What: Victorian sham castle mansion
Where: Llangunllo/Llangynllo, Ceredigion
Architect: Richard Kyrke Penson
Abandoned: c. 1946
Last Known Condition: In ruins, 2009.
Page Updated: February 2012
Down a bumpy single track lane a few miles from the busy mid-Welsh town of Newcastle Emlyn is an intriguing ruin. Sporting columns, gothic arches, towers and battlements, it looks something like a mediaeval castle, but appearances can be deceiving.
This is Bronwydd, a 'sham castle' built around an earlier house by the esteemed Gothic Revival architect Richard Kyrke Penson (1816-1886) for Sir Thomas Davies Lloyd, 1st Baronet Bronwydd. The 'castle' Penson made out of the existing 18th century house was every bit suited to the self-styled 'Marcher Lord' of Cemais (he was descended from Martin de Tours, a Norman who conquered the Cantref of Cemais c.1094), incorporating a baronial hall in which the family muniments and land titles were displayed. The house was a remarkable creation of turrets, polychrome roofing tiles and carved stone and the interior was yet more elaborate, featuring painted mottoes above the doors, carved stone, wood panelling, stained glass and murals.
Such ambitious building programmes did not come cheaply however. In 1877, when Sir Thomas' son Sir Marteine Owen Mowbray Lloyd, 2nd Baronet inherited the estate he also inherited a massive £100,0000 of debt.
Good management saved the estate from bankruptcy, but the death of Sir Marteine's son, Capt. Arundel Keymes Lloyd (Grenadier Guards Special Reserves) in the trenches of the Somme meant the end of the estate and the baronetcy. The Inland Revenue demanded death duties, which had been made over to Arundel in order to avoid those same duties.
Without another male heir and overshadowed by crippling debt, Sir Marteine and his wife Lady Katherine subsequently lived away from Bronwydd until Sir Marteine's death in 1933. Now a widow, Lady Lloyd tried to let the house without success. On her death in 1937, the house and grounds were sold. After housing a Jewish boarding school in the Second World War (the Aryeh House School, evacuated from Brighton), the house was bought by a contractor who stripped it of its fittings and left it to decay. The subesquent years saw one of Wales' most tragic architectural losses as slowly Bronwydd collapsed into its own cellars, having become a complete ruin by 1983.
The house is in a sorry condition and seems unlikely to last a good deal longer in its present state. The whole place is overgrown and when I visited it was pervaded by the deathly stench of several dead sheep left among the ruins. There is little trace of the oppulence with which Bronwydd was once furnished and as time goes by those traces which remain are being eroded away by the weather - Thomas Lloyd's baronial dream stands broken amidst agricultural junk, mothballed tractors and dunghills in a field of cows.
It is worth noting that the church on the opposite side of the valley, St. Cynllo's, still survives and is almost as lavishly decorated as the house once was. The church was re-built with the co-operation of Sir Thomas Lloyd, Mr Gwinnett Tyler of nearby Mount Gernos and John Middleton, an architect of Cheltenham in the 1850s and is known today as one of the finest estate churches in Wales. Mr. Tyler's house at Mount Gernos, meanwhile suffered a similar fate to Bronwydd: nothing remains of the once proud mansion but two bay windows, standing alone in a field.
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