Bodelwyddan Castle - Deception in Stone

Bodelwyddan Castle - Deception in Stone

Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales has the bearing of a castle but on closer inspection something seems to be seriously wrong with the building. At first glance Bodelwyddan Castle stands solid on rising land among the trees and parkland just north of the main A55 heading for Colwyn Bay in North Wales. But take the slip road and follow the signs to the ‘castle’ and all is not what it seems for it is, in fact, the whimsical dream of a Welsh baronet who wanted to elevate his comfortable country home into a ‘castle.

The original house has a long and slightly shady, if not shaky, history having been the original home of the Humphreys, after they were evicted by King Edward IV from their lands in Anglesey to make way for someone more favoured in Royal circles.

Then in 1690 the house was sold to the Williams family who, as you are about to find out, had ideas of grandeur but never the cash to run the estate as a going concern. First owner was Sir William Williams, Bart, speaker in the parliament of Charles II, barrister and solicitor general to James II. He got into all sorts of hot water in the House of Commons and found himself at loggerheads with Judge Jeffreys, better known as the ‘hanging judge’, which saw him held for trial and fined £18,000 for licencing a libellous publication alleging murder and religious intrigue.

By 1830 the estate was owned by John Williams, the 2nd baronet, who for some unknown reason adopted the additional surname of Hay, and it was he who went on the whimsical building spree. Not only did he remodel the interior of the house, but builders and masons were let loose on the exterior of the building. Despite the lack of money the project went on for years with castellated towers being added for no apparent reason, along with grand arches, and a new entrance resulting in a building that had a medieval feel but no history as an emerging castle.

The final outcome is a mock castle modelled by the famous architects Welch and Hansom, the latter being better know, and more successful, at designing the Hansom cab. More projects resulted in the house being enclosed in a high limestone wall, while the garden wall was heated through a clever ventilated system that allowed Sir John to grow exotic fruits like peaches, nectarines and apricots.

But the writing was on the wall, the estate got into deeper financial trouble. Land was sold off to help pay the debts, then the Ministry of Defence took over much of the land during the First World War and turned the area into a training camp, then the castle became a girls school, then part of the National Portrait Gallery run by the local County Council before being finally leased to the Rank Organisation in 1993, who developed it as a Warner Hotel.

So when you are driving down the A55 and see the castle, you are not really looking at a castle at all; more a hotel that would like to think it’s a castle!

Want to know more?

Mel Russ