From One-Legged Hero to a Dancing Queen in Five Generations…Read More
If you plan a holiday on the Welsh island of Anglesey, the first major attraction that would appear in any search would be Beaumaris, the largest, most beautiful and unfinished castle of Edward I. But to be honest, the one place that really took my breath away while visiting this island was located 20 minutes drive from Beaumaris. Plas Newydd (meaning “New Hall” in Welsh) has the history, the stories and the views, making it one of the best stately homes in the country for any type of visitor.
Plas Newydd is built on the shore of the Menai Strait with great views to Snowdonia and the Britannia Bridge. The house is surrounded by beautiful formal and non-formal gardens and woods which are home to about 100 red squirrels (that managed to hide away extremely well from us).
Most of the house you can see today dates back to the 18th century, but like many other stately homes, it was built on the foundation of an earlier 14th century mansion that was owned by the same family who owned the nearby Penrhyn Castle (another amazing place you should visit if you are planning a trip to North Wales). Plas Newydd arrived through marriage to the Bayly family.
In 1769, Henry Bayly was upgraded to the peerage. He received the title of a baron through his mother’s side and became the 9th Baron Paget (he also changed his family name from Bayly to Paget as part of the process). The 8th Baron was also titled Earl of Uxbridge, but this title could not pass through a female line. Henry “Paget” did not give up and in 1784 he managed to recreate this title again.
The next generation of Paget’s (also named Henry of course) was as ambitious as their predecessors and they managed to upgrade the family title, but they had to wait until the 18th of June 1815, which is, of course, the day of the Battle of Waterloo, one of the most famous battles in history, mainly thanks to a certain Swedish group!
The Battle of Waterloo put the Duke of Wellington onto the shortlist of the brightest British military commanders of all time and turned him into a national hero. But there were other heroes on the battlefield that day and one of them was Henry Paget, who was Wellington’s second in command. The battle changed his life twice: the first change was a great one- he was awarded the second-highest title in British Peerage and became the Marquess of Anglesey. The second change was less enjoyable, because, in the last moment of the battle, a French cannonball smashed his leg. If you want to read more about the battle, and find out why Wellington did not want Paget as his second in command (hint – the answer is related to the wife of Wellington’s Brother), check my Plas Newydd stories section.
The Paget family continued to hold Plas Newydd and became one of the richest families in the country, well at least until the title was inherited by the 5th Marquess, also named Henry. This Marquis was a completely different character than his ancestor. His main impact on Plas Newydd was to turn the chapel in the estate into a theatre because the 5th Marquese was also known as, “The Dancing Marquess”, the aristocrat who always wanted to be an actor. The 5th Marquess found the easiest way to become the star of every play he ever participated in was to form his own theatre group and allowed people to come and watch the plays for free. He also enjoyed spending tens of thousands of pounds on his costumes, so although he had an annual income of more than £10 million, (in today’s value), he still managed to go completely bankrupt in six years (and you can read all about him in my stories section as well).
After the very early death of the fifth Marquess, was childless (surprise surprise), the title and the house moved to his cousin who had to re-furnish the house after all the furniture and the artefacts of the house were sold by the creditors (this means that today the house is presented without much historic furniture and many artefacts). The sixth Marquese not only refurbished the house, but he also remodelled it, and added a new dining room which was then covered by a mural during the late 1930s by the artist Rex Whistler.
Rex was in love with the Marquess’s eldest daughter, Caroline, and he probably took the job because he hoped he would manage to convince her to marry him. She said no and you can learn about his reaction from the painting itself.
The family continued to hold the house until 1949 before it became a naval cadet training base. The seventh Marquess of Anglesey retained a few rooms in the house where he worked and published a book about his famous ancestors as well as eight volumes of the history of the British Cavalry. Finally, Plas Newydd moved to the ownership of the National Trust in 1976.
For more information: Plas Newydd official websiteRead Less
Don’t miss the Mural Talk (and Where Were the Red Squirrels?)
Chasing Castles Review
We visited Plas Newydd during the half term break at the end of May. The gardens and landscape were in full bloom and the location of the house on the banks of the Menai Strait created one of the best landscapes I have explored since I started chasing castles and great houses.
There was no guided tour in the house, but as always with the National Trust, there were very knowledgeable volunteers in various rooms. To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with most of the house’s interior (this is related to the bankruptcy of the fifth Marquess brought upon the family at the beginning of the 20th century).
Things greatly improved when we visited the dining room built by the sixth Marquess as this is where Rex Whistler painted his magnificent mural. Here in this room, one of the volunteers gave a 30-minute talk about the painting that was really enjoyable and well-informed. This was, in fact, the best example of how a guided tour can increase the experience in any castle or great house. Without the talk, I would probably have spent five minutes in the room appreciating the paintings before moving on. But thanks to the volunteer, we discovered the many special details, clues, illusions and “mistakes” Whistler included in the mural. The talk was very interactive because you had to move from one side of the room to the other in order to spot some of them and even my kids had a lot of fun participating in this and they usually dislike guided tours.
The last rooms in the house are home to a few more exhibitions about the famous first Marquess, the hero of Waterloo, the notorious fifth Marquess, and a few others. These exhibitions were absolutely fantastic, making me wish every National Trust house would respect its history in a similar way.
When we finished exploring the house, we moved to the garden. Like any great house, you can explore both the formal gardens and the landscaped gardens. The bonus in Plas Newydd was not the garden itself, but one of the creatures in to be found in them: the famous red squirrel! Together with my son and daughter, we explored most of the garden and the woods, searching for one of the 100 or so red squirrels that call Plas Newydd home. The children became so excited that they even ignored the adventure park and the tree house. Unfortunately, we could not see any squirrels, but we still spent a very enjoyable hour or so looking for them.
To sum things up, Plas Newydd is definitely a place tourists should put in their itinerary, even on their first visit to North Wales. The house is managed by the National Trust, so entrance is free to its members. But even if you are not a member, this is one of the places you should explore anyway. In fact, most people who travel to Anglesey are doing so to see the World Heritage Beaumaris Castle, but I felt that Plas Newydd was much more interesting than the castle ( you could always go to Beaumaris, take some pictures from the outside, avoid the inside and then travel to Plas Newydd). If Plas Newydd was a restaurant, you would most likely find it in the Michelin guide awarded with two stars.
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