This place, in the fifteenth century, formed part of the estates of John ap Ellis Eyton, who fought at the battle of Bosworth, and whose tomb, upon which are effigies of himself and of his wife, remains in one of the Wynnstay Chapels in Ruabon Church.
From the Eytons the estate passed by marriage to a family of the name of Evans, and from them, by the marriage of Jane, daughter and heiress of Eyton Evans, Esq., with Sir John Wynn, Baronet, Custos Rotulorum and M.P. for Merionethshire, to the Wynns. Sir John died without issue in 1719, aged ninety-one, and left his large possessions to his kinsman, Watkin, eldest son of Sir William Williams, Baronet, who thereupon assumed the additional surname of Wynn. Sir William was the eldest son and successor of the Right Honourable Sir William Williams, Baronet, who was Speaker of the House of Commons in the reign of King Charles the Second, and who died in the year 1700.
The spacious park at Wynnstay, containing about five hundred head of deer, red and fallow, was enclosed, and the wall built, in the time of Sir John Wynn, who also planted the now venerable avenue.
The house, prior to the lamentable fire in 1858, was an extensive but irregular pile, containing some fine apartments, and at the time of the fire was undergoing extensive alterations. The whole was destroyed, with the exception of the offices. Many pictures of great value, and a rare and valuable collection of books and manuscripts perished in the flames. Fortunately the pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds were saved through the exertions of the French cook, who cut them from their frames before the flames reached them.
The new mansion which has arisen upon the ruins is a spacious edifice, in the style of one of the old French palaces, from the design of B. Ferrey, Esq., and contains a valuable collection of pictures by the great masters.
Wynnstay park is stated to embrace a circuit of eight miles. Within the park, at a mansion called Bodylltyn, lived in the sixteenth century, Edward ap Roger Eyton, of high authority as a Welsh herald and genealogist. A large folio volume, entirely in his autograph, is extant. He died in 1587.
The inscription upon the handsome column in the park to the memory of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, who died in 1789, was written by his brother-in-law, the talented Lord Grenville, "Filio optimo, mater eheu! superstes."
To say that this family is of Welsh origin, and that both paternally and maternally, is sufficient to show its antiquity. To be of the Ancient British race is to date back to a period long antecedent to the arrive of Saxons or Normans in the country. In the male line the descent is from
CADRODD HARDD (Cadrodd the Handsome), twenty-second ancestor of the owner of Wynnstay, and, in the female line, from
RHODRI MAWR, King of Wales, himself the representative of a long line of regal forefathers, who was slain A.D. 876. The twenty-fifth successor to whom was
WILLIAM WYNN, Esq., whose daughter, Sydney Wynn, married Edward Thelwall, Esq., and their daughter became the wife of Sir William Williams, Bart., of Llanforda, who, on succeeding by will to the estates of the House of Wynnstay, assumed the additional surname and arms of WYNN.
The 'Sir Watkin' living at the time of this piece was the 6th Baronet (1820-1885) and it was he who rebuilt the Wynnstay mansion after the fire of 1858: it took about six years to build, was completed in 1865, and is the property we still see today.
The older Wynnstay which was destroyed by fire is illustrated above: on the left as drawn by Henry Gastineau and published about 1830; and on the right in a watercolour by John Ingleby in the 1790s. The house and stables were built by the 3rd Baronet in the 1730s to a design by Francis and William Smith. Between these two buildings in the older Ingleby picture can be seen what remained at the end of the 18th century of the even earlier half-timbered Jacobean building, which we believe may have been the original property known as Watstay, the home of Eyton Evans mentioned in the article above. The stretch of water evident in the foreground of both pictures was a canal feature which was incorporated into the design of the park by Capability Brown: it eventually became the lakes familiar in recent times.
The illustration of the 'new' Wynnstay accompanying the transcript above, and repeated here to the left, may show the property not too many years after it was reconstructed, possibly within a decade or less, as the six volumes of County Seats were originally issued separately by subscription between 1864 and 1880, and the Wynnstay illustration appeared in Volume III. Then the entire work was reissued in 1880. The quality of the plates drawn by Alexander Francis (Frank) Lydon, and the wood-block colour printing by Benjamin Fawcett of Driffield, Yorkshire, was considered to be very high.
