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Fingers of Forsaken Stone

The Story of Glanbran
By E. Vernon Jones

For more than forty years the ruins of Glanbran have caught the eye of travellers between Llandovery and Llanwrtyd Wells and doubtless most of the beholders have wondered what story lies within the grasp of these fingers of forsaken stone.

The ruins, which lie beside the river Bran on the west side of the road about three and a half miles from Llandovery, are all that remain of the handsome eighteenth century residence of the descendants of David Goch Gwyn, who settled at Glanbran.1 In its long history, the family was always influential and often powerful in the north-east of Carmarthenshire for something like three centuries, during which time its branches spread fruitfully over the border until at their zenith the Gwynne estates, which included Glanbran, Llanelwedd, Garth and Buckland, extended through Breconshire into Radnorshire. In this domain the ascendancy of the Gwynne clan was unchallenged.

For one or other of the three counties whose boundaries their estates overshot the Gwynnes provided a high sheriff with unfailing regularity, the first for Carmarthenshire being David Goch's son Rhydderch, who held the office in 1573. He was followed in 1598 by his grandson Rowland, who, through his mother, Joan Games of Aberbran, Breconshire could claim descent from Sir David Gam.

Glanbran.thumb.jpg A colourful character in the seventeenth century was Rowland's grandson, Colonel Howell Gwynne of Glanbran. He raised troops for King Charles during the Civil Wars and fought at Edgehill, where he was wounded in 1642. Charles, to whose cause Howell had given much money, made him High Sheriff of Breconshire and Governor of Brecon town and castle. Not until all of south Wales, except Breconshire, had yielded did he submit to Parliament in November 1645 proclaiming at last: 'Heigh God, Heigh Devil, I will be for the strongest side.' Nevertheless, he seems not to have committed himself wholly to the new order, for in 1653 information was laid that he held a commission from the late King's son, Charles Stuart, making him a colonel and that he had appointed officers and enlisted men to serve against Parliament.2 On the other hand, his kinsman, George Gwynne of Llwynhowel,3 grandson of Rowland in the cadet line, recognised the stronger side when he saw the new regime established. Cavalier George, who in 1645 had signed the peace proposals made by the Carmarthenshire gentry to the Parliamentary forces, emulated his father, David Gwynne, High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1632, when early during the Commonwealth he was appointed to the same office in 1651. George Gwynne twice became a Commissioner under Cromwell and served as a member of Parliament in 1654 and 1656, a turn-about which he survived to serve in the Restoration Parliament also.4

Rowland the Outlaw
A less generous fate befell Howell's eldest son, however, for Rowland Gwynne of Glanbran (d. 1675), who became High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1660, was ousted from office on the return of Charles Stuart and even outlawed, but too much should not be read into this latter punishment, which at that time could be pronounced for relatively minor transgressions of the law.5 In his will, Rowland, a graduate of Oxford, where he had matriculated from Merton College, referred to his lands in the counties of Carmarthen and Brecon, and among properties devised by him was the house called Whitehall in Llandovery, which he left to his wife.6

The three sons of outlaw Rowland left no issue, the last surviving being the youngest, Sackville Gwynne (1670-1734), who received his first name after a close friend of his father, Sir Sackville Crow, Bart.7 This, the first Sackville Gwynne, who became High Sheriff of Breconshire in 1701, died a bachelor and was buried in the little church of Tirabad at Llandulas, which he had rebuilt. By will he left Glanbran to his kinsman Roderick Gwynne of Garth, Breconshire, and it was this Roderick who built the eigtheenth century mansion, the ruins of which are all that now remain. After matriculating from Jesus College, Oxford, Roderick was admitted to Lincoln's Inn and called to the bar in 1719. He married, in 1748, Anne Howe, daughter of the first Lord Chedworth by Dorothy, eldest daughter of Henry Frederick Thynne, ancestor of the Marquis of Bath, and died in 1777 aged eighty-one.

