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Bryn Bras Castle

A Grade II* Listed Building in Llanrug, Gwynedd

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Coordinates

Latitude: 53.1404 / 53°8'25"N

Longitude: -4.1789 / 4°10'44"W

OS Eastings: 254347

OS Northings: 362579

OS Grid: SH543625

Mapcode National: GBR 5M.65BT

Mapcode Global: WH54L.SB6B

Entry Name: Bryn Bras Castle

Listing Date: 29 May 1968

Last Amended: 27 August 1999

Grade: II*

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 3804

Building Class: Domestic

Location: The castle occupies a triangular site at the junction of the road between Cwm-y-glo and Llanrug and the mountain route from Llanrug to Llanberis; the drive and parking area on the north represent the

County: Gwynedd

Town: Caernarfon

Community: Llanrug

Community: Llanrug

Locality: Bwlch

Traditional County: Caernarfonshire

Find accommodation in
Cwm-y-glo

History

Church records indicate a large farmhouse on the site in 1751, the main part of which appears to form the core of the present house. This was built for Thomas Williams, a Bangor solicitor, in 2 stages between 1830 and 1835. The architect of the first phase (the 3-bay central block and service rooms behind) is unknown, but the second phase (the addition of the round towers, stair turret and rooms and yards behind, giving the building the appearance of a medieval castle) is almost certainly by Thomas Hopper, who was simultaneously working at Penrhyn Castle. The castle and its outbuildings and lodges are shown in essentially their existing form on the 1839 Tithe Map.

After Williams's death in 1874, the castle changed hands frequently, the most significant ownerships in terms of alterations to the buildings being those of Captain Frank Stewart Barnard, philanthropist (1897-1917) and Duncan Elliot Alves, a New Zealand oil magnate (1920-40), whose wheatsheaf crest and motto "DEO FAVENTE" appear in several places on the buildings, including the bridge (1921-2), built to link the 2 parts of the site: during the 1920s Lloyd George was a frequent visitor to the house. The present owners, Neville and Marita Gray-Parry bought the property in 1965 and have restored much of the gardens and grounds to their previous form. Their ownership is currently second in length only to that of the original builder, Thomas Williams.

Exterior

Country house, built in the picturesque style of a medieval castle. The earliest part is the square T-shaped range to the west (the original C18 farmhouse) with cellars beneath: the north gable end of the main range of this building, which has integral end stacks, is apparent on entering the house through 2 screen walls, one lower, one higher, to the north, the entrance through which most visitors come. The first phase of the castle itself (1830-2) is the central, 3-bay block to the east with service rooms behind; this was followed (1832-5) by the addition of the projecting circular tower (Flag Tower) to the south-east with its higher, square stair turret behind, the D-shaped tower to the north of the central block and the 2 yards flanking the original C18 building to north and south. The building as completed is in the neo-Norman style, typical of Thomas Hopper, although less severe and more domestic than his nearby Penrhyn Castle, albeit that the original effect is compromised by later C19 and early C20 alterations, including the many 4-paned sashes and the first floor addition between the 4 square turrets of the central block on the east front. The castellated and turreted kennels, although small, are built on the grand scale and lie to the south; they have an iron gate and railings. The other outbuildings, built in a similar style, are on the other side of the road to the south and include the stables, converted into a ballroom by Alves in the 1920s: they are linked to the main site by a bridge, built in 1921-2 to replace the original one which had collapsed soon after completion in 1836; Alves was also responsible for the western two-thirds of the west wing, the eastern section having been built for Barnard before 1907.

The castle is principally constructed of rubblestone, stuccoed except for Flag Tower where the roughly coursed stonework is exposed; some red brick, mainly to the central range of the east front but also to the C20 additions, is stuccoed too; gabled slate roofs with rooflights and lead valleys, hidden by crenellated parapets. East (garden) front has central 3-bay range articulated by 4 square slender turrets with corbelled and battlemented tops linked by crenellated parapet, the inner 2 slightly projecting and framing the central bay. Ground floor has 3 wide round-headed arches over 3 recessed round-headed doorways with chevron decoration enclosing French windows with glazing bars and fanlights; tripartite plate glass sash windows to each bay on first floor. The embattled Flag Tower to left has very narrow round-headed sashes with margin lights to front, 4 to the lower stage, above a moulded stone high plinth course continued to stair turret behind, and 3 offset to left above; glass lantern and iron bracket (1925) fixed to wall above plinth. Stair turret is higher and square with corbelled and crenellated top and has 5 narrow openings to north face, one directly above the other, the lowest 3 round-headed, the upper rectangular slit openings. Short link section between turret and central range has main entrance from garden via a neo-Norman doorway (by Hopper) in 3 orders with massive panelled door; carved timber tympanum has the Alves crest and motto and the stone monograms "DEA" and "HOA" in the twin niches above are also his. A similar short section with paired narrow sash windows on the ground floor links the central range to the crenellated north tower, which is of semi-circular shape on the garden front, has a window with plain intersecting tracery (c1907) to a wide round-arched opening on the ground floor and 2 narrow sash windows above.

