Baron Hill, Beaumaris and Garthewin, Llanfairtalhaiarn, 2006

Whilst studying for my BA at University of Wales, Bangor, the archives there were a frequent haunt. One of their main collections was the Baron Hill manuscripts which are numerous, exceptionally detailed and provides a virtually complete record of the building’s history. Due to this accessible source I decided, following discussion with my personal tutor, to use Baron Hill as the basis for my BA dissertation. Baron Hill had been a house familiar to me through Tom Lloyd’s seminal work The Lost Houses of Wales which featured several photographs of what was one of Wales’ largest private houses.

Originally I had envisaged doing a comparison of five houses from the North Wales area but it was pointed out to me that the dissertation was only meant to be 10,000 words! I whittled the selection down to three – Baron Hill, Garthewin and Bodysgallen, but even then it would have been too large a data sample for the amount of research time available. I was fixed on researching Baron Hill so it constantly remained in the equation and with a difficult decision, I choose Garthewin for the comparable study. Garthewin is and always has been a beautiful house which had relatively little research undertaken on its building history. Additionally, the Garthewin manuscripts were also deposited at the University archives in Bangor. Both Baron Hill and Garthewin have roots in the early seventeenth century and both were chiefly overhauled in the late eighteenth century. This is when the parallels between the two buildings’ histories depart; the Bulkeleys of Baron Hill rose to national prominence whilst the Wynnes of Garthewin became part of the minor gentry as time grew on. Extraordinarily, whilst Baron Hill was falling into dereliction in the 1930s, Garthewin received a complete restoration by Clough Williams-Ellis and enjoyed a renaissance.

This pedagogic work traces the evolution of two Welsh mansion-houses utilising architectural, archaeological and historical techniques. I purposefully have kept this book available in its original ‘raw-form’ as it is works best as an academic analysis of the respective properties. In the future I do intend to publish two separate books on both buildings, encompassing the family histories as well as the architectural history.

Continue Reading

Hafodunos Hall: Triumph of the Martyr, 2005

Hafodunos had been a name which was familiar to me for many years. I tried to find it several times, but unsuccessfully. A good friend of mine, the late Don Richards, had talked profusely about this forlorn gothic mansion hidden in the woods near to Llangernyw but had never really explained how to get there. When I eventually stumbled across the house it was a surreal experience to witness a building which had just literally been abandoned; there was still food in the kitchen cupboards and carpets on the floors! Despite neglect Hafodunos’ isolated position had saved it from any serious vandalism, so what one encountered was very much as it had always been. In respect of this I thoroughly photographed the interior and exterior as I had an awful feeling that something tragic would happen to the house in the not too distant future.

Whilst on an archaeological trip to Plas Teg, Mold I received a phone call from an old school friend who was watching the Six O’Clock News, which reported that Hafodunos had gone up in flames and that the main house had been gutted by fire. Everyone in the car fell silent as I announced the news and I in particular, was utterly shocked by what I had just heard. It was at that moment that I decided to research a book in order to preserve for perpetuity the history of Hafodunos. Then the fun really started with collecting information about the development of the house and estate. I must give huge thanks to Auriol, Marchioness of Linlithgow, who as a direct descendant of the builder of Hafodunos permitted me access to her private family collection and papers. Another great help was Gillian Slater, the organiser for the Hafodunos Hall Girl’s School Reunion who put me in touch with many ‘old girls’ who had been to school there.

Concurrently, I was studying for my BA so the research for Hafodunos coincided with various University projects which eventually were turned into chapters of the book. As with most houses there were tales that were more apparent than others; one of these was the prolific yet short life of Margaret Sandbach whose poetry had been inspired by Hafodunos.  Much of the book was actually written whilst staying at Gwydir Castle, Llanrwst and in the grounds of Hafodunos which I felt allowed a deeper connection with the story of the house.

I decided to release the book to coincide with the first anniversary of the fire on the 14th October 2005.  Prior to the book’s official release, a copy was presented to the Culture Minister of Wales at the time; Alun Pugh AM following a meeting to discuss the future of the house.  Since then, the publication has been a source for those interested in the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott and Victorian domestic architecture, local history and also it was used as an advert for the property whilst it was up for sale.  Let us hope that one day Hafodunos will rise like the phoenix from the ashes and once again be resplendent in its Gothic glory.

