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Wales Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd

Penrhyn Castle near Bangor is just off the North Wales Expressway (A55) and is a splendid neo-Norman castle overlooking the Menai Straits. The tall square keep dominates the castle with its round windows, arcading and chevrons.


In the early C19th the land was inherited by George Hay Dawkins Pennant on the death of his second cousin, Robert Pennant, who had made his fortune from Jamaican sugar and the local slate quarries.

George Hay Dawkins Pennant asked the famous architect, Thomas Hopper, to build him a Neo-Norman castle. Dawkins had visited Kilpeck Church in Hereford and decided this should be the inspiration for the carving and decoration of his new castle. The tall tower with the family rooms was constructed around the earlier house. A spiral staircase, vaulted basement and other masonry were incorporated into the new structure. Thomas Hopper oversaw the designing and building of the castle's furniture, made by local craftsmen.

George Hay Dawkins Pennant died in 1840 and the house passed to his daughter Juliana who married Edward Gordon Douglas, who later became the 1st lord Penrhyn of Llanegai. Edward amassed an outstanding collection of Dutch, Venetian and Spanish paintings, still on display in the castle.

Every surface is carved. If the outside is impressive, the inside is even better with a series of stunning rooms. No expense was spared during its construction and the quality of the stone carving in the grand hall and stairway is mind blowing. The woodwork is equally as good. Rooms are huge but well proportioned so they don’t feel intimidating. Clever use of mirrors makes them seem even larger. They are opulently furnished and the slate bed is unique. Specially made for Queen Victoria, we were assured that it was comfortable to sleep on as the slate is just the framework. It has a wooden base and two mattresses. As well as the family rooms, the servants quarters are some of the best owned by the National Trust.

The house is surrounded by extensive grounds and woodland and a nature walk takes you round the less visited parts of the grounds.


There is a very good railway Museum (#5) in the stables block with some interesting locos and examples of quarrymen’s coaches.

There is almost too much to take in during a visit. Allow yourselves plenty of time - at least half a day to appreciate it all. Photographs are allowed inside the castle and it is very photogenic. Room stewards are excellent, friendly and knowledgeable without being pushy. There is a tea room serving hot meals as well as cakes and a shop.

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Entry is through the MAIN DOORWAY into the keep with chevrons, carved heads and foliage round the arches above the door. Above are blind round arcades.


The door is a massive structure with iron studs. The knocker is purely ornamental and doesn’t work.


Inside a PASSAGEWAY with a vaulted ceiling, carved bosses and a blind arcade of round arches and carved capitals leads to the Grand Hall.



The GRAND HALL is certainly grand. The word impressive doesn’t begin to describe it with its Norman arcading round the walls and elaborately carved ceiling. A balcony runs round the top. The two stained windows at the far end have signs of the zodiac. On the wall is the dial of a weather vane linked to the weather vane on the roof.



If you think that is grand, it is just a taste of what is to come...

A door leads into the LIBRARY, a huge room divided into two by carved wooden pillars and round arches.




As well as fireplaces on the side walls, there is a central one between the pillars. It has a splendid plaster ceiling picked out in gold with gold bosses.


There is a blind wood arcade round the walls with bookcases set into the arcades, so they don’t intrude or dominate the room. Dark brown curtains blend into the woodwork. Heavily carved tables and chairs are scattered round the room and there is a full size billiard table tucked away in a corner. Windows have stained glass in the tops.

The DRAWING ROOM is a glorious room with red and gold furnishings, wall paper and curtains.



The woodwork on the doors and surrounds is beautifully carved. It has a simple vaulted ceiling with ribs picked out in gold, gold bosses ad gold stars painted on the ceiling. On the walls are huge carved wooden pillars with every possible Norman design you can think of. The marble fireplaces at the ends of the room have huge mirrors above them, making the room seem even bigger.

Off this is the EBONY ROOM, quite a small room with dark ebony wood panelling and furniture, highly carved with a floral design. The plaster ceiling has carved panels between the ribs. Clever use of mirrors again make the room fell bigger than it is.


The GRAND STAIRCASE is glorious with a riot of blind arcades, round arches, pillars, carved capitals and corbels stretching up the full height of the building to a small cupola at the top.