The north side of the castle presents a mixed and varied elevation to the road (it is really the back of the building); the north side of the north tower is flat and has 2 tiers of plate glass sashes; inner screen wall with crenellated parapet and circular corner turret to right largely conceals the C18 house; stepped return wall to south links to stack (rebuilt in the form of a square corbelled turret in the 1830s) at west end of C18 house and then continues as a crenellated wall ending in a circular corner turret. The west elevation of the 1830s' building was therefore originally fortress-like, the effect now obscured by the 2-storey embattled Barnard/Alves west wing with its 2 tiers of plate-glass sashes, some round-headed. Lower rubblestone screen wall with stone-on-edge coping running full length of north side has 2 round-headed doorways to left and one round-headed and one elliptical-arched doorway to right, all with elaborately nail-studded and strap-hinged doors; square embattled turret at right end. Arch-way linking the first floor of the castle at its southern end with the outbuildings on the other side of the wall-lined Llanrug-Llanberis road, has a segmental arch with voussoirs and keystones below a dentilled string course and narrow slit windows underneath an embattled parapet to the link itself; square turret at castle end topped by a large crown of Richard II as part of an elaborate iron light beacon with heraldic dragons made by D J Williams & Son, Caernarfon in 1925, which is also the date of the Alves coat-of-arms on the western side of the arch-way. The outbuildings, of which the principal structure is the stables (converted by Alves into a ballroom with bedrooms above), are also castellated, several of the original narrow slit windows being replaced by sash windows and also by stained glass windows on the ground floor at this time.

Interior

Very fine interior including many features, especially in Flag Tower, associated with Hopper's work of 1832-5. Entrance hall accessed by Hopper's doorway from the garden continues the neo-Norman theme of the doorway itself with its geometrical plasterwork and profusion of Romanesque mouldings (cable, chevron, beak-head etc.) to ceiling and window surrounds; fine slate fireplace virtually identical to that in the library at Penrhyn Castle but now painted; parquet floor and stained glass windows c1920. The ante-hall between entrance and staircase halls was enlarged c1920 by a small alcove containing 3 large round-headed windows with Art Nouveau stained glass, including the Alves coat-of-arms; neo-Norman decoration continues to ceiling. Staircase hall has console-bracketed flat arch onto fine 1920s staircase and first-floor gallery in late Jacobean, almost Baroque style; twisted balusters and newels, the latter each carved with the letter "A" and the "DEO FAVENTE" motto, the bottom newel also capped by the Alves wheatsheaf in place of the ball finials to others; tapering colonettes between elliptical arches to gallery; tall green glass leaded-light window on stairs has the C13 coats-of-arms of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, made c1920; the geometrical, rib-patterned ceiling is also of this date. Room to south-east of staircase hall is the drawing room (previously a morning room and before that the breakfast room) with early C20 anthemion leaf frieze beneath original Hopper beak-head cornice; elegant white marble fireplace in Louis XVI style is a C20 import. Room directly to east of staircase hall is the original dining room and occupies the middle bay of the central block overlooking the garden. Main feature is the massive Hopper slate fireplace (again now painted) to the south wall; plaster ceiling, Art Nouveau frieze and woodblock floor all c1898. Room to north-east of staircase hall was the dining room from c1900 to 1965, since when it has been a sitting room: originally smaller, it was enlarged in the 1880s to house a billiard table (now gone); good-quality wall panelling, inscribed "PF 1680" and "SPL 1709" with inlaid decoration of birds and flowers in vases to 6 panels and fine Jacobean fire surround and overmantel with ribbed cast-iron fireback all brought in, the wall panelling in 1921, reputedly from a church in Manchester; Alves coat-of-arms in window. North tower, burnt out in the 1880s, was completely restored by Barnard c1907 and the ground floor fitted out as a library; from 1940-46 the room was used as a Catholic chapel during the house's use as a school: main feature is the late C17 wall panelling, complete although obviously brought in (reputedly from Criccieth); very fine naturalistic carving of vines, acorns, oak leaves etc. to pilasters and same style, incorporating putti and columns, to recessed fire surround at west end; rather unusually-placed window directly above has Barnard coat-of-arms; pre-Raphaelite stained glass in alcove opposite depicting Faith, Hope and Love, made in the 1890s but presumably not installed until c1907. First floor of castle much plainer with few features of particular note; south room of central range has Adam-style fireplace and small bathroom in this range has 1920s' fittings including vitreous enamelled wall panels and glass ceiling; long first-floor corridor to west wing, lit by narrow window at southern end, has small bedrooms on either side with good 1920s' small cast-iron fireplaces.

The great majority of Hopper's surviving work is in Flag Tower, accessed by timber newel stair in staircase turret, lit by recessed panelled windows with stained glass; balustrade at top of stairs has sturdy turned balusters and pineapple-embossed newel; oval-shaped decorative plaster ceiling. Drawing room is reached first and as with all main rooms in tower it is completely circular; room approached through deep panelled recess with semi-circular shaped round-headed door on inner side; inside the room the door is enriched with fantastical neo-Norman carving enclosed in a round-headed doorcase with cushion capitals at impost level and 2 orders of decoration to the arch itself, billet and chevron patterning below and ballflower ornament with cable moulding above; round-headed arcading runs right round room, topped by horizontal banding just above impost level of doorway and terminating in carved human heads to either side of it; arches all enriched and supported on a variety of capitals; wide slate fireplace (now painted) with columns and nail-head ornament to jambs; above the horizontal band is plain intersecting arcading, interrupted only by the windows, which have deep panelled reveals and are separated by slender colonettes; plain ribbed ceiling has chevron decoration to cornice. Bedroom above (said to be slept in by Lloyd George on his visits) plainer but has the only Hopper fireplace surviving in its original unpainted state, essentially Romanesque but like that below with fantail detailing to the spandrels of the flat arch; panelled door in simple round-headed surround has enriched carving to panels; plaster cornice and cross-beam ceiling. Original roof structure replaced in 1977-8 by flat roof with rooflights creating additional space above the bedroom.

Reasons for Listing

Listed Grade II* on account of its very fine interior and the part the building plays in the evolution of romantic, historicist architecture during the 1830s, its 2 original construction phases (1830-2 and 1832-5) marking the transition from an ordered symmetrical composition to the more adventurous and picturesque neo-Romanesque style associated with Thomas Hopper, also the architect of nearby Penrhyn Castle.

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