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

Winifred, Countess of Dundonald

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…

Contents:

Part One – The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle
Introduction
‘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
Foreword
Introduction
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

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

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

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