Gwrych Castle was built between 1812 and 1822 by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh as a memorial to his mother’s ancestors, the Lloyds of Gwrych. Upon the site was an Elizabethan house named ‘Y Fron (rounded hill) which by 1810 had fallen into dereliction. When Lloyd married Lady Emily Esther Ann Lygon, daughter of the 1st Earl of Beauchamp in 1825, the main building was complete.
Many important architects and designers are associated with the castle and estate. For example, the expertise of Charles Augustus Busby and Thomas Rickman was utilised by Hesketh in the overall design of Gwrych, and in particular the cast iron windows. Henry Kennedy was employed to extend the Castle during the 1840’s by the inclusion of a new bedroom wing, staircase and porch whilst George Bullock and the Craces furnished the interiors.
When Lloyd died the Castle passed onto Robert Bamford-Hesketh and his wife, Ellen Jones-Bateman. George Edmund Street designed the family’s chapel during the 1870’s and also several churches and schools for the Hesketh family. Robert and Ellen planted much of the present gardens with their enormous Monkey Puzzles and Yew trees.
Winifred Bamford-Hesketh, later Countess of Dundonald, was the sole heiress of the Gwrych Estate and inherited in 1894 and it became her official residence. The Earl of Dundonald gained international fame during the Boer War’s ‘Relief of Ladysmith’ and had an illustrious military career. Winifred brought up her children at the castle and became involved in Welsh affairs, notably becoming a founder member of the Church in Wales. Between 1909 and 1914, Arts and Crafts architect, Detmar Blow, in conjunction with Charles Ernest Elcock, added the famous yet theatrical Italian marble staircase and renovated the state apartments.
Lady Dundonald died in 1924 and her will declared that Gwrych should be bequeathed to King George V and the Prince of Wales so that the Royal Family had a permanent base in Wales. This request was declined and it was given to St John of Jerusalem.
In 1925 the Earl of Dundonald (Winifred’s husband) bought back the Castle for £78,000 and sold the contents of the building in 1928 to recoup the costs. During WWII, Gwrych was requisitioned by the Government and housed two hundred Jewish refugees.
A gradual decline began when Gwrych Castle finally left the family’s hands in 1946 when the 13th Earl of Dundonald sold the estate to Mr Robert Rennie of Chester. Leslie Salts then bought the building in 1948 and successfully opened Gwrych to the public for twenty years. The Castle was nicknamed ‘The Showplace of Wales’ and attracted nearly ten million visitors. Randolph Turpin and Bruce Woodcock trained there and many people came to see them.
Between 1968 and 1989 the Castle had many owners and many different uses. The library was turned into a bar; Winifred’s music room and drawing room were converted into a large bar lounge and the gargantuan dining room into a restaurant.
During the latter part of the 1970’s Gwrych became a medieval centre where markets were held and jousting took place upon the site of the old formal gardens and conservatory. Gwrych finally closed to the public during the winter of 1985, never to reopen.
Californian Nick Tavaglione purchased Gwrych in December 1989, with the hope of restoring the Castle into a five star hotel and opera house. However, because of legal problems this never materialised.
In 1996 Prince Valiant was filmed at the Castle, starred Edward Fox and Joanna Lumley. Up until 2005, the weather, heartless vandals and New-age travelers have ravaged the building to the point of near dereliction.
Following much hard work, the Gwrych Castle Trust facilitated the sale of the castle to Clayton Hotels in 2006. Around half a million was spent on consolidating the site with a view to converting Gwrych into a five star hotel and spa. Unfortunately, Clayton Hotels went into receivership during August 2009 and the castle was put up for sale on the open market. During Easter 2010, Gwrych was purchased by Edwards Property Management who, with the help of the Trust, is continuing the vision for conversion into a five star hotel.
One hopes that it will be restored back to its former glory so that one can walk through its marbled halls once again as Winifred, Countess of Dundonald once did.