Historic Landscape Characterisation

Vale of Ffestiniog - Area 5 Plas Tan y Bwlch

The first house on the site was probably built by Robert Griffith in about 1748, as successor to a house on another, but nearby, site, possibly where the Oakeley Arms is now located. The new site was undoubtedly chosen for its fine view over Maentwrog and the Vale of Ffestiniog. The present house incorporates some parts of the eighteenth-century house but was rebuilt, much larger, in the late nineteenth century.

© Crown copyright. All rights reserved, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, 100017916, 2005

Historic background

The estate was earlier referred to as Bwlch Coed Dyffryn. It was owned from 1789 by the Oakeley family, whose property formed the largest estate within the study area, and who also owned the slate quarries on Rhiwbryfdir farm at Blaenau Ffestiniog. The present house was built by William Edward Oakeley, out of the proceeds from the quarries, and despite the restricted site had extensive outbuildings including a separate servants’ block and a salt-water swimming pool, the water for which was brought up on the train from Porthmadog. Elsewhere on the estate are lodges, a dower house, farm buildings, sawmill, smithy, game larder and a laundry cottage.

The first William Oakeley, who came into possession of Tan y Bwlch by marrying the heiress, Margaret Griffith, spent a great deal of money on improving the estate and also drained the Vale of Ffestiniog and built embankments along the Afon Dwyryd (for which he received a gold medal from the Society of Arts in 1797). His heirs continued to improve the estate until the money ran out early in the 20th century, and continued to live there until 1962, when the house and grounds were sold to a businessman who proposed to develop it as a country club and holiday village, but only 9 of the planned 40 chalets were built before it was sold again, in 1968, to the Snowdonia National Park. It is now run as a study centre.

Key historic landscape characteristics

18th-century gardens and residence

There is a very extensive designed landscape, parts at least of which may date from the early eighteenth century, incorporating large areas of originally natural woodland. West, south and south-east of the house is extensive parkland or semi-parkland with many specimen trees and copses, including a small folly or eye-catcher on an artificial mound and a boathouse on the river. To the north and north-east lie a deer park, woodland and an artificial lake; although originally natural, the woodland has had many exotic trees added, and is also traversed by the Ffestiniog railway (there was a private station for the house). The small valley and stream running down from the lake to cross the east drive have received many artificial improvements. There is further woodland on the south side of the Vale of Ffestiniog, and the deer park has relatively recently been planted over with conifers.

The parkland near the Oakeley Arms may date from early in the eighteenth century, if the earlier house was here. The later parkland is similar in style, and improvements to the area above the house and the north-east and (former) north approaches began to be made late in the eighteenth century, in the ‘Romantic’ style then in vogue. Nineteenth-century developments in this area carried on the theme, conforming strongly to a later nineteenth-century notion of the ‘Picturesque’.

The main feature of the garden is the long terrace on the south-east side of the house, which extends well beyond the house to the north-east. Below this are steeply sloping lawns which were at one time laid out with extensive bedding schemes but now have two modern informal ponds; groups of shrubs and specimen trees blend into more wooded areas at the edges. The kitchen garden, now a car park, is at the extreme south-west of the garden.

The buildings on the estate preserve their 19th-century character. The Plas itself has been little altered by its conversion to a study centre, though a cast-iron verandah on the ground floor has been enclosed to turn it into a bar. The gate lodges, the drives and their appurtenances – gates and fences – preserve their 19th-century character.

The stone for the buildings and embanked roads appears to have come from Oakeley’s own quarry at Gelli Grin, on the opposite side of the Dwyryd (see also the Oakeley estate buildings in area 29).


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