Penrhyn Castle

Has been described as a Possible Tower House

There are masonry footings remains

NamePenrhyn Castle
Alternative NamesPenryne; Gafael Goronwy ab Ednyfed
Historic CountryCaernarfonshire
Modern AuthorityGwynedd
1974 AuthorityGwynedd
CommunityLlandygai

Penrhyn Castle, one of the most enormous houses in Britain, is an extensive fantasy castle by Thomas Hopper, largely built from the early 1820s to 1837 for George Hay Dawkins-Pennant. The castle climaxes in a vast Norman hall and an overbearing great tower, modelled on Heddingham Castle. A mansion is recorded here in the fourteenth century and licence to crenellate was obtained in the period 1410-1431. This house was swept away in about 1782 when a castellated Gothick style house was built. The hall of the 1782 house survives as the present drawing room. (Coflein ref. Haslam, Orbach and Voelcker)

Syr Gul. Grifith hath a faire house at Penryne a ii. myle a this side Bangor. (Leland)

Some remains of the medieval house remain in Thomas Hopper's extravaganza at Penrhyn Castle, particularly a cellar. A fourteenth-century dating has been suggested for this and it has also been suggested that the main Tudor line had a house here.(RCAHMW; Hague, 1959) On the other hand, we have the word of Gwilym's own son that his father built 'the manor of the Penrhyn'. Gwilym certainly lived there for part of the time; in a poem addressed to him by Rhys Goch Eryri, the poet compares the house with Caemarfon Castle. The castle was built by a conqueror to keep men down and to break their hearts; Gwilym's whitewashed tower, built of oak, is far superior to the Eagle Tower. Penrhyn is a place of generosity and hospitality and is more like the court of God than one of man; he wishes a long life to Gwilym and Joan. Obviously there is an element of poetic hyperbole here, but Gwilym's Penrhyn certainly appears to have been a substantial house, apparently built of timber and whitewashed like most contemporary buildings. The move to Penrhyn and the building of the house cannot be dated with any accuracy, but Gwilym began to buy up lands in Cororion in 1415, which suggests a terminus post quem. (Carr p

16-17)

Although the first mention of the house is in a rental of 1413, when it was in the possession of the Gruffydd family, the building is of older origin. It is known that Gwilym ap Gruffydd (ob. 1431) benefited from the Glyndwr rebellion, but before this it seems likely that the estate was in the hands of the chief line of the Tudor family, which like Gwilym ap Gruffydd stemmed from Goronwy ap Ednyfed (ob. 1268). The land named as 'Gavael Gron ap Eden' in 1352 is almost certainly the desmesne of Penrhyn, and furthermore the close association of the Tudor family with the Friary at Bangor makes it probable that they had a house nearby.

The descendants of Gwilym ap Gruffydd prospered there until the 17th century, when the property passed to yet another kinsman, John Williams, Keeper of the Great Seal and later Archbishop of York. He certainly intended to improve Penrhyn but there is no record that his intentions were in fact carried out. By marriage the estate eventually passed to the Pennant family in whose hands it remained until acquisition by the National Trust in 1951.

The drawing (Plate 62) made before Wyatt's alteration is a convincing representation of the main elevation of the early house. It shows two windows of 14th-century type lighting the hall, now the drawing-room. This was entered by a doorway with a pointed head in which an 18th-century fanlight had been set. Above it a small window possibly lit the gallery over a screens passage; other medieval windows showed signs of modification. To the N . of the entrance a projecting circular stair turret (the top apparently rebuilt) gave access to the upper chamber of the N. wing. There was a corresponding wing S. of the hall.

The cellar (Plate 61) under the N. wing has recently been cleared of modern brickwork revealing a barrel vault similar to that beneath the chapel in Beaumaris Castle. At the W. end of the cellar a pointed doorway leads to a horizontal passage containing an inserted stair which led upwards in a curve to the base of the main stair-turret (A licence to crenellate was granted in 1438 (U.C.N.W. Bangor, Penryhn MSS. 20-22), but there is no evidence that this work was ever done. This stair-turret seems purely domestic). The E. entrance is through a wider door with chamfered jambs and flat head which is of later but uncertain date; the continuation of the cellar vault to the E. is 19th- century work and the brick under-pinning of the medieval foundations can be seen. The early chamber was lit by a single light in the N. wall.

The stair turret still survives and has been continued up to a great height by Hopper. There are no visible remains of Wyatt's house; his drawings show rather dull facades but on the entrance front he balanced the medieval turret by a dummy one which was in turn treated by Hopper as a buttress-like feature. (RCAHMW 1964)

Set in landscaped grounds of Penrhyn Park in elevated position surrounded by open lawns and some trees at end of long winding drive from Grand Lodge; dominates the surrounding countryside.

The present house, built in the form of a vast Norman castle, was constructed to the design of Thomas Hopper for George Hay Dawkins-Pennant between 1820 and 1837. It has been very little altered since. The original house on the site was a medieval manor house of C14 origin, for which a licence to crenellate was given at an unknown date between 1410 and 1431. This house survived until c1782 when it was remodelled in castellated Gothick style, replete with yellow mathematical tiles, by Samuel Wyatt for Richard Pennant. (Listed Building Report)

Not scheduled

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic Wales CADW listed database record number
The National Monument Record (Coflein) number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSH602718
Latitude53.2250518798828
Longitude-4.09459018707275
Eastings260240
Northings371850
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Books

  • Remfry, Paul, 2012, A Brief Report on Pen y Bryn and Aber, Gwynedd (Castle Studies Research and Publishing) p. 101-2
  • Haslam, Orbach and Voelcker, 2009, The Buildings of Wales: Gwynedd (Pevsner Architectural Guide) p. 398
  • Emery, Anthony, 2000, Greater Medieval Houses Vol. 2 (Cambridge) p. 658n29, 667
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 36
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 118-20
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles of North Wales (Malvern) p. 48
  • Smith, P., 1988, Houses of the Welsh Countryside p. 136
  • < >RCAHMW, 1964, A Survey and Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Caernarvonshire Vol. 3: West (HMSO) p. 123-26 plates 61, 62 online copy < >
  • Lewis, Samual, 1849, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales online copy

Antiquarian

  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1906, Leland's Itinerary in Wales  (Bell and Sons; London) p. 84 online copy

Journals

  • Carr, A.D., 1990, 'Gwilym ap Gruffydd and the rise of the Penrhyn estate' Welsh History Review Vol. 15 p. 1-20 online copy
  • Hauge, D.B., 1976, 'Penrhyn Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 132 p. 296-8
  • Hauge, D.B., 1959, 'Penrhyn Castle' Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society Vol. 20 p. 29-35

Guide Books

  • Anon, 1991, Penrhyn Castle Gwynedd (National Trust)

Primary Sources

  • U.C.N.W Bangor, Penrhyn MSS. 20-22 (licence to crenellate)

Other

  • Jones, J.R. 1955, The development of the Penrhyn estate to 1431 (University of Wales M.A. thesis)