Book Details: 

Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Brampton House Publishing (14 Oct. 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0953744027
ISBN-13: 978-0953744022
Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 14.6 x 1 cm

Back Cover:

Hafodunos Hall is one of the most important buildings at risk in Wales, playing a key part in Welsh cultural history during the nineteenth century. Its rooms and galleries were once the home to the largest collection of sculpture by the famous Welsh sculptor, John Gibson. It provided much inspiration for the renowned poetess Margaret Sandbach, author of “Aurora” and first wife of the builder of the Hall. Hafodunos was designed by the eminent architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and is described as his most spectacular example of domestic architecture in Wales. A famous conifer arboretum and plant collection was gathered from all over the world and grown within the gardens which were advised upon by Sir William Jackson Hooker of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Neglected for years the house had become a haven for vandalism and theft; the Victorian Venetian-Gothic masterpiece’s famed interiors perished in a devastating fire on 14th October 2004. What were the events leading up to its sad demise? Could they have been prevented? Whatever happened to the Gibson collection? All of these questions can be answered in what is the first ever publication on the history of Hafodunos. Much unpublished material has been used to create the most comprehensive review of one of North Wales’s most illustrious estates.


Foreword by the Marchioness of Linlithgow
Early History
1530 – 1833 ~ Jure Non Dono
1833 – 1852 ~ The Gift of Gibson
1852– 1895 ~ Venetian Inspired Gothic
1895– 1934 ~ Sam, Arthur and Geraldine
1934– 1969 ~ Deeds Not Words
1969 – 1993 ~ Changing Faces
1994 – 2004 ~ Wind, Rain and Dry Rot
The Fire ~ Fallen Sons of Eve
Interior as it was
Exterior in it’s prime
Gardens and Estate
Conclusions ~ Phoenix With a Broken Wing

Maps and Plans
The Development of Old Hafodunos Hall
Lloyd Family Inscriptions from St Digains, Llangernyw
Margaret Sandbach’s Poetry
Sculpture Once at Hafodunos
Surviving Old Girls from Hafodunos Hall Girl’s School

Book Review:

DESPITE the success of his previous publications on Gwrych Castle in Abergele, Mark Baker from Prestatyn, has been surprised by the popularity of his latest book

He unveiled Hafodunos Hall – Triumph of the Martyr, about the once spectacular Llangernyw landmark, on October 14 – the first anniversary of a fire which put its future in jeopardy. Ironically book sales have probably been higher because of the blaze, which was reported by most local and regional papers in North Wales.Even Mark recognises that, as in the introduction to the book he writes: “Few had heard of Hafodunos Hall until that fateful night in October, 2004, when its sorrowful fate was splashed across the national press.” Prior to that night, many were not aware the historical hall even existed. But Mark is keen for it to be known for more than the fire and in his book gives countless accounts of the significance of the hall, making readers fully aware of the reasons why the arson attack was so devastating.

Tucked away in Llangernyw, a village inland from Abergele, Hafodunos has a history which could have filled several books. But Mark has successfully managed to get it all in to one, while at the same time ensuring the book retains great detail.For anyone interested in historical buildings, this book will make gripping reading. It is broken up into 13 chapters, each one detailing a particular period in the hall’s history. In some ways, it makes a somewhat poignant read, following it from its glory days to its recent decline. It is obvious a lot of hard work and research has gone into producing it to the point you wonder where the 20-year-old found the time to write it, in between his ongoing campaigning to save Gwrych Castle and reading history and archaeology at university! Much of the material and information contained in what is Mark’s fifth book has never been published before.

“Most of the material which does exist in the public domain refers only to the Victorian mansion, virtually nothing has been said on its earlier incarnations,” said Mark. “This is also true of its later and most recent history, following the sale by the Sandbach family in 1934.”

Mark hopes raising awareness about Hafodunos will ensure it is resurrected from the ashes, a dream shared by Auriol, Marchioness of Linlithgow, whose great-great-grandfather, Samuel Sandbach, bought the Hafodunos estate in 1833. It remained in the family for over 100 years.In the foreword to the book, Auriol writes: “I am enormously grateful to Mark Baker for producing this splendidly researched account of my former family home. I can only hope that in doing so, it will provide the necessary inspiration for someone with the sensitivity and passion to undertake the worthy resurrection of this remarkable house.” lHafodunos Hall – Triumph of the Martyr costs £9.99 and is available from The Stag Inn, Post Office and The Bridge Inn, Llangernyw; Post Office, library and Whiteside’s newsagents, Abergele; Siop Ganol and post office, Llanddulas; Siop y Morfa, Rhyl.

