Ghosts and Legends in Wales – Gwydir Castle: One Couple’s Dream Came True
A tour of Wales looking for Ghosts and Legends led us to the fascinating medieval Gwydir Castle.Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
The bus traveled down a narrow country road in the rugged country south of Conwy in North Wales. It came to a stop beside an ancient gatehouse. The heavy, black, solid wooden gate was decorated with iron hardware, the date 1555 and the initials and arms of Sir John Wynn, son of the builder of the main house, Meredith. A sign told us we had arrived at Gwydir Castle. A smaller sign told us to “Please ring the bell.” (The electric bell has to be a recent addition.)
Stepping through the small man-door within the main gate, we left the real world – the 21st Century – and entered the world of the Wynn family estate, circa 1472 – 1922. We were met by the present lady of the manor, Judy Corbett Welford and numerous gorgeous but noisy, jewel-coloured peacocks that were wandering about the courtyard. The peacocks have been guardians of the castle since 1828; presently their flock consists of nine peacocks and only one peahen.
Gwydir Castle was a delightful place to visit. This ancient mansion is being rescued from decay and ruin by a particularly dedicated young couple, Peter and Judy Welford, who found it and began their mission to restore the place over fifteen years ago. Judy’s long, blond hair, blue eyes and slight build gave her a much more youthful appearance than that information implied. She proceeded to give us an escorted tour of this fascinating place. She obviously loves the place and its history and is more than willing to imbue us with that feeling.
The castle had been sold by Charles Wynn Carrington, Marquis of Lincolnshire, in 1921 and all its historic contents were auctioned off to numerous buyers, literally scattered to the four winds. In 1922 a fire broke out in the area known as the Solar Tower, gutting it and destroying the roof on that part of the building. After a second fire, the west wing too became untenable, and the place was abandoned until 1944 when it was taken over by new owners who attempted to restore the place or modernize it. Those attempts went on for twenty years and probably prevented the building from lapsing into total ruin. However, after the new owners ran out of financial resources and/or enthusiasm they abandoned their efforts. The next inhabitants were a motley assortment of what we might call “hippies”. Along with an assortment of wild life; bats, rats, mice, frogs and doves, owls and various other birds also staked their claim on various parts of the building. Vines and other vegetation grew through windows and the missing Solar Tower roof. This was the castle the young couple had been thrilled to discover. They bravely moved in, with a pair of lurcher dogs and a cat to keep them company.
The other inhabitants that I failed to mention were the resident ghosts. Soon after Judy and Peter moved to Gwydir, people began to mention noticing three dogs around the place, sometimes seen playing together. The one dog always disappeared quickly though, before it could be approached. Later, during excavations in the basement of the building, bones were unearthed under the foundation. Thought to be human remains, the proper authorities were notified. The bones were sent away for examination. It was then learned they were the bones of a dog. In ancient times sometimes an animal was buried in the foundations of a building to ward off evil spirits. Since the dog’s bones have been given a proper burial, the third dog is no longer seen in Gwydir Castle.
Sir John Wynn is believed to haunt the spiral staircase leading from the Solar Hall to the Great Chamber. Accounts of his being seen there have come down through the years. Wearing a tall black hat and ruff, he is seen walking through walls where a door had once existed. His picture has now been returned to grace the walls of Gwydir Castle.
As we were touring the second floor of the manor, we were shown the rooms where another well known Gwydir ghost is said to roam. The ghost is reputed to have been a servant girl, who was involved in a romance with the son of one of the lords of the manor. History has not made it clear whether the lover was the first or the fifth Sir John Wynn. The romance led to a pregnancy. The young man is said to have murdered the girl and hidden her body in a space in the walls beside one of the chimney breasts. As her body decayed a foul odor emanated from the area. Even today there are times when the foul odor is noted, the temperature in the area seems to drop notably, and sometimes people feel a tap on their shoulders. When the ghost was reported to have been seen, the apparition was described as a white or grey woman. During renovation work a few years ago a space was found within the chimney breast. Judy showed us the small area that was once called “a priest’s hole.” This is thought to be where the body had been secreted.
There are many more ghost stories associated with Gwydir Castle, but the one that intrigued me the most was told by the lady who has lived there for the last fifteen years and worked so selflessly to restore Gwydir as one of Wales’s true treasures, Judy Corbett Welford.
To finance the restoration work, both Judy and Peter resumed working at their professions. In pre-Gwydir days, Judy was a historic book binder, a very painstaking and exacting trade. She chose a secluded room at Gwydir to do this work. The room had been known as Sir Richard’s Chamber. During this time, the couple went through a particularly distressing series of events at Gwydir Castle. Peter had several accidents where he felt he had been pushed or the accident had been caused to happen in some unexplained manner. At the same time, Judy felt herself being observed by an unseen entity while she worked. Gradually she began to realize there was a spirit seemingly trying to communicate with her during the hours she spent in the room. As time went on she came to be more mentally attuned to the spirit. She did not realize she was the object of the attention of a malevolent spirit. One more accident sent Peter to the emergency ward in the local hospital with concussion and needing stitches in his head. Following the accident Judy told Peter about her own experiences. Research showed them the identity of the malevolent spirit who had been haunting their lives. She had been a lady by the name of Margaret, who had married Sir John Wynn in 1606. The marriage was believed to have been particularly unhappy, but it was short, as Sir John Wynn died at 31 years of age. Apparently this spirit was bent on wreaking revenge for her own unhappiness on the male of the household; in this case Peter was the object of her venom. During some later research, Judy and Peter found some new information regarding the history of Gwydir Castle and learned that Sir Richard’s Chamber had also been known as “The Ghost Room.”
Aside from the ghost stories, Gwydir Castle offers visitors a look at a real fifteenth century manor home that is being lovingly restored to what it originally was like. Twentieth century changes have been removed as much as possible. The beautiful paneling from one large room that had been sold at auction in 1922 to William Randolph Hearst has now been returned and painstakingly replaced, like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. The paneling on another room has yet to be found, but hopefully it will one day also be restored. The more I learned about the place, the more fascinated I became. In order to raise funds to continue their restoration work, the Welfords have turned two of the double bedrooms, The King’s Room and the Duke of Beaufort’s Chamber, into accommodation for bed and breakfast guests. Our quick tour of the manor and garden only served to whet my appetite for a chance to explore Gwydir Castle at a more leisurely pace. Maybe one day I will have the opportunity to return and stay longer.
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Story and Pictures by M. Maxine George
Last Updated January 15, 2021 by Matthew George – Webmaster