A Mediterranean Garden in Wales
Even in 2010, there are still many forgotten gardens, hidden amongst the Welsh countryside. Many are located along the North Wales coast, made famous during the nineteenth-century for sea bathing and the allure of resort towns such as Llandudno, Colwyn Bay and Rhyl. The beauty and appeal of the region attracted one particular woman, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Easthope M. P. Easthope was one of the wealthiest men in Victorian Britain, owning the influential Morning Chronicle, employing Charles Dickens in his first journalistic job.
Elizabeth moved to the area during the late 1840s, with her married sister and family. A farm of late eighteenth-century origins was purchased, located to the south-west of the historic core of Llanddulas, on the steep slopes of Pen-y-Gopa, on lands historically owned by two great estates, Wynnstay and Garthewin. The views must have been breathtaking, taking in a similar aspect as nearby Gch Castle. Work began almost immediately on erecting a large early Victorian villa at the north-end of the farm, nearly doubling it in size. Elizabeth must have caught the fever of property development as she went on to extend and enlarge two further large houses in Llanddulas.
Elizabeth and her descendents continued to develop Plas Dulas, and there can be seen at least three distinct phases of garden activity. Firstly, Elizabeth appears to have laid out the essence of the garden with the planting of trees, excavation of terraces, and enclosing the kitchen garden with a high, crenellated park wall, identical to the estate walling at nearby Gwrych Castle. This was supplemented by her brother-in-law, Andrew Doyle and his son, John Andrew Doyle up to the mid-1870s. The eighteenth-century barn at Plas Dulas was converted for use as stabling and a series of greenhouses were erected on a terrace south of the house. In 1907, the estate passed to a first cousin, Professor Richard MacGillivray Dawkins, internationally famous archaeologist and author, who through his extensive travels and excavations in the Mediterranean experimented with plant importation during the early twentieth century at Plas Dulas. He excavated widely, at Palaikastro, the Kamares Cave, and the Lasithi plateau in Crete, and at Artemis Orthia near Sparta. These archaeological investigations were interspersed with essentially linguistic and ‘ethnological’ studies on contemporary Greek language and folklore (especially on Karpathos).
Dawkins escaped to Plas Dulas from his academic activities, experimenting with plant importation and cultivation, as well as displaying archaeological antiquities within the garden. It was au courant within academic circles, especially those which included the wealthy, to develop fragments of their excavated sites on their own lands. Arthur Evans, for example, famous for unearthing the Minoan palace of Knossos, built an archaeologically influenced garden at his Oxfordshire home, Boars Hill. Allusions to the gardens at Plas Dulas being a theoretical attempt to recreate a classical Greek garden in North Wales are provided by Dawkins himself through his extensive letters that survive in Oxford. Also, stylistically, comparisons can be made with the gardens at British School at Athens, of which Dawkins was director. Evelyn Waugh, a contemporary of Dawkins, is said to have written part of Decline and Fall at Plas Dulas.
Much research has been undertaken by WHGT’s Clwyd Branch, particularly Glynis Shaw and David Toyne to record this garden at risk. The rare plant collection has been decimated and a huge number of trees, collected over a hundred-year period have been dwindled down despite Tree Preservation Orders. A planning application to demolish the entire site to make way for a housing estate was turned down by the local authority late November. Pleas were made to Cadw to list both the house and garden but it was turned down, and in February 2010 bulldozers took down the eighteenth-century barn and chapel, as well as the orchid house and park wall. Fortunately, the lesser horseshoe bat saved the main house. A conservation trust has been established for Llanddulas with a view to saving the site before it is too late.
For further information
The Gwrych Castle Estate was originally over 6000 acres and covered great swathes of North Wales, Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Cheshire. These pages offers insights into aspects of the Estate which was broken up and sold in 1946.
Plas Dulas Under Threat from Demolition
Developers have lodged a planning application to demolish historic Plas Dulas and to replace it with a housing development of 15 houses.
Objections should be sent quoting - ref. 0/37619
or by post
Dear Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust Members,
We thought that this application would be of interest to our members, as the Plas Dulas family were friends with the owners of Gwrych Castle in the 19th century and that garden ideas were exchanged between the two.
A beautiful and historic building local to Gwrych Castle is currently under threat of demolition. An application has been submitted to Conwy County Council to clear both Plas Dulas, Llanddulas, and its gardens in order to make way for 29 new residential buildings.
The area really cannot accommodate such a large development and neither can the roads that approach the building, Pencoed Road in particular. There would also be questions of safety, as the increase in traffic would prove dangerous for schoolchildren walking to school in the area
The following points in the Local Development Plan are also particularly relevant to the application:
4.228 Laws and detailed national planning guidance specifically concerning the protection of the historic environment apply, however the importance of adopting a holistic view to the protection of heritage assets should not be underestimated. Heritage assets such as historic landscapes, parks and gardens and buildings and structures of local importance do not benefit from statutory designation, although these contribute significantly to the interest and distinctive character of a place.
4.227 Historic areas play a key role in fulfilling the objectives of the Local Development Plan, whether they form commercial or shopping centres, visitor attractions, or attractive and interesting places to live. The Council is keen to ensure that such assets are protected from inappropriate development, and will take the opportunity to enhance historic areas and buildings where this is needed.
4.205 The policies in this section seek to achieve greater efficiency in use of natural resources, minimise energy demand and increase the use of renewable resources. This should reduce the running costs of buildings and create attractive and healthy places for people to live and work by use of natural light and ventilation. When looking at re-use of previously developed land, developers should seek to renovate existing buildings where appropriate rather than demolition and rebuilding. Recovered building materials should also be used where possible. This will reduce energy used in construction and will also contribute to protecting the built heritage.
Furthermore, the proposed development goes against recent Welsh Assembly Guidelines that promote the re-use of historic buildings.
Please make sure your written objections are sent as soon as possible. The address to send letters to is:
Mr Phil Hardwick
Head of Planning Services
Conwy County Borough Council
Or alternatively you can submit objections via e-mail:
Be sure to include your contact address in e-mail submissions, as they will not be accepted otherwise.
Many thanks and kind regards,
Eric Salt, Trustee