Caernarfonshire -2 A neo-Norman castle, Welsh Rarebit and Fire Queen and Charles

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March 4th 2013
Published: March 4th 2013
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Suzy is sulking. She is still standing on our drive waiting for her holidays to start. 50 days and counting.......... .The sun is shining and she wants to start her 2013 adventures. Yesterday we spent time starting to get her ready for the coming season. We began by loading up the front lockers. We checked first that there was a copious selection of sweets to keep us going on our travels. Werthers Toffees, Soft Mints, Chocolate Eclairs and Licquorice Allsorts – Check . Boxes filled with smalls - Check, Boxes full of towels and T-towels- Check . We filled the water tanks with cleaner probably not enough but we used what we had .Taps switched on to run it through. Suzy likes her pipes cleaned. Jelly shoes placed in the wardrobe ready for use in the showers., Kindle fired up and ready to read. Books on campsites and visitor attractions stored, ,story books to read and crossword puzzles all filed safely away in a wall cupboard. We switched on the electrics to Kathrein our satellite dish. Suzy to Kathrein – Kathrein to Satellites - are you going to work?. A rumble and the turntable started to move. It swung around searching
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A lovely ceiling
for and trying to lock in on Astra 2. Message Satellite hiding – malfunction. Switch off , think about it, curse a lot and try again . More rumbling as the turntable moved searching the sky - Astra you are up there somewhere? . At last she stopped and BBC1 appeared on the screen . Kathrein and Astra friends again. What a relief!!!

Sion has a found a friend – Woolly Mammoth who at present is touring Turkey. Our little friend and travelling companion is happy and is trying to persuade us that we can drive Suzy to Turkey and take along himself, Drag and Ba Ba. Actually it sounds rather a good idea . 2014 maybe??? No Sion we are going to bumble around France. Oh go on then perhaps September.

We fixed our 2013/2014 tax disc on Suzy – a little pink number this year. And we have cancelled an extortionate quote for the AA (one of our motoring organisations) for our breakdown cover. We feel sometimes that organisations ignore loyal customers preferring to curry favour with new customers. A new customer would pay at least £30 a year less than us and we have been
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From one of the trains
with them 40 years.

One of the reasons why Suzy and Sion were sulking was because this morning we got in our car to drive over to Caernafonshire to visit Penrhyn Castle a neo- Norman pile created by Thomas Hopper for Lord Penrhyn between 1822 and 1837. The Pennant family were the local landed gentry who acquired their wealth through Jamaican Sugar and presumably the slave trade that accompanied it and from their slate quarries in North Wales. Slate that was so sought after and was traded all over Wales and the world. The castle alongside Castle Drogo in Devon are two of the most admired of the mock castles built in the United Kingdom in the 19th century and early 20th century. The castle is rather sombre built solidly of grey stone. It’s site is enviable overlooking the Menai Straits and the Island of Anglesey. It looks like a medieval fortress with huge keep. The guides explained that the keep was used to house the family on a day to day basis and the rest of the castle only opened when visitors were expected. It was built inside entirely of stone and today even in the sunlight of
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A view of the castle from the path
a warm Spring day it felt cold. So it was easy to understand why the family used just a small portion of the castle for every day life.

Our first stop was to the tea rooms where we sat and warmed ourselves over a welcome cup of tea and a lunch of Welsh Rarebit with salad and chutney. The Welsh Rarebit (cheese on toast to the uninitiated) was tasty and presented on sliced baguettes rather than the usual toast. The cafe was relatively empty – I guess because today was the first day of the season.

From the cafe we walked down in the cold Victorian kitchens. Wall to wall cupboards full of copper pans of every conceivable size. A huge range which if lit would have warmed the kitchen. A beautifully presented housekeepers room which looked comfortable and relatively cheery.

Outside we found a collection of railway trains all set around an internal courtyard. The trains are all industrial trains and included Fire Queen which apparently is very rare and is one of the first engines to be used on the local Padarn Railway. I rather liked her brass plaque showing who she was built by
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The housekeepers room
and the date of her construction. Other trains included Charles which apparently was a saddle tank engine although I have no idea what that was. She was used in the Pennants quarry at Penrhyn. Other engines were dotted around the courtyard and we spent quite a while wandering round and admiring them- all shining brass and copper and brightly painted livery or green, blue or red.

There is a dolls museum on site and also a model railway but we didn’t see either.Instead we walked over to the front entrance to the castle. For once there was no desk or National Trust Volunteer checking tickets. It seemed that policy had changed for the new season. No longer would tickets be checked at the house nor would there be a guided signed route through the rooms. Freeflow was the order . We got lost and kept coming round to the same staircase so I wonder how this will work in the height of summer when visitor numbers increase. The only good thing about free flow go where you like is that if you like something and want to go back you can do without having to go all the way
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The ballroom
to the start again. And you can go round as many times as you like so that’ s a bonus. The first room we entered was the grandest ball room, a stunning confection of stone that looked like the icing on a wedding cake. Every piece of stone seemed to be carved to within an inch of its life. The ceiling was equally stunning and we were told in one room that the mason had taken 10 years to carve it. The stained glass prettily let in coloured light to the room. If it was meant to impress then it did just that.

The Library was equally impressive with carved ceilings and panelled wood everywhere. William Morris wall paper on walls that were not covered in panelling. Art work to die for . That sugar and slate sure paid for a privileged lifestyle.

Upstairs were nurseries, bedrooms and sitting rooms. The bedrooms Morris wallpapered and with Anglesey marble fireplace surrounds. The large slate bed made for Queen Victorias visit was I have to say hideous and I don’t blame her for not wanting to sleep in it. She thought it looked like a coffin. The bed ends were
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The Library
made by a stonemason who made grave memorials and it is easy to see what pattern he used for the bed end. They are seen in almost every North Wales graveyard that uses slate for its memorials.

The Pennants and Lord Penrhyn are also linked with the longest strike in industrial history lasting three years from 1900 to1903. Tensions had been building up in the quarry for a number of years coming to a head in 1900. Some of the quarry workers were dismissed and prosecuted by Lord Penrhyn . Other quarry men supported the dismissed workers and were all suspended from work When the quarrymen returned to work after the two weeks the banks had been closed which left 800 men without work. A further 2000 quarry men refused to work until the 800 were given work. And so at that point an ultimatum was given to the workers . Go to work or leave the quarry quietly to which every man left the quarry. Terms were offered but all the men bar 77 refused to return to work . The striking workers were well supported in the area and even from well wishes from outside the area.
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And this ceiling was stunning but simple
In 1901 the quarry re-opened and the men were invited to return to work. This time 500 having suffered enough hardship returned to work. The remaining men stayed out and card appeared in house windows which the welsh “Nid oes Bradwr yn y ty” and these stayed in the windows for two years showing that these workers had not broken the strike. But by 1902 700 men had returned to work and 2000 had moved out of the area moving mainly to the South Wales coalfields.

Penrhyn Castle is the product of two sides of a story. A wealthy landowner who built a beautiful house in a wonderful location on the profits from his quarries locally. And it is also the story of his workforce who provided him with the money to live that lifestyle. And to top it all we saw our first signs of Spring, catkins, primroses and a rich red Rhodedendrum.


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