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Wales Plas Mawr, Conwy

Plas Mawr in the centre of the walled town of Conwy, is almost unchanged since the C16th and is possibly the best preserved and Elizabethan Town House in Britain.


Robert Wynn was the third son of a moderately wealth local family. He entered the service of Sir Walter Stoner, who was lieutenant of the Tower of London, and later joined the household of Sir Philip Hoby, who carried out various diplomatic missions on behalf of the crown and later was part of the court of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Wynn accompanied him and amassed a large fortune through his business interests. At the age of 50 he married Dorothy Griffith and bought land in Conwy to build a house to impress and befitting of his status and standing.

The house was built between 1576 - 1585 in three stages as he gradually acquired more land.


The original plot was on Jugler’s Lane, now called Crown Lane. He demolished the existing house and began to rebuild a tall town house with space for a garden in front. As Wynn acquired more land, the house was extended at the front with additional domestic rooms, grand entrance hall and a courtyard. In 1585, Wynn finally acquired the corner plot with access from High Street. This enabled him to build a grand gatehouse with a lower courtyard and steps leading up into the main house.


The different stages of building are best seen from Crown Lane.


This show of grandeur must have worked as Robert was elected MP for Caernarvonshire and later sheriff of the county.

The finished house was in the latest style with tall lime rendered walls with crow step gables, pedimented windows, tower and impressive plasterwork. The house is an H shape with an internal, upper courtyard which gave access to most of the rooms in the house as well as the cellars.

The initials and coat of arms of both Robert Wynn and Dorothy Griffith can be seen throughout the house.


Dorothy died childless a year after the house was finished. Robert remarried a Dorothy Dymock.

Although in his seventies, he fathered seven children by her. Wynn died in 1598 and was buried in a simple tomb chest in the chancel of the church of St Mary in the centre of Conwy.

Dorothy and her family continued to live in Plas Mawr. Wynn laid out complex instructions for dividing his estate and appointed Sir Roger Mostyn as his executor.

Dorothy was allowed £20 a year to cover the education of the eldest son. Money was to be set aside to provide dowries for the daughters. Dorothy remarried and with her new husband charged Sir Roger Mostyn with mishandling the estates. The resulting law-case took thirty years to resolve, effectively preventing the redevelopment of the house and preserving it in its original condition.

During the C18th & C19th, Plas Mawr was subdivided and rented out for a variety of uses. The gatehouse was used as a courthouse and the rest of the house was let to poor families. In the C19th, part of the house was a school for infants with teachers and caretaker renting rooms in the gatehouse. A joiner and dairy man, along with a washerwoman and her two sons rented rooms in the back of the house. After the school left, the gatehouse was rented by a saddler and a joiner and cabinet makers.

By 1885, the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art was concerned about the conditions and future of Plans Mawr. They negotiated with then owner, Lord Mostyn, to take a lease on the building to use as their headquarters They began restoration work and opened the building as an art gallery.The building was needing ever increasing amounts of money spent on its maintenance and in 1993 the Academy moved into new quarters next door and the building was placed in the care of CADW.

The house has been completely restored based on an inventory undertaken in 1665 following the death of Robert Wynn’s grandson. Plasterwork has been repainted. Many of the furnishings are original to the house, although wall hangings are replicas.

It is open from March to the beginning of Novembe.

Plas Mawr cont...

Entry is through the impressive GATEHOUSE off High Street.


This originally provided accommodation for Wynn’s steward, who was responsible for running the household as well as the rural estates and all financial transactions. A small room off the gatehouse passageway was used by the porter who controlled the main entrance as well as greeting and announcing guests.

It now contains a small ticket office and even smaller shop.

A doorway leads into the small cobbled lower courtyard with steps leading up to the main house.



The ground floor is mainly servants quarters with a buttery, kitchen, pantry and brewhouse. Steps led down to cellars below. Visitors would originally have been entertained in the hall, although later on this was used by the servants for meals. At the back is the parlour, a small intimate room that was used for entertaining close friends and also as a guest bedroom.

The main family rooms are on the first floor with the great chamber at its heart. Not only was it the largest room in the house, it was well lit and furnished. The two main bedroom, which were also used as sitting rooms, were at the back of the house, separated by a smaller room used by a servant. There were two more bedrooms with a servant’s room at the front of the house, which were probably used by guests.

The attic spaces provided accommodation for the household servants with men and women sleeping in separate quarters.


All the doorways have tall wooden thresholds. This helped reduce draughts and also helped stabilise the door frame.

The CADW office is in the BUTTERY where an audio guide or printed guide can be collected. It is separated from the hall by a wooden screen. This was where wine and beer were brought up from the cellar. Silver, pewter, linen and candlesticks were stored here.


Opposite is the HALL, which was used for meeting visitors. The splendid stone fire place has a painted over mantle dated 1580 with the coat of arms of Robert Wynn and his initials. On either side are caryatid figures with the Tudor rose and lion heads. The cast iron fire back has the royal coat of arms of Charles I.



There are huge floor boards and panelling round the base of the walls with a bench seat. The plaster ceiling has painted Tudor roses. The long table is original to the house as is the Wynn cupboard carved with heraldic emblems connected to the Wynns. This was used to store the best silver and linen. Food was served from top.


Outside, a small wooden door leads into the outer courtyard and a spiral staircase gives access to the family rooms on the first floor.



Beyond are the service rooms. Normally they were placed at the end of the house rather than in the middle as here. It might have ensured warm meals.

The KITCHEN is the first room and has a slate floor covered with rushes.


The huge open fireplace has spits for roasting meats and a cauldron hanging above. At one side is a small bread oven. Bellows and utensils hang from the walls.


