A Businessman’s Castle: Penrhyn Castle

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Anyway, its always nice living close to a National Trust property, especially when its less than an hour’s walk away and you have a volunteer card which means you get in for free. I was very excited to visit this Penrhyn Castle during my first few days at Uni as I couldn’t believe such a massive and well-preserved Norman Castle existed so close to Bangor. So I was pretty disappointed went I learnt that Penrhyn Castle isn’t actually a castle at all.

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The imposing face of Penrhyn Castle

No dear reader, you see Penrhyn Castle is what is known as a Mock Castle, it is a stately home designed to look like a historical castle. I generally dislike such places, they seemingly serve no purpose but as displays of vanity for rich businessmen of the early modern period. People who have more money than they know what to sensibly do with it and decide that they want nothing more than to play pretend at being some great noble lord or baron from ages past. That being said though, Penrhyn Castle is still an impressive place and is definitely the finest Mock Castle I have ever seen.

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Penrhyn Castle Gateway

Although the castle itself was built only in 1837, the estate of Penrhyn has a long history, being the site of a fortified manor sometime between 1170 and 1246. The manor was home to Ednyfed Fychan, a Welsh nobleman and seneschal to the Kingdom of Gwynedd. During his lifetime Ednyfed served both Llywellyn the Great, who united most of Wales under his lordship, and his son Dafydd ap Llywellyn. Ednyfed was also an ancestor of Owen Tudor, who’s grandson founded the Tudor Dynasty, and therefore is also an ancestor to all of British royalty since then. By 1438 another Welsh nobleman, Ioan ap Gruffudd, was granted a license to fortify the land and built a small stone castle along with a tower house on the property. This was later reconstructed in the 1780’s by the neoclassical architect Samuel Waytt.

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Vines grow up the length of the Castle’s Round Towers

The modern day castle was constructed as a home for the Barons of Penrhyn, a title that had belonged to the Pennant family since 1783. The Pennant family had amassed their fortune through a variety of enterprises. Richard Pennant was the first Baron of Penrhyn and started the Penrhyn Quarry in nearby Bethesda which ,to this day, is the largest quarry in the UK and continues to dominate the British slate industry. He also organised the construction of the Penrhyn railway, one of Britain’s first working railways, in order to quickly transport slate from Bethesda to the port. However Richard’s fortune also came from the 600 slaves who worked on his sugar plantations in Jamaica.

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Penrhyn Castle’s Norman style architecture

Armed with the fortune he’d inherited, Richard’s heir, George Dawkins-Pennant hired Thomas Hopper, an architect famous for his unorthodox designs, to build a suitable stately home. Going against the Gothic fashion of the times, Hopper went for a Neo-Norman style, complete with locally made Norman furniture. Construction began in 1822 and was finished in 1837, with most of the original Waytt building destroyed, spare one spiral staircase. The overall cost for the build is estimated to be around £150,000, around £49 million in today’s money. In 1951 the estate and castle was acquired by the National Trust.

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Penrhyn Castle offers wide views of Snowdonia National Park

The Castle, despite its grey and imposing exterior, has a lavishly decorated interior with exquisite furnishings and beautifully crafted Norman furniture including a slate bed made for Queen Victoria during a visit in 1859; though she refused to sleep in it. The castle is also home to large art collection including works by Rembrandt and Canaletto, however the inside is pretty dark and flash photography is forbidden, making it difficult to get any decent photos of the inside.

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Penrhyn Castle’s decorative interior

The extensive grounds are also home to a walled and informal garden, created by the great Victorian gardener Walter Speed and a railway museum dedicated to the pioneering railway that once ran through the castle’s grounds.

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Leaving Penrhyn

Thus concludes my tale, if you enjoyed this story feel free to write in the comments, or leave a like and thanks for reading.

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