Sugar, Slavery and Slate (The Story Behind Penrhyn Castle)
I’ve always been fascinated by castles and big old houses. Although I write contemporary fiction, I usually manage to squeeze an old manor house or castle somewhere into my novels. Penrhyn Castle first caught my eye when I moved into a house that had a beautiful view over the Menai Straits and Port Penrhyn, and the castle’s majestic keep could just be seen above the trees. It was obviously built by someone with more money than sense (as my Grandmother would have said) but, as I learned later, exactly where that enormous wealth came from was a story in itself.
|View of Penrhyn from Anglesey|
|The Medieval Chapel at Penrhyn Castle|
|The Manor House at Penrhyn before 1782|
|Richard Pennant, 1st Baron Penrhyn of Penrhyn (Thompson)|
While the building trade was supplied with the ever-increasing Penrhyn slate, Richard Pennant set about modernising the manor house with the help of architect Samuel Wyatt. The house and medieval chapel had remained more-or-less unchanged since the 15th century. Although they decided to keep the medieval cellars and one spiral staircase, the original great hall was turned into an entrance hall. Turrets and crenellations were added, along with a new park gateway in the form of a triumphal arch.
|Penrhyn after 1782|
|George Hay Dawkins-Pennant|
First to go up was a park wall – seven miles worth – which displaced six farms and the main road. The castle itself was built of Penmon limestone, which contains fossils. Large quantities of slate from the Penrhyn quarries were used for the roof, the stables (stalls and mangers), and for paving the yards. The ‘Norman’ furniture was made by the estate carpenters and no expense was spared in decorating the interior. It took ten years just to build the main staircase. The hot air system, which heated the great hall and neighbouring rooms, was one of the first in Britain and each dressing room was equipped with a bath, with piped hot and cold water. There were also water closets on every floor. Lighting was first by oil, then gas, and electricity was supplied in 1827-28.
|The Library at Penrhyn Castle|
“A vast pile of building, and certainly very grand, but altogether, though there are fine things and some good rooms in the house, the most gloomy place I ever saw, and I would not live there if they would make me a present of the castle. It is built of a sort of grey stone polishable into a kind of black marble, of which there are several specimens within. It is blocked up with trees, and pitch dark, so that it never can be otherwise than gloomy.”
George Hay Dawkins-Pennant died at his home in London in 1840, only a few years after his fantasy castle was completed – and left over £600,000 in his will. His heirs were his two daughters, nicknamed ‘the Slate Queens’. The Welsh and Jamaican estates, worth £80,000, went to his eldest daughter, Juliana. Penrhyn Castle was passed on through her descendants until 1951, when it was given to the National Trust in lieu of death duties.
|Penrhyn Castle (west front)|
About the Author
Louise Marley writes romantic comedy and romantic suspense. She lives in Wales, surrounded by fields of sheep, and has a beautiful view of Snowdon from her window.
Her first published novel was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which was a finalist in Poolbeg’s Write a Bestseller competition. She has also written articles for the Irish press and short stories for UK women’s magazines such as Take a Break and My Weekly.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LouiseMarley @LouiseMarley
Written content of this post copyright © Louise Marley, 2016.