The son of this union was the notable Sackville Gwynne who was born about 1751. Without his father's knowledge, he fell in love with the daughter of a Glanbran tenant and a runaway marriage was solemnised at Dublin in 1772. A story is told that he took flight with a very large sum of money and during the journey lost one of his money-bags containing 6,000 without realising it. The lost bag, it has been recorded, was found by a Carmarthenshire farmer, who is supposed to have bought an estate as a result, a story which may or may not be true. Sackville's bride is sometimes said to be Catherine, daughter of one Prydderch (or Prytherch), but according to the marriage certificate her name was Catherine Thomas.8

The runaway bridegroom may not have rued the day, but five years later he paid the price of his unsanctioned adventure into matrimony by forfeiting part of his inheritance, for Roderick Gwvnne made a new will by which Sackville received only Glanbran, the Buckland estate (which Roderick had purchased) and other property being passed to the younger brother, Thynne Howe Gwynne. A quarrel between the two brothers ensued and never did they speak to each other afterwards.

Noted Harpist
Sackville Gwynne is remembered as a patron of music, particularly of the harp, and he himself was reputed to have been one of the finest exponents of the triple harp in his day. He received many of the best harpists at his home, a patronage which continued at Glanbran well into the nineteenth century, long after his death.9 John Richards of Llanrwst (1711-1789), a famous harp maker, died at Glanbran and was buried at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn.

Harpist Sackville died in 1794 and was succeeded by his son Sackville Henry Frederick Gwynne (1778-1836). This Sackville became a lieutenant-colonel in the Carmarthenshire Volunteers in 1803 and was thereafter known as Colonel Gwynne.10 He was appointed High Sheriff of Breconshire in the same year, but was soon replaced, possibly because he was unable to fulfil the office owing to military duties elsewhere. In 1807 he achieved the distinction of being made High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire and Breconshire in the same year, but it must have become evident that he could not act in this dual capacity and he was soon succeeded by another nominee in the county of Carmarthen.

In 1796 Colonel Gwynne married Mary Anne Smythies of Colchester; she died in April 1818, but before that year was out the Colonel had found himself a new wife, Sarah Antoinette Simes of Kensington.11 These were prolific marriages for the Colonel, who fathered seventeen children from them, ten being daughters. Of the nine daughters of his first marriage, Emma, the youngest, had a son, Frederick Harrison, who became general manager of the London and North Western Railway and received a knighthood. The third son of his second marriage, who was born on the 25th December 1832, became Major General Nadolig Ximines Gwynne.

Colonel Gwynne was very much a man of his time, when the rich used their wealth extravagantly to savour every luxury. He lived in grand style and maintained an establishment renowned for its opulence. With his household he travelled extensively by private coach, an expensive exercise which he indulged in regardless. His stables were doubtless provided with the best stock, if we can judge from the story that he presented a horse to George IV, who had admired it during his return journey from Ireland via Fishguard in 1821. Of such a man it comes as no surprise to learn that in the year 1819 the fact that he was a magistrate did not prevent him from getting involved in a duel as a result of a quarrel, but although shots were exchanged, they do not appear to have been delivered with malicious intent and presumably honour was satisfied.

The Colonel, who had been loved for his bonhomie and admired for his grandeur, died suddenly but not violently, for he passed away peacefully at the age of fifty-eight while writing a short letter before setting out for Llandovery. He was buried in September 1836 at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn, where there is a tablet to his memory, but more ironic is the reference to him on the base of the monument - known as the Mail Coach Pillar beside the Llandovery-Brecon road near Pentre-ty-gwyn which was erected in 1841 to commemorate the disaster that befell the Gloucester mailcoach in 1835. The inscription includes the name of 'Col. Gwynne of Glanbrian' (sic) and makes it known that he travelled as an outside passenger on the ill-fated coach. For one who had luxuriated so much in his own splendid coaches there could not be a more inapposite memorial.

Reckless Extravagance
GlanbranBeforeEndImage.thumb.jpg He was succeeded by his son, yet another Sackville, who was born on 12th August 1800. Even more than his father, this Sackville Frederick Gwynne was a man of his age, a time when the fourth George was king of the bucks and the rich man's bingo meant ten thousand pounds at the turn of a card. Young Sackville's great pleasure was coaching, a fashionable pastime which he indulged in with reckless extravagance. The done thing for the rich in those days was to drive a team from London to Brighton, where 'the first gentleman in Europe' held court in his new Pavilion enhanced for him by John Nash. Among the enthusiasts was young Sackville, fast squandering much of the family fortune. When there was nothing left, the man who had been ruined by coaching was reduced to the necessity of earning a livelihood as a cabman in Liverpool, where he died a very old man in or about the year 1882.12

