. said...

You certainly have an eye for a good shot Iain, I wish that my photography was half as good!
What is it about abandoned places that draws us in? We should find these ruins abhorrent and avoid them, but I cannot walk past an abandoned building without wanting to peer inside and explore.
I went for an job at Chatsworth a couple of years ago, for once I'm glad I didn't get it!

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Paul...your photography is great...but I appreciate the compliment!

I must admit that I too prefer rusty or ruined things every time. Ruins are organic, too...they change and become more beautiful (and dangerous) as time passes. I found some machinery at Baron Hill which I can't interpret, I will put it on Losing Track this week, perhaps you can run your engineer's eyes over it!

David Roberts Photography said...

Great work again, Iain. Baron Hill is one of my favourite derelict places in North Wales.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, David. I think everything else explored now will be an anti-climax.

Anonymous said...


Talk of the 'privileged' brought to mind the Bulkeley Monument - raised by 'public subscription'. I seem to to remember reading, though, that employees on the estate were virtually forced to 'subscribe' under threat of being thrown off the estate.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Graham. I'm not surprised by the revelation about the Bulkeley monument...wealth and power, etc.

David Roberts Photography said...

Back in 2008, I received an email from a member of the Bulkeley family, compaining about me trespassing to take photos of Baron Hill. I politely pointed out that I walked straight into the grounds along a wide path and there were no signs or fences stating it was priate property. Didn't hear anything back.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, David. I have had a couple of emails like that, although not from the Bulkeleys...yet! If they are so concerned about their property they should fence it off and put notices up as you say. I'm glad they don't, though. I'm sure it's unintentional, as it is at Dorothea, but these abandoned places are so beautiful and full of atmosphere. I'm really rather grateful for whatever it is that causes the capitalist clock to stop ticking over places like this.

Alex Cochrane said...

Excellent post Iain, and great photography as well.

It has also provoked some interesting comments.

My thoughts on the ruins of stately homes are mixed. They are beauty in decay, and a symbolism of the fall of an often loathed local ruling family and class system. But there's also stately homes that have changed in purpose and can be put to good use for the local community.

But a beautiful building is a beautiful building and while they can make great ruins, and 'galleries' for excellent graffiti and humour, I do sometimes think it's a great loss, from a historical and architectural point of view as much as anything

Many stately homes epitomise our ambivalent relationship with the old days, heritage and aristocracy. Sadly elements of those days such as the rank inequality of wealth are coming back.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Alex. I agree about the beautiful buildings and thought it a great shame when Formakin in Renfrewshire was allowed to fall into disrepair...I was one of the ones who tried hard to save it many years ago. That, along with Talhenbont and Gwynfryn was of architectural merit, unlike the Bulkeley Mansion. I love the description of Seaton Delaval, Van Brugh's ruined masterpiece: "Its walls have seen fire, violence and splendour..." It would be nice to think that somewhere like that could also be of use to the community, as you say.

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