The author of the text, and editor of the volumes, Reverend Francis Orpen Morris, who was Irish by birth, was already well known by the time he embarked on this project, particularly in the field of ornithology, to which he made a significant contribution. He had published a number of works on the study of birds and other natural history topics, and his History of British Birds, issued in parts from 1850, was particularly popular. The same three individuals Morris, Fawcett and Lydon were involved with this and many of the other earlier titles, and their collaboration continued for the best part of 50 years, culminating with County Seats. Subscribers included royalty and naturally the nobility and gentry of the country, as well as 'lesser mortals'. Morris and Fawcett both died in 1893, and Lydon in 1917.
Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, the 6th Baronet, had no male heirs and, by the time of his death in 1885, only one surviving daughter and heiress, Louisa Alexandra. Her husband (and cousin), Herbert Lloyd Watkin Williams Wynn, suceeded to the title and estates on his uncle's/father-in-law's death, thus becoming the 7th Baronet. In the first World War he established a munitions factory at Wynnstay, where shells were made. During World War II Wynnstay seems to have been requisitioned by the military.
On his death in 1944, his son Watkin Williams Wynn succeeded to the title and became the 8th Baronet, but the end of the long occupation of Wynnstay by the Williams Wynn dynasty was now very close. Death duties were crushing, and their huge estates, accumulated over centuries by inheritance, marriages or purchase, would be severely depleted. Sir Watkin moved to a smaller property (Plas Belan) on the edge of the park, and in 1947 a 3-day sale saw most of the Wynnstay furniture and effects disposed of. The Llwydiarth estate in Montgomeryshire was sold, and the Glan Llyn estate in Merionethshire also lost, accepted by the 'powers that be' in lieu (partially) of death duties due. In 1948 Wynnstay itself, five cottages and about 150 acres of land were sold to Lindisfarne College for £17,100.
Sir Watkin had moved to Llangedwyn, and died in 1949, when his uncle, Robert William Herbert Watkin Williams Wynn, became the 9th Baronet. Sir Robert lived only until 1951, and the title passed again, to Owen Watkin Williams Wynn, until 1988. The 11th and current baronetcy is held by his son, Sir David Watkin Williams Wynn. In 2005 his daughter Alexandra was said to be the model for Lucien Freud's painting The Painter Surprised By A Naked Admirer.
Lindisfarne College was a public school, founded in 1891, which since the early part of the 20th century had been at Westcliff-on-Sea. In 1940 it moved to Yorkshire where it merged with Pannal Ash School; and then came the relocation to North Wales in the late '40s. It attracted pupils from all over the world as well as the UK, but although its own centenary was celebrated in 1991, Lindisfarne did not survive to see its 50th anniversary at Wynnstay: it closed in 1994, bankrupt. Thus Wynnstay was on the market again, and apparently the MoD came close to buying it, but the estate was sold in 1996 to a development company. Old Lindisfarnians organised annual cricket matches at Wynnstay from 1999 until about 2003, with permission from the new owners. A memorial to the memory of former old boys who lost their lives in both world wars, which had been moved to Wynnstay from St Saviour's Church in Westcliff-on-Sea, was relocated again in 1999 to St Mary's Church in nearby Ruabon. The church has many historic connections with the Williams Wynns, and contains memorials to various members of the family.
In 1995 an important fixture was parted from its home at Wynnstay. The 4th Baronet, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1749-89), is described as 'perhaps the greatest patron of the arts Wales has ever produced'. He was passionate about music, theatre, the arts and Welsh culture, and the commissions placed and acquisitions made ensured that both Wynnstay and his London home in St. James's Square were furnished, fitted out and filled with works of art of every description. One source hints that even the Williams Wynn finances were stretched, particularly with the London residence. He had succeeded to the title in his minority, and even prior to his coming of age Wynnstay was greatly extended (at this time being the 'old Wynnstay') in preparation for the festivities planned for that occasion.
In the 1770s Sir Watkin commissioned a chamber organ for the music room of his London home: it was built by John Snetzler and its casing (a modern description of which is 'spectacular') was designed by Robert Adam who in fact had the job of refurbishing the entire property at St. James's Square. It was completed and installed in 1774, and remained there until about 1864 when it was removed, restored and rebuilt at the 'new Wynnstay' at one end of the Great Hall. When Wynnstay was sold in 1948 it stayed in situ, and ex-pupils of Lindisfarne College remember it well. But when the College closed and its affairs passed into the hands of receivers, it was decided the organ must be sold. It was to be auctioned in April 1995, the only item in the sale, and a detailed and lavish brochure was printed, such was the anticipated interest. There must have been some concern that this unique piece could be lost to the country, but happily the National Museum of Wales was able to secure it, the sale price being £274,000. The organ was then fully restored and since 1996 has been on display at Cardiff as part of the Museum's Williams Wynn Collection, along with other works of art formerly belonging to the family. The organ is said to be in regular use at recitals.
