I have lived in Dolgellau since 1988 (moving here when I was twenty) but only had a general interest in the area at that time. After spending the first ten years in front of the computer, I thought I should lose some of the weight that sedentary lifestyle caused and start to get active, so I began to walk and explore Dolgellau in a bit more detail, which eventually led me to start the dolgellau.com website. People contacted me with memories of the town which I added to the site as well as photos of the area (I also produced the “Snowdonia Photo & Music DVD” in 2004 which I updated in 2007). The site has now expanded to a Dolgellau Facebook page which is doing quite well (which you can find a link to on the Dolgellau site).
During this time I also discovered eBay and started buying local postcards, which now total several hundred. I scanned most of these and put them on my Flickr site at wales.photos, along with more general shots of Wales, including old photos, 1950s-1980s slides, stereoscopes, prints, lithographs, collectables and photos I have taken over the years.
All this sparked my interested in local history and houses, such as Caerynwch, Hengwrt and of course Nannau (which the first two have family ties to). Nannau Hall (which I have been told should just be called Nannau or ‘Plas Nannau’) is less than two miles away from my house as the crow flies and the border of the current estate is only a quarter of a mile away. I recently had a look at the deeds of our 1970s house and even that had a distant Vaughan as an early owner of the land.
The house at Nannau looked in a terrible state in 2014. The eyesore of a static caravan that had been parked at the front for ten years wasn’t so static any more and had been blown apart during the storm of February that year. The cupboards and beds were open to the elements as the roof had been blown across the drive, landing against one of the house windows (where it sat for a year). This prompted me to start up another website and luckily nannau.com was available again, so I registered that in April 2014 and gradually added photos of the house, the area, a few old postcards and other information found on the Internet. A few people (who know far more than me about the history and family) have been very helpful, as has the owner of the Nannau Estate, giving permission to take photos of some of the old buildings (the house split from the estate in 1974). A couple of auction houses also let me reproduce images from their catalogues of two big house sales in 2008 with over 150 lots between them. I have also been contacted by quite a few Nanneys in the USA.
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%. It’s at least the fifth house built on the site (or nearby), with the first possibly dating back to the 1100s. 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 (the earlier house was probably destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops). The current Georgian building was built between 1794 and 1796 by Robert Williames Vaughan, 2nd Bart., shortly after he started his forty-four year run as MP for Merioneth in 1792 (the same year he inherited the 12,000 acre Nannau Estate from his father, who was only made a baronet a year before his death). It’s had many notable visitors over the years, including Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip who stopped for lunch on their tour of Wales in 1949.
When I first moved here, I noticed the deer park and fish ponds marked on the OS maps and wondered what was there. Unfortunately there are no deer as the heavy snow of 1963 drifted up the high boundary walls and they ‘did a runner’ (but I see glimpses of them in the area from time to time, so their offspring are flourishing). The fish ponds have no fish and with all the reeds it’s even hard to make out the ponds, but it’s still a stunning place with panoramic views and you can still make out the mile-long driveway through the middle and the old rabbit breeding pillow-mounds which could well date back to the monks of Cymer Abbey. The two stone pillars or “eye-catchers” (reputedly used to signal the house to ‘put the kettle on’) aren’t what they were, but with a little imagination and a builder good at jigsaw puzzles, they could be.
The deer park has a long connection with Nannau as it was here that “Derwen Ceubren yr Ellyll” (The Hollow Oak of the Demons) once stood and into which Owain Glyndŵr stuffed the body of his cousin Howel Sele in the opening years of the fifteenth century (killing him first of course) only for his body to be discovered some forty years later. This tree fell in 1813 and was replaced by a sundial and later by a post (now 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 (now very popular self-catering accommodation and one of my favourite buildings on the estate).
Many Nannau buildings can still be seen around Dolgellau and Llanfachreth. Many of you will have glimpsed the round “Summer House” on the hill at Maelan Caravan Park, or driven past Coed-y-Moch lodge on your way to Precipice Walk (also part of the Nannau Estate). The lodge with it’s arched entrance and low arched curved walls was the gatehouse to the old mile-long driveway to Nannau. Then there’s “Y Garreg Fawr” stone arch at Llanfachreth, which is one of several arches built to commemorate King George III and IV. There are also several date stones with “RW V AM” on houses in the area, several miles apart.
I was asked what I want to achieve with the website 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 family. I would like more photos of the house and anything else of interest from the estate. I am looking for any photos of the interior or garden from any period. People have told me they used to come and play squash in the 1980s, but I would love to see some more photos from the time when it was a hotel, bar and apartments (there are some small photos on the site). I have a couple of early postcards showing the pavilion wings built in 1805, but these were demolished in the 1960s/1970s, but it would be nice to have some shots later in their history and some shots of the garden ponds (which pre-date the current house). There were also engraved stones in these pavilion wings, but where have they gone?
The house is still in a sad state, the caravan ended up being taken away in several skips earlier this year and the lorry (which had been parked behind the caravan) was moved around the back, but it’s gradually being left to fade away. Hopefully the website will go some way to help people remember what it used to be and what it could be again, which is all down to the current owner.
I would like nannau.com to include as much information as possible about the house, estate and the Nanney/Vaughan family, where people can see everything online and it not be hidden in an archive. If you have any photos, slides, advertisements, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact me via my Nannau Facebook page.
Since writing this for the nannau.com website, I have created a new site at nannau.wales which I hope you find interesting.