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THE CAMBRIAN NEWS
27th August, 2015 (Meirionnydd Issue)
An amateur historian is keen to find out more about one of Meirionnydd’s most fascinating buildings.
Ian King, who runs a popular Dolgellau Facebook page, has spent the last few years exploring the Cader region learning about the area’s history and its prominent houses, as well as collecting historical photos and artefacts relating to the area.
In particular, Plas Nannau — situated just a few miles from Dolgellau and dating back to the late 18th century — captured his imagination.
“Nannau is an important house, it’s Grade II*, and the star is very important. Grade II buildings make up around 92% of listings, with Grade II* and Grade I making up the other 8%,” Ian told the Cambrian News.
“It’s at least the fifth house built on the site with the first possibly dating back to the 1100s — a span of nearly a thousand years.”
“You can still see walls from the c.1693 house and even some of the bricks from the 1581 house in the brickwork of the current one. There’s a good chance that one of the earlier houses was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops” so we’re dealing with an awful lot of history.
“The current Georgian building was built between 1794 and 1796. It’s had many notable visitors over the years, including the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, who stopped for lunch on their tour of Wales in 1949.”
In 2014, Ian began taking a real interest in the house. The sad spectacle of one of Meirionnydd’s jewels deteriorating spurred Ian into action to try to save the failing house. He set up his nannau.com website and pushed for the house to be restored.
People started approaching Ian with a few old postcards and bits and pieces of information to get his website up and running. Crucially, the owner of the Nannau Estate gave permission to take photos of some of the old buildings to gain a wider perspective on the history of the area.
“The house itself split from the estate in 1974. It’s still a stunning place with panoramic views,” said Ian, “but there’s a dark side to Nannau’s history too. In the old deer park — from which all the deer have escaped over the years sadly — there stood a tree known as ‘Derwen Ceubren yr Ellyll’ (The Hollow Oak of the Demons). Legend suggests that Owain Glyndŵr stuffed the body of his traitorous cousin Howel Sele — who had tried to murder him – into the bowels of the tree, only for his body to be released from its wooden tomb some 40 years later.”
“The tree fell in 1813 and was replaced by a sundial and later by a post which can be found in the old walled garden ‘Yr Hen Ardd’ on the opposite side of the road to the house.
“The deer park probably dates back to Medieval times, being landscaped around the time the
current house was constructed, with the beautiful Gothic ‘mini—castle’ Hywel Sele Lodge built as its noble western entrance. It’s now a very popular self-catering accommodation and one of my favourite buildings on the estate.”
So what does Ian want to achieve with his website? He said: “I was asked that question recently and the answer is that I don’t really know. It’s just a hobby project and I add things when I can. I suppose my main interest is in the buildings rather than an in-depth analysis of the families. Hopefully the website will go some way to help people remember what it used to be and what it could be again.”
”I would like nannau.com to include as much information as possible about the house, estate and the families that have lived there, where people can see everything online and for it not be hidden in an archive.”
”If you have any photos, slides, information, please contact me via my Nannau Facebook page.”