Sackville Frederick Gwynne married, on 10th May 1823, Mary daughter and heiress of Charles Morgan, then mayor of Carmarthen. Of this marriage there were two sons, Sackville and Charles, and a daughter, Magdalen Mary Anne.13 There is little to relate about Sackville, but of Charles Morgan Smythies Laugharne Gwynne, to give him his full name, it can be said that he became a lieutenant-colonel, albeit by purchase, in the 62nd Regiment of Foot, served in the Crimean War and fought in the trenches before Sebastapol. He died in 1871, at the age of forty-one, after being thrown in a horse-race at Tenby. The brothers lived in Quay Street, Carmarthen, where Sackville died a few years later, unmarried like his younger brother. In 1847 the sister, Magdalen Mary Anne, had married William Morris, a scion of the Carmarthen family of bankers, who was to inherit half of the great wealth left by his cousin David Morris, M.P. A descendant of this marriage is the Hon. Mrs. N D. Fisher-Hoch, a Deputy Lieutenant and former High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire.

By the 1830s the Gwynnes were in straitened circumstances and from this time their association with Glanbran became increasingly tenuous. Colonel Gwynne's high living, the expense of maintaining Glanbran as a seat of splendour, the need for making suitable provision for a large family and his generous response to private and public appeals made heavy if not fatal demands upon the resources of his estate. Even so, these financial difficulties might have been overcome had it not been for the continued extravagance of young Sackville, whose excesses ensured not only his own ultimate downfall but the eventual severance of the Gwynnes from their ancestral home. Although father and son had already joined in breaking the entail in a desperate but unsuccessful effort to surmount the pressure of pecuniary circumstances, it nevertheless became necessary to sell the estate and sometime before December 1833 Colonel Gwynne arranged a contract with Lewis Loyd (1767-1858), a man of humble origin who had been born at Cwm-y-to in the parish of Llanwrda.14

Loyd, having abandoned the ministry, had entered a Manchester banking business in partnership with his brothers-in-law and died a millionaire. His son, Samuel Jones Loyd (1796-1883), created Baron Overstone in 1850, became one of the richest men in England, who through his financial expertise exerted great influence behind the political scenes15 It seems that the elder Loyd contemplated purchase of Glanbran as a residence for his son, but when young Loyd went to view the property it is said that he was so besieged by people claiming relationship that he fled in overwhelming apprehension and persuaded his father to forfeit a large sum of money to call the deal off.

Following this failure to effect a sale and thus redeem the mortgage to which the estate was subject, Colonel Gwynne suffered yet another indignity when the mortgage was bought without his knowledge by David Jones, Lloyd & Co., the Llandovery bankers. This greatly infuriated the Colonel, but he remained at Glanbran until his death, though his widow and her family did not continue to live there. Even so, Glanbran remained in the nominal ownership of spendthrift Sackville, but at last a receiver was appointed by the Court of Chancery, and afterwards David Jones of Pantglas, a member of the Llandovery banking firm and a later M.P. for the County, moved into the mansion, where he lived for some years.

About the year 1846 Sackville was finally relieved of Glanbran, which passed into the ownership of his half-brother Frederick Gwynne, a son of Colonel Gwynne's second marriage, who paid off the mortgage on his retirement from military service in India. Frederick in turn mortgaged the estate to Crawshay Bailey of Llanfoist, Abergavenny, member of Parliament and a leading ironmaster, whose daughter had married one of the Gwynnes of Monachty in Cardiganshire. Crawshay Bailey remained mortgagee in possession for nearly twenty years until 1866, when Glanhran was bought for about 80,000 by a group of people which included one Jones of Worcester, who resided in the house for a few years. Llandovery property belonging to the estate was sold separately for about 16,000.

