Historic Landscape Characterisation

Bala and Llyn Tegid - Area 5 Rhiwlas (park and garden) (PRN 24705)

 

 

 

Historic background

Rhiwlas has belonged to one family, the Prices, for several centuries, and is still in their hands. The house has, however, been comprehensively rebuilt twice in the last two centuries, the first time on the grand scale, with the main gateway and stables to match, and the second time more modestly, resulting in a house practical to live in and keep up.

The house is sited at the south-west corner of the relatively level north-eastern quadrant of the demesne, slightly off-centre to the whole. Most of the rest of this quadrant is taken up with gardens. The house is modern, replacing an enormous rambling nineteenth-century mansion which was demolished in the early 1950s. This was three-storeyed and castellated with turrets, built in 1809 on the same site as previous houses. The present house was designed by Clough Williams-Ellis and built in 1954.

Although much smaller than the house it replaces, and of such a recent date, the house fits perfectly with its surrounding and has obviously been designed to blend in with the older outbuildings. It is more or less square, two-storeyed, of grey stone with a low-pitched slate roof. The Georgian-style windows have small panes in white frames; most are sashes, but a high proportion are French windows.

All the existing outbuildings, together with some that have gone, are shown on the 25’’ Ordnance Survey map of 1901. Those near the house may be considerably older, predating the large farm building and stable complexes elsewhere. The park at Rhiwlas pre-dates the present house and almost certainly the last one, though to what extent the present layout is the result of modifications made at the time that the last house was built is difficult to say. The house was extravagant to a fault and it is unlikely that the park and garden would have been neglected; indeed, the main drive gateway was clearly contemporary with the house. However, the park had probably already been improved not long before, as a late 18th -century tourist noted that it was at that time being laid out ‘under the auspices of Mr Emes’, and it may therefore have escaped much modification.

The park lies mainly to the south, west and north-west of the house. The main drive leads off from the south-east corner, and the strip of woodland along this drive, although narrow, also covers a significant area, because of the length of the drive (almost 1km).

The park falls into two main areas, to the south/south-west and north-west of the house. The Afon Tryweryn defines the west and south sides of the park, and runs all along the west side of the main drive. The part of the park south of the house falls gently towards the river, and the house, which faces south, thus looks out over the sloping pastureland, dotted with trees, to the river. The trees are mostly deciduous and include oak, beech, sycamore and lime.

The area of parkland to the north-west is completely different in character, and not visible from the house, being above it. It is steep, with rocky outcrops, and was formerly wooded; so many trees remain that although there is some poor-quality pasture it still has much of the character of open woodland. Trees are mainly oak, with a few sycamore and some conifers near the highest point. This area is shown as woodland on the 25’’ Ordnance Survey map of 1901 and is still known as Coed Mawr. There are a couple of small quarries here as well, doubtless used to supply stone for estate use. The remaining small areas of park, north of the gardens, seem never to have had any trees and is simply a field, containing a small reservoir. The wooded hill, Coed Mawr, had, in 1901, paths leading to a footbridge over the river to the west, out of the park to the north, and in a loop along part of the west side, presumably a pleasure walk.

The long main drive is a feature of the park, being flanked by superb, mainly deciduous trees, notably beech and oak and including some fern-leaved beeches planted in the 1860s. At the south end there are some horse and sweet chestnuts. The grand, castellated, Gothic gateway at the end (see photograph) is a landmark on entering or leaving Bala at the north-east end, and there is also a Gothic lodge.

The garden is basically in two parts, the steep rockery, lawn and shrubbery to the west and the woodland walk and semi-formal gardens to the east. The latter area is 19th-century in style and some of the trees which help to define it are known to have been planted in the 1860s; the western area contains some more recent planting and a probably late 19th- or early 20th-century rockery, but has some earlier elements, notably a wall thought to date from the 16th-century.

The two main areas of the garden contrast rather sharply geographically, that to the west being on a steep slope and that to the east being on fairly level ground. Both, however, are irregularly-shaped areas (roughly triangular) and have been treated predominantly informally. Almost half of the flatter area on the east is taken up by the kitchen gardens. Most of the rest is given over to a typical nineteenth-century shrubbery or woodland walk, which has become rather overgrown and is in the process of being opened up again. The shrubbery, and the area north of the east drive, is probably on the site of natural oak woodland, and some old oaks have been left in place.

The grassy strip north of the east drive contains some oaks which probably remain from the original natural woodland. To these have been added other trees, including birch, beech, pines and other conifers but most notably a magnificent group of giant sequoias or Wellingtonias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which sweeps across the east drive to the south side, continuing south until it meets the top of the plantation alongside the old main drive to the south-east. These trees are not planted as a formal avenue, but in unusual numbers, and they include some superb specimens. With the big firs in the shrubbery and some others of the older conifers, they were planted in 1860s by the present owner’s great-grandfather.

There are two kitchen gardens, the eastern being the larger, and rectangular, with its long axis eastwest. It was divided into four parts by paths, the two northern areas being smaller as there were several large glasshouses along and in front of the north wall. The smaller western garden is an irregular shape and contained only one glasshouse. Both are walled all round with brick and stone walls, and are likely to be contemporary with the early nineteenthcentury house, although as the brick is handmade an earlier date is possible.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Park and garden

The wider area retains its strong parkland character, consisting of fairly flat open pasture, punctuated by mature estate trees, grazed by cattle, subdivided into large, irregular parcels by hedges and hedgebanks, many with trees (although some have fallen into disrepair and have been functionally replaced by post-and-wire fences). However, there are by contrast huge boulder field boundaries by the road, presumably the result of past field clearance. The architectural character of the Rhiwlas estate is dominated by the surviving range of stone buildings, mainly agricultural in nature. In particular, there is a substantial architectural complex which includes a hay barn and dovecote, and possibly a vented game larder; although the layout is not a standard one it is meant to impress. The estate cottages are of a particular style, with distinctive hipped roofs, as are the iron gate-posts. A terrace of red-brick estate workers' houses lies alongside the road.

The 1946 RAF vertical aerial photographs (106G/UK 1455 3171-6 2 May 1946) clearly show the area south of Lovers' Walk as having the same field enclosures, with 'park' trees in most of them, although the modern plantations are not present.


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