Wynnstay has also had a new lease of life. At the end of the 1990s buildings in the Estate Yard began to be converted by Loxley Developments, and the stable block is also converted to dwellings. In about 2004 plans were passed for redevelopment of the Hall itself into luxury apartments. From the familiar distant view (from the A483) of the Grade II listed building sitting atop its hill, scaffolding could clearly be seen gradually being moved around different parts of the structure as the weeks and months went by and renovation work continued, but we had not been up to the place for several years to see it at close quarters. Clearly a whole lot more was going on inside in order to meet the advertised 'contemporary modern living yet original features retained and enhanced'.
On 999-year leases, typical guide prices for apartments in the main building around 2006/07 were: £299,000 (in the Great Tower, 1 reception, 2 bedrooms), £310,000 (ditto, with 2 rec, 2 beds), and £495,000 (2 rec, 5 beds). In the stable block, £225,000 (1 rec, 2 beds). Residents enjoy communal features such as 130 acres of parkland, tennis courts, and an all-weather sports pitch.
The lake in front of Wynnstay was also for sale: a total of nearly 25 acres (including the lake of just less than 10 acres) was offered for £100,000. It was acquired by Wynnstay Fishing & Conservation Ltd, and following extensive repairs and works to the banks, the Avenue and woodlands, the lake was reopened as a carp fishery for experienced anglers.
What would the past Sir Watkins have made of it all?
After the initial 'shock of the new' and dismay at the fragmentation of the estate, maybe they'd be relieved the fabric and features of the Hall were renovated and preserved. It certainly didn't look too healthy from photos put online by a former Lindisfarnian at the end of the 1990s, which showed it dank and dirty inside, shabby and peeling, and clearly going downhill. The comment made at the time was 'depressing stuff'.
It used to be said that virtually everything within sight from Wynnstay's elevated position, and much more besides, belonged to the Williams Wynn family. Times have certainly changed but, outwardly at least, the main hall still looks much as it did in the latter part of the 19th century. Up close and all around it will be the evidence of modern living and activities, but from afar the view of it is very little altered. You can look across to Wynnstay, sitting up there on the hill, and almost imagine that, rather than cars, one of the Sir Watkins could be travelling in a carriage up the tree-lined avenue to his country seat . . .
When Sir Watkin, the 6th Baronet (1820-85), who rebuilt Wynnstay, came of age in 1841, the occasion was marked by a week of celebrations and great festivity in the area, including feasts laid on for estate workers etc. You may be interested to read the impressive list on a separate page of the food consumed at Wynnstay during that week.
St Mary's Church, Ruabon, including history and photos
Photos of Ruabon at the Francis Frith Collection
Wrexham County Borough Council:
(a) Wynnstay/Lindisfarne College photos
(b) Williams-Wynn family
Denbighshire Record Office: details of the Wynnstay MSS - page includes brief history of the Williams-Wynns
(a) Article at The Independent about the forthcoming sale in April 1995
(b) Restoration by Martin Goetze and Dominic Gwynn
(c) Museum of Wales, Cardiff, where the organ is now on display, and pictured
(d) Article (1998) by the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS), following restoration.
(a) Official Lindisfarne College site (not updated for some time but includes photos, and news of old Lindisfarnians)
(b) Independent Old Lindisfarnians (IOL)
(c) Old Lindisfarnians Online has two sites: older pages are here, but their more recent home appears to be at this Yahoo group
(d) Old Lindisfarnians of Lindisfarne College, an alumni site requiring membership to access
Ruabon, including the Wynns of Wynnstay
Watkin Williams Wynn, 3rd Baronet
Sir John Wynn
Diaries of A Lady of Quality (edited by A. Haywood, Second Edition 1864): extracts are being transcribed at this site. The diaries were written between 1797 and 1844 by Miss Frances Williams Wynn, the daughter of the 4th baronet.
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