Justine Bailey, Abergele Visitor, 2005

Continue Reading

Gwrych Castle and Winifred, Countess of Dundonald – A Biography, 2003

I embarked on the biography of the Countess during Easter 2001 whilst on holiday at my parent’s Spanish apartment. Ever since starting the research on the history of the Gwrych Castle Estate, the Countess had always held a particular fascination. Vivid is the memory of the day I first realised that the Countess and I shared the same birth date; as a young child, this came as quite a shock! Within a week or so I had formulated the outline of the book and had finished the first draft of the opening chapter. The present Earl of Dundonald was most helpful in providing a wealth of information regarding his families’ time at Gwrych. Much of the summer was spent in London researching the countess’ houses, also sorting various photographs of herself and her family, as well as founding the Building Preservation Trust for Gwrych and filming with Esther Rantzen. I was aiming for the book to be released in 2002 in its own right, but in March of that year my maternal grandmother fell seriously ill and due to hospital negligence she was in intensive care for nearly sixty days.

This meant that everyone was so physically and emotionally drained that there was no chance to finish off the book. In 2003 I felt strong enough to put the final touches to the Countess’ biography, yet in the meantime the Rise and Fall of Gwrych which had been released in 1999 had sold out. So I made the decision that instead of having two separate books I would re-write the original 1999 work and include the Countess’ biography. To coincide with the launch of the book a documentary was made by HTV Wales which detailed the writing of the biography and also the story of the history of Gwrych and the book was launched at Abergele library together with a new website to promote the books. This was during the annual exhibition and the book proved to be a success like its predecessor.

Book Details:

Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Brampton House Publishing; Rev Ed edition (4 Aug. 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0953744019
ISBN-13: 978-0953744015
Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 14.8 x 1 cm

Back Cover:

This book covers the entire history of Gwrych Castle and Estate from their founding days to present day. Gwrych, the fairytale castle which nestles into the wooded hillside that surrounds Abergele has been neglected for years; its history sadly forgotten and marble halls crumbling. How could this have been allowed to happen and when will its future be made secure?

Included in the second part of this book is a biography of Winifred, Countess of Dundonald ~ Last of the Heskeths of Gwrych. If Lady Dundonald was alive today what would her reaction be to the fall of the house of Gwrych? Does the life of the Countess provide the answer as to why the Castle was destined to fall into dereliction? All of these questions are answered within the pages of this book…


Part One – The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle
‘The Dream’
Park, Gardens and Gatehouses
The Dundonalds
An Interior Tour
Miscellaneous Ventures
As I Am
An Exterior Tour

Part Two – Winifred, Countess of Dundonald ~ A Biography
Chapter One – Early Life
Chapter Two – Married Life and Motherhood
Chapter Three – Love and Separation
Chapter Four – Freedom
Chapter Five – A Setting Sun
Chapter Six – A Legacy
Chapter Seven – Conclusion

Family Tree
Words of the Countess
Winifred’s Private Apartments
Portrait Analysis

Book Review:

Fiendishly Engaging
The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle – Mark Baker
What are most teenagers into these days? Playstation 2? Football? The latest album by Eminem? Not Mark Baker. His main mission in life is to save a 19th century castle from collapsing into obscurity. The North Wales 18 year old is so passionate about Gwrych Castle he has written a book on it. The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle covers the entire history of the mansion. It also includes a biography of Winifred, Countess of Dundonald, last of the Heskeths of Gwrych. Mark has been collecting items on the castle since 1994 and over the years has enjoyed local, regional and national media exposure about his campaign to save the crumbling building. The book features in great detail the history of the famous castle including comprehensive information on the families who lived there. Anyone knowing little about Gwrych Castle will certainly know plenty more after reading this book. The publication contains a nice blend of text and pictures sure to strike a nostalgic chord among history lovers.

