Plas Mawr

During our day in Conway, after visiting the castle and before our walk along the walls, we decided to pay a visit to Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan town house on the main street in the middle of the town. It’s owned by Cadw and has been beautifully restored.

Plas Mawr is Welsh for the ‘Great Hall’, and it was built between 1576 and 1585, at a total cost of around £800, for a wealthy merchant, Robert Wynn, the third son of a local landowner who’d made his fortune by working for a Tudor diplomat, which led to him travelling across Europe. When he returned home to North Wales, he had the house built and it’s design is influenced by the Flemish buildings that had impressed him during his travels. After his death legal complications meant that ownership of the house took time to resolve and so it was left untouched, which is why it hasn’t changed much over the years.

Entrance is through the gatehouse which is on High Street. Visitors then pass through a small courtyard into the main building. It’s a self-guided tour but visitors are provided with one of those audio guides that you point at a data point to listen to the relevant commentary.

Robert Wynn wanted to impress his visitors to show off his wealth and the house has a number of features to try and achieve this, including some very fancy plasterwork. There were examples of this in the first room we visited, the hall. Cadw have had it restored, wit the figures of “Greek” priestesses and other symbols painted in bright colours. The owner’s initials featuring prominently.

There was plasterwork all over the house, even in the kitchen. It must have cost a fortune to have all this work done by travelling craftsmen.

After looking round the kitchen and pantry, the next stop was the brewery – an important room as until relatively recently water wasn’t fit to drink so the “small beer” (dilute ale) was the staple drink. Stronger beer would also have been brewed here.

The commentary made a point of stressing that the brewery was located directly underneath the master’s bedroom and that he would have had to endure some strong odours on brew day!

We then visited the courtyard and restored Elizabethan garden where we got a good view of the exterior. Notable features are the tower and the stepped gables, influenced by Flemish architecture and which would have been very unusual in North Wales.

Some of what looked like the original woodwork was visible on the exterior doors

Back inside we went upstairs to the top of the house. The large attic is where the servants would have slept.

The timber roof has arch-braced collar trusses, joined using an unusual system called “double pegging”, which was only used in the Conwy valley during the late 16th century.

In 1683 the Mostyns, who were a powerful family in North Wales, took over ownership of the house and over the years it was used for various purposes, with rooms subdivided and let out as cheap lodgings and at one time an infant school occupied some of the rooms. Cadw have furnished one of the rooms on the top floor of the house to show ho it would have looked when it was rented out by a poorer family

Moving down a floor, we saw the bedchambers of Robert Wynn and his wife.

More fancy plaster work in his bedroom

and here’s his privy, just off his bedroom. Rather a luxury for it’s time!

And here’s Dorothy’s chamber. He married her in 1588 after his first wife, also called Dorothy, had died childless. Although he was getting on in years they had 7 children together.

Most of the first floor was occupied by the very grand Great Chamber, the main room where the Wynns would entertain their guests. Of course, there was yet more plaster work

The remaining rooms on the first floor were devoted to an exhibition about hygiene and water provision. These would originally have been used as bedrooms for guests and the children of the family. We rounded off the visit by climbing the steep stairs and ladder up to the top of the tower where there were views over the town, castle, harbour and nearby mountains.

Plas Mawr is certainly a very well preserved and interesting building. It provides a glimpse into the life of a prosperous family living in a small town in North Wales during the Elizabethan period. The architecture is interesting too, showing the influence of continental styles on the British gentry.

Conwy Town Walls

Conwy was built as a bastide, a fortified settler town, surrounded by high masonry walls, built at the same time as the castle. The new town was populated by settlers who’d moved from England, probably from nearby counties such as Cheshire and the walls would have encouraged immigrants to settle there as they would have helped protect them from incursions by Welsh locals. The walls are extremely well preserved, running for three quarters of a mile, with 21 towers and three original gateways.

It’s possible to walk on top of them for a good proportion of their length. Who could resist?

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Looking over the southern section of the walls from the Castle

The towers, constructed at roughly regular intervals, are D shaped and “gap-backed”, which means that they didn’t have walls on the inside. They originally had removable wooden bridges to allow sections of the walls to be sealed off from attackers

There were great views from the walls across the town to the castle, harbour and nearby Carneddau mountains

Looking over the harbour towards the castle for the spur wall
a view of the castle over the rooftops from the southern section of the town walls

Conwy Castle

Conwy

After a week away in Ireland with work, I took a break last week . We’d thought about going away somewhere, but decided we’d stay at home and have a few days out. Things didn’t work out quite as we’d planned, but I still had an enjoyable week off.

On Monday we decided to take advantage of our Cadw membership and drove over to Conwy, about an hour and a half away in North Wales. I zoom past regularly on the way too and from Holyhead during my Irish trips, but it has been a while since we last visited the town.

Conwy (Anglicised as Conway), was founded along with it’s castle by Edward I during his subjugation of Wales in the 13th Century.  The castle and the town walls (which are still practically intact) form an imposing fortification that dominates a strategic position at the mouth of the River Conwy. They’re even more impressive when you consider they were built in 4 years between 1283 and 1287, at the same time as similar fortifications were being constructed further south down the coast at Caernarfon and Harlech.

Although there was a monastery nearby and ther had been a Norman Castle over the river at Deganwy, Conwy was a new town, built from scratch. It was a bastide, a settlement populated by English settlers from which the Welsh natives were barred.

After parking up we stopped for a brew and a cake in a nice little Turkish cafe in the town before making our way to the castle.

The castle is a massive structure with a high curtain wall with eight towers and is extremely well preserved.

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Spiral staircases in the towers have been restored so that it’s possible to walk a complete circuit around the battlements and visitors can also climb to the top of most of the towers.

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There’s great views from the battlements and towers over the town and the river

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It was a bit of a dull day, so the estuary looked rather grey, but attractive, nevertheless.

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There were views over to the mountains

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Looking over the battlements at the north end of the castle there was a good view of the three bridges – the new road bridge we’d driven over, the suspension bridge built by  Thomas Telford in 1822–26 and the tubular railway bridge designed by  Robert Stephenson which opened in 1849. The two older bridges are smaller versions of the structures built by the same engineers over the Menai Straits .

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Visitors need to take care as the steps, battlements and flooring is rather uneven in places. A slight slip coming down from one of the towers led to a twisted ankle that had some repercussions for our plans later that week.