Penrhyn Castle

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Penrhyn Castle
Castell Penrhyn
Penrhyn Castle Wales 015.jpg
The donjon or keep (right) and a side view of the central block (left)
Penrhyn Castle is located in Gwynedd
Penrhyn Castle
Location within Gwynedd
LocationLlandygai, Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales, UK
Coordinates53°13′34″N 4°05′41″W / 53.226003°N 4.094681°W / 53.226003; -4.094681
TypeHistoric house
OwnerNational Trust
WebsitePenrhyn Castle

Penrhyn Castle (Welsh: Castell Penrhyn) is a country house in Llandygai, Bangor, Gwynedd, North Wales, in the form of a Norman castle. It was originally a medieval fortified manor house, founded by Ednyfed Fychan. In 1438, Ioan ap Gruffudd was granted a licence to crenellate and he founded the stone castle and added a tower house. Samuel Wyatt reconstructed the property in the 1780s.

The present building was built between about 1822 and 1837 to designs by Thomas Hopper on behalf of its owner,[1] who expanded and transformed the building beyond recognition. The owner of the castle had many slaves, and was compensated for being deprived of them after the abolition of slavery with about the same sum as construction of the castle had cost.

Later history[edit]

George Hay Dawkins-Pennant (1764–1840) had inherited the Penrhyn Estate on the death of his second cousin, The 1st Baron Penrhyn (first creation; 1737–1808), who had made his fortune from sugar plantations and slaves in Jamaica[2] and local slate quarries. The eldest of George's two daughters, Juliana, married an aristocratic Grenadier Guard, Edward Gordon Douglas (1800–1886), who, on inheriting the estate on George's death in 1840, adopted the hyphenated surname of Douglas-Pennant. Edward, the grandson of The 14th Earl of Morton, was created The 1st Baron Penrhyn (second creation) in the Peerage of the United Kingdom in 1866.

After the 1822–1837 rebuild a spiral staircase remains from the original structure, and a vaulted basement and other masonry were incorporated into the new structure.

The cost of the construction of this vast "castle" is disputed, and very difficult to work out accurately, as much of the timber came from the family's own forestry, and much of the labour was acquired from within their own workforce at the slate quarry. It cost the Pennant family an estimated £150,000. This is the current equivalent to about £49,500,000.

Penrhyn is one of the most admired of the numerous mock castles built in the United Kingdom in the 19th century; Christopher Hussey called it, "the outstanding instance of Norman revival." [3] The castle is a picturesque composition that stretches over 600 feet from a tall donjon containing family rooms, through the main block built around the earlier house, to the service wing and the stables.

Penrhyn Castle circa 1880
Penrhyn Castle between 1890 and 1900
Penrhyn Castle in 2011
The carved stonework staircase at Penrhyn

It is built in a sombre style which allows it to possess something of the medieval fortress air despite the ground-level drawing room windows. Hopper designed all the principal interiors in a rich but restrained Norman style, with much fine plasterwork and wood and stone carving. The castle also has some specially designed Norman-style furniture, including a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria when she visited in 1859.

The 4th Baron Penrhyn died in June 1949, and the castle and estate passed to his niece, Lady Janet Pelham, who, on inheritance, adopted the surname of Douglas-Pennant. In 1951, the castle and 40,000 acres (160 km2) of land were accepted by the treasury in lieu of death duties from Lady Janet. It now belongs to the National Trust and is open to the public. The site received 109,395 visitors in 2017.[4]


Dawkins-Pennant, an opponent of the emancipation of slaves, was after the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 compensated for being deprived of 764 slaves, being paid £14,683 17s 2d—about the cost of building the castle.[5]

In 2020 the National Trust was working on a plan to include coverage about the former owners of its properties who had links to colonialism and slavery. Penrhyn Castle was built using profits made by a family that used "hundreds of enslaved people". The castle today displays information about Richard Pennant, who by 1805[6] "owned nearly 1,000 enslaved people across his four plantations in Jamaica".[7][8]



Penrhyn's attractions include a formal walled garden, extensive informal gardens, an adventure playground, picnic areas and woodland walks.

Railway Museum[edit]

The Penrhyn Castle Railway Museum, a narrow gauge railway museum. In the nineteenth century, Penrhyn Castle was the home of the Pennant family (from 1840, the Douglas-Pennants), owners of the Penrhyn slate quarry at Bethesda. The quarry was closely associated with the development of industrial narrow-gauge railways, and in particular the Penrhyn Quarry Railway (PQR), one of the earliest industrial railways in the world. The PQR ran close to Penrhyn Castle, and when the castle was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1951 a small museum of industrial railway relics was created in the stable block. The first locomotive donated to the museum was Charles, one of the three remaining steam locomotives working on the PQR. Over the years a number of other historically significant British narrow-gauge locomotives and other artifacts have been added to the collection.

Art collection[edit]

It houses one of the finest art collections in Wales, with works by artists such as Canaletto, Richard Wilson, Carl Haag, Perino del Vaga, and Palma Vecchio. The collection formerly included a Rembrandt – (Catrina Hooghsaet, valued at up to £40 million; the Dutch Culture Ministry tried to buy the painting for Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum in 2007, but could not meet the asking price). The family began collecting paintings from the early years of the 19th century; this significant collection was catalogued by the 2nd Lord Penrhyn's daughter Alice Douglas-Pennant.

Countryside views[edit]

The castle has stunning[9] views over the Snowdonia mountains, the Menai Strait and Puffin Island.

References in popular culture[edit]

In 2014, David Haneke from the Welsh National Opera chose Penrhyn Castle as the location for the video design for the company's summer performance of Claude Debussy's infamous opera La chute de la maison Usher, based on Edgar Allan Poe's story The Fall of the House of Usher. Scenes filmed at the location were projected onto three separate screens during the performances.

HBO's 2019 television adaptation of the Watchmen franchise shot many scenes at the castle, they also recreated the castle as a 3D model for use in CGI scenes in the show.

A 2020 edition of the BBC's Flog It! was filmed at the castle, and included details of the Penrhyn slate quarry's 1900–1903 Great Strike[10] about union rights, pay and working conditions, a bitter battle between the 2nd Lord Penrhyn and the quarry workers.[11]


A parkrun takes place in the grounds of the castle each Saturday morning, starting and finishing at the castle gates. The fee to enter the castle grounds is waived for runners.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Port, M. H. (2004). "Hopper, Thomas (1776–1856)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13763. Retrieved 23 January 2013. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ "George Hay Dawkins Pennant Profile & Legacies Summary". Legacies of British Slave-ownership UCL. UCL. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  3. ^ English Country Houses: Late Georgian (1988 edition), p. 181. ISBN 1-85149-032-9.
  4. ^ "ALVA – Association of Leading Visitor Attractions". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  5. ^ Bennett, Catherine (27 September 2020). "With its slavery list, the National Trust makes a welcome entry to the 21st century". The Guardian.
  6. ^ Penrhyn Castle and the transatlantic slave trade
  7. ^ Addressing the histories of slavery and colonialism at the National Trust
  8. ^ National Trust hastens projects exposing links of country houses to slavery
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Penrhyn Castle". Flog It!. BBC One. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  11. ^ "Penrhyn Castle and the Great Penrhyn Quarry Strike, 1900-03". National Trust. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  12. ^ "course | Penrhyn parkrun".

External links[edit]