History of Abercelyn Country House and Cottages
Llanycil, Bala, Gwynedd, Wales
Principal House (Abercelyn Country House)
The principal house was built in 1729, as the Rectory to Llanycil Church (St. Beuno). The main outbuildings comprised the Poor House and the Tithe Barn, which was used to store the tax levied by the church. The principal house and garden follow the Georgian Style of the period.
The house appears to have been extended several times. The kitchen, which has ship's timbers, is thought to pre-date the main part of the Georgian building. The dining room being added around 1970. The single-storey extension at the rear was more recently added when it was the garage and chauffeur’s room. The most recent addition was in 1992 when the previous owners converted a storeroom above the dining room into a bedroom.
It appears that in 1890 the property ceased to be the rectory and became a private country house or “gentleman’s residence”. The conveyance document, from 1890, can be seen in the hall of Abercelyn Country House and was signed by the Lord Bishop of St Asaph and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The rectory was sold for £1,150 which was to be used for the maintenance of the poor clergy.
The owner resided in the front part of the principal house while the staff lived in the rear part of the house and used a separate staircase. Appropriately the owners now use the rear part of the house, which was previously the staff’s accommodation!
A notable owner was Mr George Palmer Holt, the chairman of the Blue Funnel shipping company. Mr Holt bequeathed several works of art to the Walker museum in Liverpool and Sudley House also in Liverpool (Mossley Hill). Sudley House was bequeathed to the City of Liverpool by Emma Holt, who is related to George Palmer Holt.
The principal house has been used as a Country Guest House since 1990.
Abercelyn Country House is Grade II-listed, by Welsh Historic Monuments, as a former rectory retaining good original external character. The definition of Grade II is "particularly important buildings of more than special interest".
Further information on Abercelyn Country House, as an example of Georgian Style, is available.
The Poor House (previously known as "The Cottage") was built in 1774. The previous owners converted it into self-catering accommodation in 1993.
The Tithe Barn appears to have been built at a similar time to the Cottage. It was converted into self-catering accommodation in 2006. Abercelyn Tithe Barn is also Grade-II listed as a barn retaining good original character.
The Stream - Aber Gwenwyn-feirch
The mountain stream (Aber Gwenwyn-feirch), which forms the west boundary to Abercelyn, according to local folklore, is known as the “Poisoned Stream”. Apparently after the battle of Naseby (1645), Oliver Cromwell instigated a hunt for Royalists - Rowland Vaughan, an ardent royalist, lived at Caer Gai, near Llanuwchllyn. Cromwell’s men came over the Berwyn Mountains and camped on the banks of the stream on their way to Caer Gai. Local women put leaves from a Yew Tree into the stream above the camp - the horses of the Cromwell’s men drank from the stream and were poisoned. This allowed Rowland Vaughan to escape - he then lived in a cave on the Aran Mountains. His home was destroyed by Cromwell’s men, although he did return later to rebuild his home.
Also according to local folklore the garden was previously the home of several large stones which apparently were from Tutenkarmen’s tomb. For more details ask John in the Plas-y-Dre Restaurant.
In the garden is a "privy" now used as a wood-store. At the rear corner of the house is a natural spring which was the house's water supply in the past. There is also the site of a well in the garden although this is now closed over.
Llanycil and Church (The Secluded Church)
The Church (St. Beuno) dates back to the 8th C. but was extensively rebuilt in 1881. The Church was closed in 2003. In 2007 it was purchased by the Bible Society who intend to turn it into the Llanycil Faith Heritage Centre (see below). Bala was the destination for 15-year-old Mary Jones in 1800 when she walked 26 miles barefoot to buy a bible, from the reverend Thomas Charles, which inspired the founding of the Bible Society's. Notable persons buried in the churchyard include: Revd Thomas Charles, John Evans, Lewis Edwards, Dafydd Cadwaladr, Thomas Charles Edwards and Elisabeth Davies
The Llanycil Faith Heritage Centre or Mary Jones World will open in September 2014. The Centre cost a Million pounds and tells the story of Mary Jones and the formation of the Bible Society.
Llanycil was larger than now, across the road from Abercelyn previously stood a tavern, the Cross Keys, and a row of houses. These were demolished in 1959 when the road was widened.
Lake Bala (Llyn Tegid)
Bala Lake or Llyn Tegid in Welsh, is the largest natural lake in Wales approx. 3½ miles long and 150ft deep. It lies on the Bala – Talyllyn geological fault-line, the basin probably scooped out by glacial erosion during the Ice Age. The Lake is the home of a unique fish, known as the “Gwyniad” - a kind of land-locked herring, which is said to date back to the Ice-Age.
Local legend relates that the lake was formed as punishment for the misdemeanours of Tegid Foel (Tegid the Bald) - a local prince. His mansion, with all its occupants, were reputedly drowned one night during a drunken orgy, after guards neglected replacing the cover on a magic well which would otherwise overflow at night. Only one survived – an itinerant harpist who was led out of danger by a small bird calling repeatedly, “Vengeance has come…”. When he awoke on the hillside in the morning he saw a huge lake filling the valley with his harp floating on its surface!
Abercelyn is situated on the A494 Bala to Dolgellau road, the route of which was a Roman road. There are Roman remains in the area, e.g. near Llanuwchllyn, at the end of the Lake, is a Roman auxiliary Fort named "Caer Gai". The Fort was garrisoned from AD 75-130 and contained a civil settlement and a cemetery. The Fort was positioned on an important strategic route near sources of gold, lead and manganese.