By 1872 Glanbran had already begun to deteriorate, however, for Thomas Nicholas in his Annals of the Counties and County Families of Wales, published in the same year, was moved to lament: 'Having of late repeatedly changed hands, this mansion has fallen into partial decay; the fine trees of its extensive park have been cut down, and an aspect of desolation is presented where for 300 years luxuriance and plenty prevailed.' About 1875, possibly earlier, what remained of the Glanbran estate was broken up and sold in lots. Col. Frederick Gwynne duly conveyed to the new owners and the family's last link with the property was broken.16

New Splendour
Now Glanbran welcomed a newcomer who was to give it renewed splendour. His name was Robert Jones, a man of humble origin and unknown lineage who had accumulated wealth through his own exertions and augmented it by a series of fortunate marriages. A story survives that he had once been a huckster selling tea about the countryside before setting up shop in Merthyr Tydfil and finally establishing himself in London, where he continued to prosper in business. His wife Emma, the third Mrs. Jones, began as a maid, it is said, but married the master and inherited his possessions. It seems that she, too, was thrice married, and each time, like her husband, for the better. Alas, her life at Glanhran as the wife of a country gentleman was a short one, for she died in 1876 at the age of sixty-two and was buried at Llandingat Church, Llandovery on 6th April of that year.17 Her will, proved in May 1876, revealed effects approaching 30,000.18

Robert Jones did not long survive her; he died on the 18th November 1877 at the age of fifty-nine, and was buried with his wife.19 He left personal estate under 18,000, besides a son, the Rev. Henry David Jones of Bournemouth.20 It is said that he lost much of his fortune through investment in Turkish bonds and that this disaster hastened his death. There could be truth in this, for about this time Turkey, constantly in a state of war with her neighbours, reached a position of near-bankruptcy and defaulted in the repayment of foreign loans. The sudden end to the short reign of the Joneses was a severe blow to those who depended on the prosperity of Glanbran for their livelihood. The place had been furbished and stocked anew and master and men worked harmoniously towards a mutual benefit that seemed set to last for a long time. Little wonder, therefore, that the death of this industrious and much loved couple in so short a time plunged the work-people of Glanbran into genuine grief over the loss of a benevolent master and mistress.

Following the death of Robert Jones, Glanbran, now thoroughly renovated and improved, was put up for auction at the King's Head Hotel, Llandovery in June 187921 and in the following year a Yorkshire businessman took up residence. Joseph Haley, the new owner, encouraged farming and stock-raising on a large scale, but he had already passed his prime and died after a few years, to be succeeded by his son Isaac. This second Haley lived at Glanbran for nearly fifty years and was the last to occupy the mansion. He seems not to have been attracted by the field sports and extravagant social life aspired to by the gentry and pursued less likely hobbies such as book-binding, printing and photography.22 He died a bachelor on 2nd February 1929 a few weeks before his eighty-sixth birthday and left a fortune of nearly 100,000 as well as a number of nephews and nieces, of whom a nephew and two nieces by the name of Whitehead lived at Glanbran. Isaac Haley was buried at Bramley, near Leeds, wherefrom the family had come almost half a century before. Soon Glanbran passed by purchase to Mr. Rhys Gibbins of Llanwrtyd Wells, but the house had already deteriorated and as no further use could be found for it the building was demolished in 1930 save for the forlorn stacks of stone that still stand.

The house acquired by Robert Jones was raised by Roderick Gwynne shortly before his death, lapidary evidence of which fact still survives, though incompletely, in the rear wall. On a stone set in a fragment of masonry the following testimony is inscribed:


It is believed that Roderick admired Taliaris Park, the seat of his kinsman, and decided that his new home should rival it. Bath stone was hauled from Somerset for the facing work, but it seems to have been of inferior quality and had already started to crumble by the time Glanbran was demolished.

Richly Decorated
For a few years before Robert Jones bought it, Glanbran had been vacant and neglected, and but for his arrival it might well have fallen into total decay. Blessed with ample resources, the new master ordered restoration work to be undertaken without stint. Parts of the building were remodelled and artist co-operated with architect to embelish the recaptured glory. And when all was finished the house was richly furnished.