It has the most amazing carved ceiling with a carved tympanum under the arches.



Pillars are made from Lancashire grey sandstone. The rest is Painswick stone from the Cotswolds. Both were chosen as they are soft and easy to carve.


A stained glass window provided the only colour.

Round the top is a passageway with views down into the grand hall.


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Up the stairs is the STATE BEDROOM with huge carved wood four poster bed.


The walls are covered with hand painted Chinese wall paper and the curtains are silver and blue. There is a heavily carved cupboard, wardrobe, desk and display cabinet with china.


Off it is a small dressing room with bathroom and toilet.

The tour continues down the back stairs and along a corridor into the upper floor of the CHAPEL with a fireplace. A wooden balustrade with steps separates it from the main chapel. This has a vaulted ceiling with carved ribs and basses. Wall pillars are carved with chevrons or spirals and there are blind arcades around the walls. The altar is almost plain.


The LOWER INDIA ROOM is next. The term India was used generically to describe anything that came from the Orient. It is entered through a massive wooden arch. The hand painted Chinese wall paper dates from 1800.


This room was used by the last Lord Penrhyn to live in the castle, who died in 1949. It is a simple room with plain ceiling and a frieze round the top of the walls. The bed has carved head and foot boards. There is a dressing table and tall floor standing mirror. In a corner of the room is a huge blue and white Chinese vase. The bath and toilet are off. This is the area of the house used to sleep bachelors. The ladies slept in the keep.

We continued up some more stairs and along a gallery with a vaulted ceiling and carved bosses, with views down into the great hall.



This has a series of room off, all locked. At the end of the corridor is a mirror, reflecting back the carved arches of the ceiling. These are set of corbels with carved heads and animals. Windows have wooden shutters. We liked the framed certificate presented to Lord Penrhyn by his workmen on the occasion of his marriage.


The DRESSING ROOM of the Slate Bedroom has dark green William Morris wallpaper with a pattern of yellow iris flowers. The only furniture is a huge carved wooden wardrobe and a smaller inlaid marquetry cupboard.

The SLATE BEDROOM contains the splendid slate bed which was used by Queen Victoria when she visited the castle. The slate just forms the framework. The bed has a wooden bases and two mattresses, so would have been very comfortable. The drapes are a paisley design.


There is a pale green William Morris wall paper and green upholstery on the chairs. The huge carved cupboard wardrobe and bedside cabinet have carved interlacing round arches. The fireplace is made of Penmon limestone which has been highly polished until it looks like marble.


Off is the PRINCE OF WALES BEDROOM, a much smaller room with William Morris wallpaper and fancy brass bedstead. The most noticeable feature is the boot remover.


The NURSERY is beyond. On the window is graffiti carved by Lady Alice, second daughter of the second Lord Penrhyn. This was her bedroom. According to the story she fell in love with the gardener and was locked in her room by her father. Now furnished as the nursery with double rocking chairs, toy fort, doll’s four poster bed, dolls house and tea set.


The tour now returns along the corridor and past the Great Hall and back down the main staircase to the DINING ROOM off the Great Hall.


This has panelling with round arches around the base of the walls and a glorious carved wooden ceiling. It has heavy brown wall paper and carved wooden pillars on the sides of the windows.



The huge table is set with bone china, crystal glass ware, gilded candlesticks and silver racing trophies. This included the Clifden Cup won by Vagabond in 1869.


There are huge sideboards with more crystal glasses and cutlery laid out on them.


Next to the Dining Room is the BREAKFAST ROOM, with another splendid carved wood ceiling.


There is panelling round the base of the walls with red wall paper above. Curtains are red too. There are a lot of paintings on the walls. There is a small circular table and marble topped sideboard with a wine cooler beneath. The Penmon fireplace has round arches and a head carved at the top.

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The servants quarters at Penrhyn Castle are some of the best owned by the National Trust.

The BUTLERS PANTRY has a stone floor and cream painted cupboards round the walls. There is a china sink and big worktable. There are plenty of windows, making the room very light.

Down the corridor with all the bells high on the wall above, is the BRUSH ROOM with work table with top hats waiting to be brushed and shoes to be cleaned. There are gas lights above the table and again plenty of mirrors to give as much light as possible.

