The May Day Bank Holiday and three days thereafter have been the first extended period of time that I have had off work since the start of the year, suffice to say a break was definitely needed. Having moved to Cardiff, National Trust properties are much less accessible, with the exception of two; Tredegar House and Dyffryn Gardens, both a short drive away from Cardiff. Throughout the weekend and the few days that followed, the sun was shining, the skies were clear and shorts were worn, to make the most of this weather, I visited both Tredegar House and Dyffryn Gardens, starting with Tredegar.
Tredegar House is a grand red brick house visible from the M4 Motorway when travelling towards Cardiff. The estate is comprised of the house, some gardens and 90 acres of parkland. Access to the parkland is free (excluding the £2 parking fee), meaning the grounds are the perfect location for picnic on a warm sunny day, the house and gardens meanwhile costs £6.75 – £7.50 for an adult. Those who like to camp may also be interested in the Caravan Club camping site located adjacent to the parkland.
A Little History
Tredegar House was built by the Morgan family of South Wales in latter half of the 17th Century, replacing an older Tudor manor house. The Morgan family descended from the Welsh princes of old and had held substantial amounts of land in South-East Wales, at one point totalling 53,000 acres which extended to Brecon and Cardiff.
Despite losing a great deal of land in 1403 as punishment for supporting Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion, the Morgan family regained much of their land through supporting Henry Tudor in 1485 which established the family, led by John ap Morgan as a powerful gentry family. It was at this time that the older Tudor house was built. During the lifetime of the older house, King Charles I stayed one night in 1645 during the English Civil War.
When William Morgan inherited the estate in 1666, he decided to replace the Tudor Manor House with a red brick mansion as a way to showcase the family’s wealth and status. Red brick was not widely used in South Wales at that time and so the decision to build the mansion in red brick was made to impress, to build something that stood out from everything else in the area. William was able to afford this dramatic reconstruction of the house after having married his wealthy cousin Blanche Morgan, daughter of the King’s attorney for South Wales. When Blanche died in 1673, William married Elizabeth Dayrell, a wealthy widow who further increased the Morgan family’s wealth and land. William’s marriage to Elizabeth however, was not a happy one; following several violent attacks on William, Elizabeth was declared a lunatic.
In 1680 William died and his son Thomas inherited the estate, followed by William’s forth son John Morgan in 1700 after the death of childless Thomas. John was also the heir to his uncle’s fortune, providing his heir William with a substantial inheritance in 1719. An MP for Monmouthshire who lived a very frivolous life, William married Lady Rachel Cavendish, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Devonshire in 1724, however due to his lifestyle he died in 1731 at the age of 31. His wife Rachel outlived him by 50 years, almost bankrupting the family by her allowance of £2000 per year for life.
In 1792 the last male Morgan heir died, to continue the family name Charles Gould, the husband of the female heir Jane Morgan was forced to take the Morgan family name in order to inherit the estate on behalf of his wife. On inheritance Charles Gould, having been knighted 13 years earlier, was made a baronet. Throughout the Industrial Revolution the Tredegar lands proved very lucrative, allowing the Morgan family to lease out land for mining and iron works as well as tolls from the construction and use of a tram road through Tredegar Park.
The influence and prestige of the Morgan family was increased in 1859 when Sir Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan, grandson of Charles Gould was made the 1st Lord of Tredegar. The estate then passed down the Lords Tredegar from Charles to his son Charles, and his son Godfrey who died in 1913. At the time of his death, the estate provided Lord Tredegar with an income of £1000 per day. Godfrey Morgan was succeeded by Courtenay Morgan, his nephew, who owned the estate until his death in 1934.
Courtenay Morgan was succeeded by his son Evan Morgan; a rather colourful character who dabbled with poetry and painting, and enjoyed wild weekends. Evan was married twice; first to actress Lois Stuart who died in 1937 of a heart attack and later Princess Olga Dolgorouky, though that marriage was annulled in 1943 after 5 years of marriage. Both marriages were ‘a marriage of convenience’ used to cover up his homosexuality. Evan had a keen interest in animals and had many that would roam around the house and gardens including a kangaroo, a honeybear and a baboon. Ever the eccentric, Evan had a tendency to share a bed with rabbits, I can’t imagine how strange an experience that must have been for both parties let alone the housekeeping staff. Evan died in 1949, leaving the estate to his uncle Frederick Morgan, who quickly signed it over to his son John, who then sold off the estate and moved to France.
The estate was bought from the Morgans by the Sisters of St Joseph, the house served as a school for 23 years, firstly as a girls school then later a state comprehensive. In 1974, the house and land was purchased by Newport Borough Council, who decided it should be restored and showcased as a historic house museum. The National Trust acquired Tredegar House in 2012 with a 50 year lease, and has become a popular venue for picnickers, campers as well as those interested in the house and its history. Tredegar House has also been featured on several BBC programmes including Doctor Who and Being Human, for former of which is a regular user of the estate and house.
To get to the house, you have to walk through what little formal gardens exist at the property, before passing through the Stables and arriving in front of the house.
Walking around the Stables, I was quite surprised to see a Dalek hiding there, thankfully it was only a model Dalek, being exterminated certainly wasn’t on my To Do List for the day.
Arriving outside of the stables you will enter a large concourse onto which the house overlooks.
Interestingly, the stables building was designed in such a grand ornate style that when Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited Tredegar, their driver stopped at the front of the Stables thinking it was the entrance to the house.
Walking up the steps and through the Main Entrance of the house you will enter the New Hall.
