1975 Sale of the Nannau Estate – Historical Note Preface

Preface page from the 1975 Auction catalogue of the Nannau Estate

Historical Note

Merioneth County was absorbed into Gwynedd which was formed in 1974. Until that date Merioneth was a County on its own and, for that matter, was a miniature Kingdom up to the end of 400 A.D. The history of the Nannau Estate may not be unique, but there may be few which have remained in direct descent from the advent of the Saxons until 1975. Brigadier Vaughan inherited these Estates in the early 1950s. At present the Nannau Estate is owned by Brigadier Vaughan and the Dolrhyd Estate by his eldest daughter, Mrs. David Muirhead.

Before 400 AD, Merioneth was populated by Bond and Free men; the Bondmen living in the valleys and plains and the Freemen of Merioneth living a self-sufficing, pastoral and semi-nomadic life confined to the hills. It was just after 400 AD that these Freemen moved from this nomadic life to a more settled and permanent mode of living after occupation of permanent homes forming townships. One of the first in Merioneth being Nannau, which was north of Moel Offrwm (Hill of Sacrifice) above the present Dolgellau and probably consisted of about 70 families. These townships were a sprawling mass of dispersed arable holdings, known as a Tyddynod, and this was, in fact, the starting point of many historic Welsh Estates.

During the period 1292-1400 the land-owners of medieval Wales were consolidating and enlarging their properties; the dissolution of the Monasteries aided them in this pursuit. In the case of the Nannau family, acquisitions were achieved chiefly from Cymer Abbey with such farms as Pandy Bach (Lot 1) and Garthbleuddyn Farm (Lot 1).

After King Henry VIII, additional land was acquired from Elizabeth I and from her favourite, the Earl of Leicester. Gradually, these powerful Welsh families acquired the same status as the English landed gentry and, although they looked down on pure commerce, were quite prepared to acquire wealth from the product of the soil – for example, timber and minerals – and, for that matter, property speculation which, during the period 1600-1690 appears to have been as profitable as the early part of 1974.

Rai blynyddoedd yn ôl, pan oedd y Brigadydd Vaughan yn trafod Cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig gyda’r diweddar Syr Ifan ab Owen Edwards, cododd bryniant yr ystadau mawrion hyn gan berchenogion. Dywedodd Syr Ifan i sefydlu’r ystadau hyn roddi amddiffyniad i Genedlaetholdeb Cymreig fel sylfini grym ac atgofodd ef i Deulu Nannau gynhyrchu un o wladgarwyr mwyaf clodfawr Cymru ym mherson Huw Nannau Hen bennaeth y teulu yn y blynyddocdd 1580-1623.

Some years back when Brigadier Vaughan was discussing Welsh Nationalism with the late Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards, the acquisitions by families of these large Estates arose. Sir Ifan stated that the establishment of these Estates gave Welsh Nationalism protection as bases of power and reminded him that the Nannau family produced one of the most renowned patriots of Wales in the person of Hugh Nannau (Hen), head of the Vaughan family 1580-1620, who died in 1623.

The Welsh gentry, of course, were not averse either to judicious marriages and the joining up of suitable Estates and, up to the middle of the 19th Century, the Nannau family owned not only Nannau, but Hengwrt and Rhug, both large Estates in Merioneth.

There have been a number of houses on the Nannau Estate occupied by the Nannau family, and from time to time big mansions have been built; on occasion they have been burnt to the ground by enemies of the family. One large house was built at the present site of Hywel Sele Lodge (Lot 20) at the entrance to the Deer Park. This is a Gothic Lodge built by the second Sir Robert Vaughan. There is a sketch in the National Library of Wales drawn by Moses Griffith which shows Nannau House circa 1697. This was a beautiful Welsh Manor House but it was, unfortunately, to a large extent pulled down at the end of the 18th Century when Georgian Nannau was built. The second Sir Robert Vaughan, who was responsible for the building of Georgian Nannau, represented Merioneth in Parliament for 43 successive years. He was a great admirer of “Farmer George,” George III, and on the King’s death put memorial arches at various points of the Estate. (See entrance arch – Lot 2, Maesybryner.) He also modernised (!) Garthbleuddyn, where he pensioned off his old University valet in 1831.

Another Lodge that he built was Coed-y-Moch (Pig Wood Lodge, Lot 23) at the entrance to the main drive to Nannau. Above the arch is the face of a clock painted at six minutes to five – six minutes before the last evening meal, so that any wayfarer had ample time to ride up to Nannau House to have a meal. Menus are preserved today at Bangor University Library.

Georgian Nannau was sold by Brigadier Vaughan in 1966 with 10 acres of demense. It stands behind Nannau Home Farm. Sadly, the three historic wings of the house have been demolished and only a square Nannau exists today.