One aspect I found difficult to understand was why the profile of the author appears in the middle of the book and not at the start as is the norm. I was also tickled by a printing error in the foreword by Barbara Griffiths, who described herself as having been fiend of Mark for many years. But overall this is an excellent book which can be used as reference material for many years to come. One can only Mark’s dream of seeing Gwrych restored to its former glory comes to fruition and that perhaps one day he can write another book entitled something along the lines of The Rebirth of Gwrych Castle.
Nick Ellis, Abergele Visitor, 2003

Continue Reading

Gwrych Castle: A Pictorial History, 2000

Following on from the success of The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle in 1999 many people suggested that a picture postcard collection should be assembled. During the summer of the year 2000 I started to collate a selection from the vast archive of material which I had assembled during the several years prior to this. It was a rather different experience than writing a book. When I fell ill with chickenpox this meant lots of rest and recuperation which allowed more time to be devoted to the book. I remember being asked to open the Llanddulas Millennium Festival together with Brian Jones, co-author of ‘Llanddulas – Heritage of a Village’, but I was so ill and covered in spots I was unable to leave the house! The chickenpox lingered on for so long that most of the talks with the printers Gee and Son, Denbigh were done over the phone via a third party. As the gentleman in charge had never had chickenpox himself and his grandson had neither also, returning to school was delayed by a few weeks but this gave me more time to edit the selection of images and to finalise the captions.

The colour of the cover was taken from the back leaf of a little volume I had bought some years previously, on Celtic history. It was a cross between a Victorian bottle green and the colour of ivy. When the book was printed I was hugely impressed by the quality of the printing and of the materials used; the closure of Gee and Sons has been a tremendous loss to North Wales. I asked Liz Legge, the chairperson of the Llanddulas Village Hall Association to write the forward as the association had been a great support to the campaign for the rescue of Gwrych. It was at the village hall, on November 25th 2000 that the book was launched and despite the changeable weather over one hundred people attended. Looking back, this book really proved to cement the campaign for Gwrych.

Book Details:

Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: Brampton House Publishing (26 Nov. 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0707403499
ISBN-13: 978-0707403496
Product Dimensions: 20 x 14.6 x 1 cm

Back Cover:

The successor to 1999’s Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle was published in November 2000 when Mark Baker was aged fifteen years old. It is a Victorian style picture-postcard collection, with images taken from the vast archive that has been collected over the years. It illustrates the history of Gwrych, Estate and the campaign to find a resolution to the dereliction of the Castle. Following winning an award as ASDA’s Local Hero for Mark’s involvement with saving the built heritage, this book is sponsored by ASDA.


Foreword by Liz Legge, Chairperson of the Llanddulas Village Hall Association
Hesky’s Old Library (Hesketh Family)
The Formidable Lady Dundonald (Dundonald Family)
The Estate
Views of Gwrych
Entertainment Years
The Sad Decline
The Campaign
Contact Organisations

Book Reviews:

Schoolboy Gives a History Lesson

A book charting the history of a crumbling mansion in pictures will be launched this weekend.
15 year old Mark Baker has compiled a unique pictorial history of Gwrych Castle, a Grade 1 listed building in Abergele. Using pictures sourced from as far as Australia, this fascinating collection shows the castle throughout the changing seasons – as you’ve never seen it before.

“Although publishing this book has been expensive, I think it is important to our community to try to make an effort to save the castle. I would like to thank the Friends of Gwrych Castle (ASFOG) and Margaret Lambert Jones for all their help”, said Mark, who will attend the book launch at Llanddulas Village Hall on Saturday.

“Hopefully the book will make an unusual Christmas gift for people”, he added.
Mark’s dedication to saving the 200 year old derelict pile began when he was just 12 years old and in recent months he has taken his cause to the top, appearing on TV with Esther Rantzen and meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Abergele and Pensarn Visitor, 2000

Mark Relives Castle History
A teenager who has fought to save Gwrych Castle has published his second book about the historic landmark. Mark Baker, 15, from Prestatyn has put together A Pictorial History of Gwrych Castle using postcards and pictures donated and loaned by people who visited the castle in its heyday, the National Library of Wales and private collections.

The book also features pictures taken when Mark, a pupil at Rydal Penrhos in Colwyn Bay, met Prince Charles for private talks about the future of the castle on a visit to North Wales. The teenager, who has also written the book ‘The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle’ which traces the history of the building and the many families who lived there, said “I am very pleased to get this second book done and hope that it is well received by the public. I am not sure whether I will start work immediately on the next book, as I have my GCSE’s coming up and need to prepare for them.

The book was launched at an exhibition held at Llanddulas Village Hall, which included memorabilia concerning the 19th century folly. Invluding printed maps of the estate dating back to the 1840’s.

