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The History Of The Manor Of Gwernvale

W. T. Pike, in his “Contemporary Biographies, South Wales & Monmouthshire” published in 1907, says “Gwernvale, the site of which has been continuously inhabited for 800 years, assumed its present appearance in the latter part of the eighteenth century.”

Gwernvale was a mesne manor held in fief to the Lord of Brecknock, Bernard de Newmarch, and mention of it can be found in the early records of the Norman Lords who ruled in this region.  When Lady Sybil married Sir Grimbald Pauncefote about 1272 her father, Hugh de Turberville, conveyed the Manor of Gwernvale and his other estates at Crickhowell to her as part of her dowry.

In 1318 it was in the possession of Gronw the Bald and known as Ty Gronw Voel (the house of of Gronw the Bald).  It is generally accepted that the name Gwernvale is a corruption of this, but it was also known as Moelmore or Gwernvale.

It remained the property of Adam Turberville who bequeathed it to his great grand daughter Margaret, who married Meredith, grandson of Dafydd Gam.  It then passed to the Walbeoffes a well known Breconshire family, and Elizabeth Walbeoffe married Lewis Proger of Gwernddu, Monmouthshire.  Gwernvale passed to their son, Edward Proger and his son, Wroth sold it to Sir Henry Proger.  The Progers were the great Royalists and held many offices of State under the Stuarts.  Sir Henry’s successor sold Gwernvale to Edward Proger who was held in high esteem by both Charles I and Charles II. However, like many other King’s favourite, he died in reduced circumstances. The cause of his death on 31st December 1715 was recorded as being “due to extreme anguish by cutting four teeth”.

The property was inherited by his daughter, Phillipa, who bequeathed  it to her husband, Dr Samuel Croxall, a noted Whig Divine.  He was well -known for his writings and his poetry, and was a prolific writer of political pamphlets.  He held the post of Chaplain in Ordinary to George I and officiated at the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court, preached before the House of Commons in 1729 and inveighed against the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, taking as his text   “take away the wicked from before the King”.  Perhaps not surprisingly, he did not get the Bishopric he had always wanted; however, by reason of his old friendship with Henry Egerton,  Bishop of Hereford, he was made Chancellor, Treasurer and Arch Deacon, and held other livings in plurality, as indeed was the custom of those days.  He incurred the displeasure of the citizens of Hereford when he pulled down an ancient stone chapel and used the material to build a new house for his brother.

Dr. Croxall was Special Preacher to the Three Choirs Festival at Hereford in 1752.  He died shortly afterwards and left Gwernvale to a relative, Mrs Hester Baillies, with the remainder of his estate to his niece, Mrs John Newby.  It was she who sold the house to Mr Tristan Everest (pronounced Eve-rest), who is accredited with having rebuilt the house.  It is believed that the central staircase, drawing room and the long driveway to the main road are the same today as in Everest’s day.  Tristan’s son, George Everest is reputed to have been born at Gwernvale on 4th July 1790.

From a Crickhowell point of view it is sad that this is his only connection with the Town as he was christened at St. Alphage’s Church, Greenwich, and was buried at St. Andrew’s Church, Hove.  However, his family resided at Crickhowell for long periods and the young boy must have spent a great part of his time here.  He joined the East India Company and after a distinguished career in their service became Surveyor General of India in 1830.  It was during his tenure of office that the highest mountain in the world was surveyed and measured.  It was named Mount Everest in his honour by his successor, Sir Evelyn Waugh.

The house and estate passed into the possession of Mr Thomas Gwynne, who sold it in 1854 to Mr Hardman Phillips.  His widow, Mrs Sophia Phillips remained there until 1858.  The next resident was Mr King Mason, at one time Consul General in Bancock.  There is a tomb in the Crickhowell cemetery to David King Mason of Brynrhos, born 1892 and died 1902.  (Brynrhos is opposite the entrance to the new High School).

In 1897 Mr Edward Pirie–Gordon rented the house from King Mason and bought it outright, with the adjoining farm in 1911.  Some of the more elderly, local residents remember the Pirie–Gordon family who were noted for their scholarship and service to the nation and especially for their kindness to the local community.  The local St. Edmund’s Church bears witness to their love and care.  The crest above the lounge door belongs to the Pirie–Gordon family

During the last war the house was used by families seeking refuge and, for a short time, it was used as a hospital.  The last private tenant was Mr Joshua Thomas, a retired mining engineer who had been a Consultant to the Indian Government.  Both he and his wife are remembered for their generosity and interest in town organisations, especially the Historical Society.  With their removal to Bournemouth, Gwernvale ceased to be a family residence and became a country club, and latterly an hotel.

Gwernvale Burial Chamber

In the spring and early summer of 1977, excavations confirmed the presence of a Neolithic Long Cairn alongside the A40 at Gwernvale.  This Cairn was of the Severn/Cotswold Tradition and was dated at about 3000BC.

Realignment of the roadway to the South of the, coupled with the necessary landscaping of the verges, provided additional areas for excavation.  The main excavation of the site took place between March and September 1978, under the auspices of the Clwyd/powys Archaeological Trust.  This excavation revealed the existence of a trapezoidal (wedge shaped) Cairn, over 45 metres in length, having a recessed forecourt at its Eastern end.

The Cairn was found to enclose three chambers with a possible fourth chamber or cist at the Southern end.   The Cairn was oriented East/West and edged by inner and outer dry stone wall of which only the lower West courses had survived.  The capstones of the chambers had not survived although it is known that the capstone of Chamber 1 was removed in 1804 and it is likely that the Cairn had as a whole become ruinous by this time, the Northern and Western extremities being over run by the main road.

The chambers within the Cairn were probably used for communal burial by agricultural communities in the vicinity of the site though no burial deposits were preserved within the chambers excavated in 1978, a substantial assemblage of Neolithic artefacts were found, including polished flint implements, numerous arrow heads and a polished stone axe.

The building of the Cairn superceded older activity on the site that began in the early Neolithic period and continued into the early Neolithic.  This activity was probably domestic in nature and was abandoned before the building of the Cairn.

The existence of a six post timber structure approximately 2.5m x 3.5m found within the Eastern forecourt suggests the possibility that some form of ceremonial activity took place immediately before the building of the Cairn.

Researched by the Reverend Cyril James (local Historian and Rector of this Parish).

 

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