Can the sales of these two historic estates ignite the country house market?
The sale, for the first time in its history, of the scenic Plas Gwyn estate on the east coast of the island of Anglesey, north-west Wales, has sent a bolt of energy through the UK country-house market, where things have been eerily quiet throughout the summer months.
Plas Gwyn sits half a mile from the pretty village of Pentraeth, five miles north-west of Beaumaris, in a sheltered valley at the head of a small bay called Traeth Coch, from where the marble and limestone once quarried inthis part of Anglesey were shipped to the mainland.
George Bramley of Knight Frank (020–7861 1069) reports serious interest from Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Liverpool, London and elsewhere—not to mention local buyers, who will be hard to beat in the contest for this little-known, but most appealing of coastal and sporting estates. He quotes a £5 million guide price for the 1,001-acre landholding with its classic, Grade II*-listed Georgian house, the only one of its kind on Anglesey. The estate is being offered as a whole and comes with sporting rights over a further 1,074 acres of nearby land and mineral rights over 581 acres.
Plas Gwyn stands in a dramatically beautiful landscape that unites the sea, the coastline (designated an AONB) and the estate’s woods and The main house, which now needs what some estate agents call ‘a gene- rational makeover’, stands hidden from view within 300 acres of gardens, parkland and woodland. The building is symmetrically arranged around a central inner hall, behind a large entrance hall flanked by the library and the dining room.
Off the inner hall is the drawing room, whose fine proportions are partly due to 19th-century alterations, which saw two rooms merged together, with the addition of a bay window, and two arches with marble columns on either side.
The first floor has seven principal bedrooms and two bathrooms; the second floor, which has good ceiling heights, houses nine further rooms and a bathroom. ‘You could easily end up with the seven bedrooms and five bathrooms that many buyers like to see in a country house,’ suggests Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank. Given the general shortage of residential farms and estates for sale, he views the combination of a grand, but not over-large country house (Plas Gwyn has 13,730sq ft of living space) with 1,000 acres of good grazing land, as particularly enticing in the current market.
The Richards family of Caerynwch, near Dolgellau, in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park, have been prominent landowners, lawyers, politicians and High Sheriffs of the county since about 1650. According to Andrew Richards, the present incumbent of Caerynwch, who was High Sheriff of Gwynedd in 2006, the imposing, Grade II-listed Georgian house was built by the architect Joseph Bromfield for Baron Richards in 1780, replacing the original 15th-century estate house, which had become too small for the baron’s wife, Catherine, and their rumbustious brood of 10 children.
The name Caerynwch passed to the new house, with the old house becoming known as Plas Hen or Old Hall, which is still owned by the Richards family, along with Caerynwch’s surrounding farms and estate. The nine-bedroom 1780s house, now surplus to family requirements, is for sale, with 9.6 acres of important gardens and grounds in the shadow of Cadair Idris, Mynydd Moel and Mynydd Gwerngraig, through Strutt & Parker in Shrewsbury (01743 284200), at a guide price of £1.4m.
Unlike Plas Gwyn, which has remained virtually unchanged since it was built, Caerynwch has evolved over time, being substantially extended in the Victorian era, and reduced in size after the Second World War, when a wing was replaced by a single-storey attached cottage, now a popular holiday let.
For 10 years between 1950 and 1960, the house was run as a country-house hotel and was returned to the family in ‘a dreadful state’ when the hotel eventually went bust. Mr Richards and his wife, Hilary, who took over Caerynwch in 1999, have put the house back in order and he now deems it to be ‘in a reasonable state of repair’.
The gardens, originally established in the 1800s, feature a collection of special rhododendrons brought back from China in the 1900s by Mr Richards’s grandmother, Mary, a famous botanist. They have been painstakingly restored by Mr and Mrs Richards, although laid out now in a much less formal way than in his grandmother’s day, when three full- time gardeners were employed.