There is a big wooden working table with a bread cage hanging from the ceiling. Walls are lined with wooden storage cupboards. and there is a rack for drying oatcakes. The wall paintings date from the C19th acting as imitation wallpaper, from when the room was let out as a tenement.



Beyond the kitchen is a narrow PASSAGEWAY which leads to a porch and the original doorway into the house, before the gatehouse was built. The doorway at the far end leads into the upper courtyard and visitors would enter the house from there.


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Plas Mawr cont...

Beyond is the PANTRY with a wooden screen separating it from the cross passage.



The beaten earth floor is also strewn with rushes. This was used for storage of dry goods and there are two huge storage chests. Rabbits, hares, pheasants and a deer hang from the ceiling. Some food preparation took place in here, and there is a work table, wooden chopping board on legs and a large wooden dish for making bread.




The PARLOUR at the end of the house is separated from the corridor by a wooden screen. It may also have been used as an extra bedroom. The step up into the doorway helped reduce draughts, as did the low plaster ceiling.


This was the only family room on the ground floor and was used for entertaining close friends as well as a guest bedroom. The room is left unfurnished to show off the restored plasterwork covering the top of the walls and the ceiling. Motifs include lions, dragons, deer, wild boar, ostrich, fleur de lys, heads - emblems linked to the Wynn and Griffith families. There is a small sample of the wool fabric that would have covered the lower part of the walls.




Above the fireplace is the royal coat of arms with E and R and a portcullis in the top corner.


Robert Wynn is not forgotten as his initials and coat of arms are on either side of the window with the date 1577.



Across the corridor is the BREW and BAKEHOUSE with big open fire, bread oven and copper tank for hot water for brewing. The unglazed window on the north wall provided ventilation.



Plas Mawr cont...

Steps lead from the brewhouse into the OUTER COURTYARD with the well, the only source of water for the house. Doors off give access to all parts of the house.



A gateway leads into the lower terrace with slate chippings on the ground and fruit trees growing on the walls.



Robert Wynn bought enough land to create a garden. Steps lead up to a parterre garden with low slate edges and slate chippings between the beds. At the top is a small summer house. This has been planted with varieties of fruit and flowers popular in 1665.




Plas Mawr cont...

Back inside the house, a wooden spiral staircase leads to the first floor and the attics.

ROBERT WYNN’S BEDROOM is above the brewhouse. Not only was it warmed by heat from the fire below, it was also en suite. In a corner is a small guardrobe, still with its wooden seat.


The room is left unfurnished to show off the decorative plasterwork on the walls and ceiling. The over mantle above the fireplace has the coat of arms of Robert and Dorothy, and is dated 1577. There is a wooden bench round the walls.


Next to Robert Wynn’s bedroom is what is described as the UPPER STUDIO, which was probably the bed chamber of a personal servant, who was on call during the night. It has plain wood walls, small bed, storage chest and a small table and chair.


Next to it is DOROTHY WYNN’S ROOM, a much more comfortable room with decorative plasterwork walls and ceiling, fireplace and rush matting on the floor.



Woollen fabric is hung round the lower part of the walls and is used for the bed hangings. Described as Kidderminster stuff, it was popular in the C17th. This has been meticulously recreated from small pieces of the original material. With the rush carpeting, it makes the room feel a lot warmer.

There is even a wooden chair with a foot warmer.


The room was used for sleeping, informal entertaining and also for meals. Round the walls are beautifully carved chests and a cupboard.

It is dominated by a large four poster bed with highly carved newel posts and bed head.



On the bed are six wooden beds props. Beds often had several mattresses. The wooden props fitted into holes along the bed frame and were designed to stop the mattresses sliding off the bed.


Beyond is the GREAT CHAMBER, where the family ate and principal guests ate and were entertained. It is a large and light room with big windows. Round the base of the walls is panelling and bench seats with cushions covered in Kidderminster stuff. Above is more woven fabric wall covering. Known as Dornix, this was a mixture of wool and linen. The plaster walls above have painted figures of caryatids. The long table is laid with pewter ware, ready for a meal. The fireplace is painted to resemble marble. The over mantle has the Tudor rose, initials ER and Honi soit qui mal y pense. A fire screen protects the face of sitters from the heat of the fire.



The ceiling has painted Tudor roses, heraldic devices and what look like small red strawberries.


Beyond are the WHITE and RED CHAMBERS and STUDIO which probably formed a guest suite and were less elaborately decorated than the other rooms. The red chamber has an exhibition about water, health and hygiene in Tudor and Stuart Britain. There is also information about medicinal herbs and surgery. There is a splendid 1660s close stool with fabric cover and padded fabric seat above a pewter pot with wooden lid.


The White Chamber was empty apart from apart from the frame of a bed.


Plas Mawr cont...

The tour continues up the rest of the stairs into the ATTICS with huge wooden beams held together with wooden pegs. Dividing walls were wattle and daub covered with plaster. The only heating would have come from the rooms below.


There would have been the two dormitories for male and female servants. The doorway has a small rat hole at the base.


In the C19th the attics were divided up to provide tenement accommodation. One of the rooms has been laid out to represent the room of Jane Roberts a widowed washerwoman who lived in the north attic with her two sons around 1870.


It has creaking floorboards, brass bed in a corner with stone hot water bottle and chamber pot. There is a small fireplace with copper kettle hanging above the fire and cast iron cooking pot on a trivet. There are wooden storage chests and a basket of washing on the floor. There was a small table for meals and a work table under the window.

Steps between the Great Chamber and Red Chamber lead to the top of the tower with views across the town.


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