Driving down the A5 into Bangor amidst a wooded backdrop, the tower of Penrhyn Castle is just about visible above the trees. Being one for all things historical whether castle/palace, church, country house, museum, period film/costume drama, I was determined to make a visit during a trip to Bangor.
As luck should have it, I was invited to Bangor for the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, to watch a friend perform in a concert at Bangor University, and so a visit to Penrhyn Castle was promptly arranged.
Sunday afternoon arrived and off we went to Penrhyn Castle, driving partway down the Bangor section of the A5, signalling to turn down the wrong road to Port [Porth in welsh] Penrhyn instead of the entrance to Penrhyn Castle, before being corrected (to put it mildly) and driving through the main entrance. Having become a National Trust member a few days earlier, entrance to the Penrhyn gardens, house and parking were all free.
One thing that struck me whilst visiting Penrhyn Castle was how deceptive the view of the castle is from the A5. Thinking the castle to be only the tower visible from the road, I was pleasantly surprised by the substantial size of the castle.
A Little History
I should probably begin by explaining that Penrhyn Castle, is not strictly speaking a castle at all and is in fact a country house built between 1820 and 1840 in the style of a Norman castle. What is now Penrhyn Castle was originally a medieval fortified manor house which was later extended/modified in the Fifteenth and Eighteenth Centuries before the major transformation into the current building during the Nineteenth Century.
The transformed Penrhyn Castle was designed and built by architect Thomas Hopper who was renowned for his work on country houses in Southern England, and became a favourite of King George IV. The Penrhyn Estate at that time, was owned by George Hay Dawkins-Pennant, who inherited the estate following the death of his second cousin Richard Pennant, who had made his fortune from sugar plantations in Jamaica and local slate quarries. Following George’s death in 1847, the estate was inherited by his eldest daughter Julianna and her husband Edward Gordon Douglas, who then adopted the hyphenated surname of Douglas-Pennant. Adopting the Pennant surname later became a condition of inheriting the Penrhyn estate.
Unfortunately we were unable to take photos of the interior, however the National Trust Images website (http://www.nationaltrustimages.org.uk) has a large selection of photos of both the interior and exterior of the building. Below are a selection of such photos:-
The Grand Hall
The Grand Hall is an imposing and substantial room, which I thought akin to a cathedral. There are a number of stained glass windows in Grand Hall; two of which you can just make out in the ceiling and two large stained glass windows on the ground floor. The two large stained glass windows have depictions of the zodiac on them, each of the small circles either depicts a zodiac sign or its relevant month of the year. Unfortunately, my zodiac sign depicted two rather drunk looking men.
I rather quite liked the library at Penrhyn Castle, the ceiling in particular was very decorative and pleasing to the eye, similar to the effect the Drawing Room of Tatton Park had on me… perhaps I have a thing for ceilings. I thought the dark wooden panelling suited the library very well though perhaps the billiards table was a little oddly placed, I’d have expected a few more bookcases. I doubt there were eight thousand books in the Penrhyn library, certainly no first edition Jane Austen novels.
The Dining Room
The dining table is dressed slightly differently to the way it was on Sunday, I can see in the photo above that there is a pineapple on the table. You might wonder why I thought that worth mentioning, but I distinctly remember commenting on the lack of pineapples on the table during my visit to Penrhyn Castle, the dining table at Tatton Park was adorned with many a pineapple.
Another thing that struck me during my walk around Penrhyn Castle was the lack of any chandeliers in the key rooms, it makes sense that there are none, given that the building is a mock Norman castle, but it struck me nonetheless. There is nothing like a good crystal chandelier dangling above the dining table, I’m sure Mrs Elton would agree. I was considering installing one above my grandparent’s dining table, but soon realised the ceiling was too low and it would take up far too much room, pity.
The Slate Bedroom
The Slate Bedroom was much talked about by the room stewards, the room houses a bed made of slate weighing one ton, hence the name “The Slate Room” not to be confused with “The State Room” which is another Penrhyn Castle bedroom. The room was given to Queen Victoria to sleep in during her visit to Penrhyn Castle in 1859, the slate bed was actually made for her to sleep in, though she refused the room likening the bed to grave stones. We were later shown a room that the National Trust had long advertised as being the room Queen Victoria actually slept in, however the room steward regaled us with a little story about Victoria liking the views of her room so much she commissioned a painting, after the painting was discovered it turned out the view was not from the room in question.
The Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase is quite an imposing bit of architecture, it reminds me of a cross between a cathedral and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I like how dark the staircase is compared to the walls in the upper level. Every inch of the Grand Staircase was adorned with medieval, roman and Byzantium decorative features; hand’s, faces, celtic symbols all carved into the archways above doors, lanterns/lamps were suspended from hands emerging from the walls.
“It must have been terrifying for a child to live here”
The Grand Staircase was lit by the large octagon shaped skylight shown in the second photo, along with several small windows on the upper level.
The Gardens & Other
We didn’t really spent much time exploring the gardens, however here are a selection of photos I took:-
As well as the Gardens and main “castle”, Penrhyn Castle also housed a number of mini museums, one such mini museum is the Railway Museum, in the courtyard.
After an exciting weekend away, I returned to work today. Returning from work, after having a brief moment of insanity that consisted of me humming the Auld Lang Syne song for no apparent reason, in the month of May, I was greeted with my National Trust Membership Pack.
Well worth the £18.75 it cost to become a member (young person’s membership), now if only they would give me a job!