Photographs are allowed inside the house, providing the flash is not used and that no paintings are included in the shot due. As you can imagine, this was quite a lot to ask given the number of paintings located all around the house, as a result I am using images from the National Trust Images site.
The New Hall leads to the Great Staircase ahead, the Dining Room to the right and the New Parlour to the left.
The Dining Room is dressed for a wedding banquet, with an array of food (mock of course) on display. The chairs around the table were all decorated with writing, which I thought was quite different and quite appealing. If you walk through the doorway at the other end of the Dining Room you will arrive in the Gilt Room.
The Gilt Room was a very ornate room room used for entertaining guests. The centrepiece of the Gilt Room is without a doubt the ceiling painting depicting the triumph of religion and spirituality, whilst I may not agree with the theme, preferring reason over religion, it is nonetheless an impressive piece of art.
After seeing all the Gilt Room has to offer, you head back through the Dining Room, through the New Hall and into the New Parlour.
The New Parlour was used as the family dining room during the Victorian Period, following the construction of the Side Hall and its use as the main entrance.
Walking through the Side Hall, you will enter the Morning Room, a room used by the family during the day light hours.
I thought the morning room was quite an odd room at Tredegar, only because of the quite subdued wallpaper and the rather garish carpet. After looking around the morning room, you had back through the Side Hall and New Parlour and re-enter the New Hall before heading into the Great Staircase hall and up to the first floor.
According to the Tredegar House guidebook, there were several key first floor rooms that were not open during my visit including the Best Chamber and the Master’s Bedroom. On reaching the top of the staircase, the first room I entered was the school room, a room that has been left as it would have been during the house’s time as a school.
The school room is quite a contrast with other parts of the house, lacking in decorative wall coverings or elaborate wooden carvings. Leaving the school room you eventually come to one of several fully furnished bedrooms on display for the public. The first of these is the King’s Room, one of three corner suites that encompass the first floor.
The King’s Room would most likely have been the private room of the mistress of the household, with the Best Room being used by guests and the Master’s Room used by the master of the house. The name suggests that it was once used by a king, however this is not the case, it is most probably named after Sir Charles Gould’s father King – quite an unusual choice of name for a room that was traditionally used by the mistress. During the 20th Century, the King’s Room was the room used by Evan Morgan. Beside the Kings Room there is quite a nice bathroom.
Next to the King’s Bathroom is the Red Room, a bedroom that was used by Evan Morgan’s second wife and Russian Princess Olga.
After the Red Room you enter the Blue Room and then, if the remaining rooms are closed, head back downstairs into the Bells Passage, named after the room bells attached to the wall used to inform the servants when and where they are needed.
The Bells Passage has a small set of stairs that lead down into the servant’s areas and in particular, the kitchen.
At the heart of the building, with the family rooms at the front and servant’s areas at the rear there is a courtyard, which shows off parts of the earlier Tudor house.
Through the windows in the old brick building straight ahead in the picture above, you can see into the Servant’s Hall, another room that was closed during my visit.
Having seen all there is to see in the servant’s area, you exist the house by a servant’s doorway and return to an area you passed earlier, where you can visit the shop/tea shop or explore the grounds.
The Gardens & Grounds
Tredegar House compared to other National Trust properties that I have visited has very little in the way of Formal Gardens. Having purchased your ticket you will come to a crossroads of sorts, to the left the gardens and entrance to the house and to the right, the entrance to the parklands.
Turning left and entering the gardens, the first you will come to are the Orchard Gardens. During my visit, part of the orchard garden was closed off, I was able however, to get a quick snapshot.
Following the path through a set of gates, you will enter the Cedar Garden.
At the centre of the garden is a small obelisk surrounded by a circular hedge. The obelisk is a monument to Sir Briggs; the war horse belonging to Godfrey Morgan, following the horse’s death at Tredegar after returning from the Crimea, he was buried beneath the obelisk. Next on the tour of the gardens is the Orangery Garden.
The Orangery Garden leads onto the stables and then the house, after exploring the house you will start back at the crossroads allowing you to then explore the parkland.
The first area of the parkland you will come to is the area overlooking the Victorian entrance to the house.
A set of gates near the Victorian Entrance leads to the main parkland which now includes 90 acres of land and a lake. The parkland was once a deer park of over 1000 acres, though no deer remain on the estate.
As the parkland is free for visitors, it is a popular tourist attraction during the warm sunny weather, during my visit the parkland was full of people enjoying picnics, sunbathing and sports games.
I’m not quite sure what exactly was expecting from Tredegar House, I have visited quite a few historical properties now so I had a fairly good idea of what it would be like, and as entered I was told I was “in for a treat“. Despite this, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed, I think this is due to two reasons; the relatively little garden on show, there were few flower beds compared to other properties I have seen, I suppose the Tredegar gardens just didn’t wow me, but then they can’t all. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, I felt the house was lacking in information. I am used to visiting historical properties and being able to read leaflets in each room to give details about the rooms use, history and quirky information that just adds that little extra fascination. Indeed some rooms did have a small board with a sentence about the room but nothing compared to those provided with other properties, there was no information about the paintings in any of the rooms which would have been a nice touch, especially in the Gilt Room. One more thing that would be quite useful throughout the house is the room name, only the guidebook provides this and I did not purchase this book until I was leaving. If anyone at Tredegar House were to read this, I sincerely hope this is seen as constructive criticism and may be taken under consideration. It was nonetheless an enjoyable day out of Cardiff in the sunshine.
- http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/tredegar-house/ – Tredegar House on the National Trust website
- http://www.nationaltrustimages.org.uk – National Trust Images website