Vaynol // or Y Faenol (Welsh [ə.ˈvaɛnɔl]), is a country estate dating from the Tudor period, near Y Felinheli in Gwynedd, North Wales (grid reference SH536695). There are 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of park, farmland, and gardens on the estate, with over thirty listed buildings, surrounded by a wall which is 7 miles (11 km) long. "Y Faenol" means "the manor", and is a mutated form of the Welsh word maenol.
The origins of the estate go back to the 16th century when the bishops of Bangor began to sell property belonging to their manor, Maenol Bangor. The estate was then developed during that century by a family called Williams. It passed to the Crown on the death without issue of Sir William Williams in 1696. In 1723 it was presented to John Smith of Tedworth, Hants, and passed to his nephew Thomas Assheton Smith I in 1762. He was the 3rd largest landowner in Gwynedd. This area of Wales is known for its slate production, and the Assheton Smith family profited greatly from slate quarrying, including ownership of the Dinorwic Quarry, which made a profit of £30,000 in 1856. Even after farms were let on long leases to encourage good tenant behaviour, slate was their main economic interest. The family then extended their estate through enclosure, despite the strong opposition of local farmers, including the enclosure of the existing properties at Gallt-y-foel.
The Assheton Smith family remained in possession of the estate until the 20th century. In 1847, it passed to Mary Astley, niece of Thomas Assheton Smith of Vaynol, who was married to Robert George Duff, a distant cousin of the Earls of Fife. Vaynol passed in turn to their two eldest sons (the first of whom left no son) and each of these sons took the surname Assheton-Smith instead of his original name of Duff. The younger son, Sir Charles Garden Assheton-Smith, was created a baronet in 1911. His son and grandson, however, the 2nd and 3rd baronets, reverted to the original name of Duff. Sir Michael Duff, 3rd Baronet had an adopted son, Charles, but left the estate on his death in 1980 to a blood relation, a nephew, and it was then sold.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the estate amounted to 36,000 acres (150 km2) and had 1600 tenants, although within a few years it became necessary to sell parts off, a pattern to be repeated later. The estate was put up for auction in 1984; Caernarfon-based Glan Gwna Estates Ltd now owns the bulk of the land.
The buildings on the estate include two halls: Faenol Old Hall, much of which dates from the Williams period of ownership; and Faenol Hall, began in 1793 and extended during the 19th century. Once Faenol Hall was built, Faenol Old Hall became a farm house and subsequently deteriorated in condition; in 2003 it appeared on the BBC's Restoration programme, championed by Robert Hardy. In 2009, the BBC revisited the project, and said that Faenol Hall was now 'in private ownership and has been restored'. There is also a very old barn building.
In the second half of the 19th century the park had a zoo, but this was dismantled by 1900. The park has been the setting for Bryn Terfel's Faenol Festival since 2000 and in 2005 hosted the National Eisteddfod. BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend was held at the park over the weekend of 22–23 May 2010.
- Dinorwic by Reg Chambers Jones, Bridge Books, 2006. ISBN 1-84494-33-0
- Katie Withersby Lench. The Origins of the Faenol Estate - A Rumbustious Tale.
- The Faenol History website
- The official Faenol website
- The story of the last family to live on the estate
- Faenol Festival