A description of the house as Robert Jones left it is preserved in the sale brochure, copies of which are still extant. The approach was said to be along a carriage drive through a finely timbered park, the house commanding beautiful views over a lovely valley flanked by hanging woods, with mountain landscape in the distance. Lawns and pleasure grounds around the house were shaded by plantations, but there is no mention of peacocks and fallow deer that were said to have graced the grounds and ranged the park in the time of the later Gwynnes. The outer porch of the mansion communicated with an impressive entrance hall and vestibule, described by the brochure as noble. The hall, measuring 28ft, by 19ft. 6ins., had panelled walls twelve or thirteen feet high, was paved with marble, and provided with a large stove. The panels of the ceiling were painted with representations of mythological subjects and the whole was enriched with a gilt cornice. The principal staircase, made of Spanish chestnut, was the product of excellent craftsmanship.

The drawing room, 31ft. 6ins. by 19ft. 6ins., was a handsome apartment, possessing a fine old marble mantel with a polished steel stove mounted on ormolu. Leading from this was the dining room, about 22ft. by 19ft. 6ins., provided with a sideboard recess and fitted with a 'choice old sculptured marble mantel'. The morning room, measuring about 19ft. by 18ft., also had a marble mantel. In addition there was a library or gun room. The reception rooms had panelled walls and ceilings, the walls being decorated with elaborate gilt enrichments, and the mahogany doors augmented with extra baize-covered doors to the drawing and morning rooms.

On the first floor, the three principal bed chambers measured respectively about 19ft. by 18ft., 21ft. by 19ft. 6ins. and 22ft. 3ins. by 19ft. 6ins., there being also a dressing room and bathroom with mahogany fitted lavatory and bath, both with hot and cold water supplies. An elegant boudoir, about 28ft, by 19ft., was decorated with panelled walls and fitted with a statuary marble mantel and polished steel stove.

There were another five lofty and spacious bedrooms on the second floor, plus a dressing room. On this floor there was also a library about 28ft. 6ins. by 20ft. The accommodation on the top floor included two large attics and there was a way out to the roof, where it appears there was a roof-garden at one time. The servants' bedrooms were off the secondary staircase on the first floor. In the basement there was a large kitchen, scullery with hot and cold water laid on, larder, servants' hall, a large storeroom, extensive dry cellarage, coalhouse, dairy and other domestic offices. Stoves and mantels notwithstanding, the house was heated by a hot air apparatus.

The spacious outbuildings, stone and slated, comprised a laundry and wash-house with two large coppers and a pump. Included in the stable block were four-stall and two-stall units, two loose boxes, a saddle room, lofts and granary over. The enclosed farmyard was surrounded by stables, cowsheds, piggeries, waggon sheds and a double barn, and there was also a large dovecote. A sawing shed was provided with an overshot water-wheel. In addition to the walled kitchen garden there was a large vinery, as well as an orchard, complete with toolhouse.

The estate put up for sale after Robert Jones's day amounted to about 2,675 acres and included several farms, besides many cottages and homesteads; there was also the Glanbran corn mill served by an overshot water-wheel driving two pairs of stones. Yet this was but a small part of the extensive lands between Rhandirmwyn and Gwynfe which formed the Glanbran estate in the heyday of the Gwynnes, when the little town of Llandovery was the capital of their sphere of influence and its chief offices were filled by Glanbran nominees.

It is persistently rumoured that the glory of Glanbran was consumed at last by fire early in the present century, according to some but people of long personal and family association with the neighbourhood are unaware of such a calamity and know only that the house survived intact until after the death of Isaac Haley in 1929. One of the show-pieces, a handsome gilt bed supposed to have been Marie Antoinette's and a survival from the time of Robert Jones, was still there up to the time of Haley's death. When the house was dismantled in 1930 the principal staircase was removed, cut in two and the parts re-installed, one at Cwm Irfon Lodge, Llanwrtyd Wells and the other at Clynsaer about two and a half miles north-east of Glanbran.

[I wish to thank Mr. D. S. Davies, Delfan and Mr. J. S. Davies, Glanbran, Cynghordy for sight of manuscript notes and other material, which, in particular, led me to the story of Robert and Emma Jones. I also wish to thank Mr. Guy V. Lloyd, J.P., D.L., Cynghordy hall and Mrs. L. E. Blandy, Dolaubran, Cynghordy for their assistance generally and the Rev. Canon Cyril Thomas, M.A., Llandovery for helping to authenticate Robert and Emma Jones. For helpful advice I am indebted to Major Francis Jones, C.V.O., Wales Herald of Arms.]

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