• The American owner of Gwrych Castle has promised to inject $3 million into giving the folly a facelift. In a phone conversation with Mark, Californian Nick Tavaglione said he hoped to return the exterior and part of the grounds to its former glory, as well as some of the interior.

Rhyl and Prestatyn Journal, 2000

Continue Reading

The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle, 1999

How it all began: 

One night, during the Christmas school holidays of 1998, I sat down in my room and put pen to paper. The words just seemed to flow as I recalled what I had learned over the preceding years regarding the history of Gwrych Castle. I was only 13 years old but nonetheless I was inspired by the forlornness of the building yet commanding majesty that emanated from the castle. I began to write the book in a logical order, starting from the earliest day moving forward.

Chapter one encapsulated the early history of Gwrych and was entitled ‘The Dream’ as I had found out that the builder of Gwrych had dreamt up the notion for its creation as a child. This, naturally, found resonance with myself and further inflamed my already burgeoning passion. I can remember clearly telephoning and actually visiting the Royal Institute of British Architects at the age of 12 to carry out research on the architects who built Gwrych. Much time was spent at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, which my parents quite graciously turned into family holidays. Vivid is the memory of my grandparents sitting on the bench outside the National Library on a scorching hot day looking out over Aberystwyth. They must have been there for hours but that didn’t seem to concern them at all! I thought it would be interesting to break up the content by interspersing chapters on the history with architectural appraisals.

The Park, Gardens and Gatehouses; discussed the estate as well as what the chapter title states. Again, I logically went through all the gate lodges detailing the various architectural elements that were associated. One of my favourite sections of this book was the third chapter on the Dundonalds. Reading what I wrote as a 13 year old I am rather surprised by my depth of analysis and understanding. It has been some years since I last read through this book, as I have tended to regard it with not as much respect as I ought to have. There is a purity and naiveté, which is rather refreshing and adds a charm to the work. It makes me feel quite happy to reflect back on this book and be quite pleased with how it has held up over the years. It is amazing to think that this little volume literally sold out overnight and that copies are now collector’s items!

Book Details: 

Paperback: 88 pages
Publisher: Mark Baker (Nov. 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0953744000
ISBN-13: 978-0953744008
Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 14.4 x 0.6 cm

Back Cover:

Who of the Castle’s several ghosts haunts the marble halls of Gwrych Castle? Who was the Countess of the Dundonald, now buried in Llanddulas Churchyard, who did she marry and why? Randolph Turpin, Bruce Woodcock, Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra and 200 Jewish children evacuated from Europe in Operation Kindertransport all found solace within her walls.

Whatever happened to these Jewish children? What are their memories of Wartime Gwrych? The answers to these questions and many other interesting facts about Gwrych Castle and Estate can be found inside this highly researched and interesting book!


The Dream
Park, Gardens and Gatehouses
The Dundonalds
Interior Tour (How it was)
Miscellaneous Ventures
As I Am
Exterior In It’s Prime – Walking Guide – As it was
Contact Organisations

Book Review:

The Castle Crusader who aims to make his mark with new book

A teenager who has launched a personal crusade to save a Victorian castle from further ruin has gone into print. Mark Baker of Prestatyn has sent copies of his book titled “The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle” to several luminaries including the Prince of Wales, William Hague and several MP’s, all of whom have taken an interest in his campaign.

One thousand copies of the 88 page volume have been printed and within days hundreds have been sold.
Mark, a pupil at Rydal Penrhos school, was instrumental in founding ASFOG, A Society for the Friends of Gwrych, in 1997, by which time he had gathered much of the background history of the castle.
The magnificent Gwrych Castle was built early in the 19th century for Lloyd Hesketh Bamford Hesketh and served a variety of purposes including a private home and tourist attraction.

In 1990 it was bought by American businessman Nick Tavaglione who announced plans to develop it as an opera centre, but as a legal wrangle over ownership dragged on the building fell into severe disrepair.
In recent years it has been vandalised, leading to council action to secure it against further trespass. Mark has enlisted the support of numerous conservation bodies for his campaign but all have said they cannot offer practical support until the ownership dispute is settled. Among those who have praised his enthusiasm and initiative are the Phoenix Trust, set up by Prince Charles to help restore important old buildings.

Liverpool Daily Post, 1999

Continue Reading