Brush Room.jpg

Next is the COOK’S SITTING ROOM with a small fireplace and easy chair. There is a cupboard full of preserves and a table laid for breakfast.

Cooks sitting room.jpg

Along the corridor are a series of PASTRY AND STORAGE ROOMS with slate work tops for keeping food cool. A large wooden box acted as a primitive refrigerator. This contained ice and salt with zinc shelves to keep food cool. Fruit and vegetables were brought from the gardens each morning, along with milk, cream and eggs

There are separate rooms for uncooked and cooked meat and fish as well as pastries, pies, cakes as well as cold deserts.


Pastry larder.jpg

The SCULLERY was used for all the dirty jobs - washing up, cleaning game, washing vegetables. The copper boiler was used for boiling hams and puddings as well as providing hot water for the kitchens.

The KITCHEN has three big windows and two big scrubbed wood working tables. The floor is stone and there is a big wall cupboard containing copper cookware. as well as the large open fire with spits to roast meat, it contains the original cooking range and ovens. Next to it is an enclosed oven for baking pastries and cakes On the other side is a warming cupboard. There is another huge wooden warming cupboard in front of the fire. Under the window is a row of gas burners and griddles. Above the fire place is a huge slate tank for water.


Kitchens 2.jpg

kitchens 3.jpg

Penrhyn Castle Railway Museum

There is an excellent small industrial railway museum in the stable yard, with some interesting locos, trucks, track and points.



There are examples of old signs and tools on the walls. Exhibits are well displayed with a reasonable amount of information.

FIRE QUEEN os a 0-4-0 tender loco from 1848 . She was one of the first two engines to be used on the Padarn Railway when it opened and is the oldest loco in the exhibition. Its wheels were attached to its boiler and it had many features more typical of marine engineering

Fire queen.jpg

NUMBER 1 is a squat powerful loco from 1870 used at Becton Gasworks in London and is one of the oldest examples of a purpose built industrial loco.

Number 1.jpg

HAYDOCK is a standard gauge heavy duty industrial loco used to take coal from the mines to BR.


VESTA is a standard gauge side tank used by the Hawarden Iron Works and was a popular design for industrial or shunting on the main line. The 6 wheels spread the load, giving it a better grip on the track, although it wasn’t as good on sharp corners. (Youngsters will recognise it as the typical Thomas the Tank engine design.)


NUMBER 3 is a 3’ gauge loco built in Gateshead in 1885 for the Kettering Furnace company and carried ironstone from the quarries to the iron works in Kettering.

Furnace No 3.jpg

WATKIN is a de Winton 0-4-0 tank loco with a vertical boiler which was built by their factory in Caernarfon and used in the Penmaenmawr quarries.


HUGH NAPIER is named after the forth Lord Penrhyn and the last to live in the Castle. It is a cabless loco made by the Hunslet Engine quarry for use in the former Penrhyn quarries. Now carefully restored by the National Trust and Ffestiniog Railway Company, it is currently kept at Boston Lodge works, returning to the castle for special occasions.

CHARLES is another Hunslet loco used to pull empty slate wagons back from Port Penrhyn to the mines at Bethesda. (His two younger sisters, Blanche and Linda now run on the Ffestiniog Railway.)


There are examples of slate wagons and flat beds to carry timber or slate slabs.


An open quarryman’s coach from the Bethesda quarry. Behind this is the saloon coach used by Lord Penrhyn and his agents when travelling between Port Penrhyn and Bethesda quarry.

Penryn quarry coaches.jpg

There are two velocipedes used to carry quarrymen to work on the Padarn Railway. There is also the Padarn Railway pedal car which was 4’ gauge and used by the chief engineer at the Dinorwic quarry to travel between his home and office and also when inspecting the track.

Pedal car.jpg

Merryweather Greenwich Gem fire pump is an example of a private fire engine dating from 1898 and was bought by Lord Penrhyn. It was horse drawn and needed a crew of 7. A twin cylinder steam engine was fitted behind the boiler to drive the pump needed to get water to the top of the Keep tower if needed.

Merryweather .jpg

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