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Bodelwyddan Castle exterior

© National Portrait Gallery
and Bodelwyddan Castle


Bodelwyddan Castle armour 

Fake armour designed by George Bullock, 1805
© National Portrait Gallery
and Bodelwyddan Castle


Bodelwyddan Castle stencilling

Stencilling in the Watts Hall of Fame
© National Portrait Gallery
and Bodelwyddan Castle


The history and restoration of Bodelwyddan Castle

With its limestone turrets and battlements, the Castle as we approach it today is a nineteenth-century creation. But the history of Bodelwyddan is a long and complicated one, made more obscure by the loss of records in the 1920s. There was a house on the site as early as the 1460s, the property of the Humphreys family from Anglesey, and a tour of the present building reveals details of various periods, and suggests the work of many hands. It is this that gives Bodelwyddan, like many old houses, its special character and which guided the redecoration of its interiors in the 1980s when Clwyd County Council and the National Portrait Gallery joined forces to create a setting for a significant group of the Gallery's nineteenth-century portraits.

In the late seventeenth century, Bodelwyddan was bought from the Humphreys by Sir William Williams and it is to his descendants that the castle owed its various transformations. The house purchased by Sir William, Speaker of the House of Commons in 1680-81, appears to have been of late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century construction. There is evidence of alterations being made in the early eighteenth century and, around 1800, a new front in the Grecian style was added with the pitched roofs shielded by parapets, the walls stuccoed, and an elegant colonnade linking the projecting wings. In 1830, Sir John Hay-Williams succeeded to the title and embarked on a major programme of works which finally resulted in the Castle's present, gothic appearance. His architects were Joseph Aloysius Hansom - the inventor of the Hansom cab - and Edward Welch but it is clear that work extended well into the middle of the nineteenth century. A plaque dated 1858 in the Dining Room suggests the possible involvement of the architect John Gibson who was at that time building the famous 'Marble Church' at Bodelwyddan. Tiles dated 1886 in two other rooms indicate yet further work towards the end of the Victorian period.

In 1920 the Williams family finally sold Bodelwyddan and for sixty years the Castle housed a girls' school, Lowther College. When the College closed in 1982, the Castle was acquired by Clwyd County Council who, in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, embarked on the major task of redecorating and refurbishing the principal rooms which now make up the Williams Hall. The work of redecoration was carried out by the architect, and expert on nineteenth-century design, Roderick Gradidge. Beyond the original features which have been restored, few clues remained beneath the College's plain decoration to suggest how the rooms looked before 1920. Instead, the opportunity was taken to create a sequence of rooms, ranging in period from early to late nineteenth century, with appropriate decoration and furnishings. The intention was not to adhere rigidly to any fixed date, but to give the impression of a set of interiors which had developed gradually over the years, rather like the fabric of the Castle as a whole. Thus the furniture in each room - much of it on loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum - often ranges in date. Above all, of course, the aim was to create a fine setting for the important collection of nineteenth-century portraits on display at Bodelwyddan. These are grouped both chronologically and thematically, depending on the various functions or periods of the rooms.

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