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Friday, 15 March 2019

Dunraven Castle

While much of America was buried under snow, Britain experienced a week of unseasonable, February warmth. We did what the English do under such circumstances— went to the seaside—Southerndown—a forty minute drive from Monmouth

We walked the cliffs and walked through history, from the early Jurassic to the present day.

Worth reading in conjunction with the picture below

One of many Iron Age forts (500 BC) lining the coast.

Dunraven itself is a corruption of the Celtic Dyndryfan, meaning the fortress of the three rocks, and defence against the sea remained a constant over the centuries. Vikings ravaged coastlines throughout Europe between 800 and 1020 AD.

In 1050 AD Saxons burnt Dunraven. In 1080 it suffered the depredations of Rhys ap Tewdwr in his war against Iestyn ap Gwrgan, the last prince of Glamorgan. Sounds mysterious and grand but the equivalent to a gang war fighting over turf. A bigger gang war was to come in the form of the Normans who systematically took over much of Wales. The Boteliers or Butlers ruled up until the first part of the C16th, when it came into the hands of the Vaughans through the marriage of Ann Butler to Walter Vaughan of Bradwardine, Herefordshire.

The coastline with its rocks and storms proved ideal terrain for 'wreckers' who lured ships to their doom with lights before plundering the wreckage for loot. One of the most infamous of these wreckers was Walter Vaughan of Dunraven. His is the story of a man who turned bad.

Following a shipwreck, Walter Vaughan rescued a large number of men, swimming out with a rope and dragging them to safety. Stirred by this, he tried to interest the authorities in something more organised than a man with a rope. Soured by their lack of interest, he went to the bad, involving himself in a thriving ‘wrecking’ business along the coast. Stories have it, he tied lamps to sheep tails, the wandering lights fooling ships to come dangerously close and fall foul of the rocks. From then on, his life was cursed. 

Three of his sons, drowned, one in a bucket of whey, his favourite son left him to travel abroad, and his wife died from a broken heart.

Vaughan met his nemesis in the form of Matt the Iron Hand. In happier days, Vaughan, a respected magistrate, had Matt arrested and in the ensuing struggle, Matt lost his hand, which was replaced by an iron hook. Now, though, Vaughan and Matt were partners in the wrecking business. It is unlikely that Matt ever forgot why it was he wore an iron hook, or who was responsible, and vengeance takes many forms.

 One night, during a terrible storm, Vaughan stood on the cliff top organising the lights that would lure another ship to its doom. The ship foundered and all were lost, but for a solitary seaman who struggled ashore. Matt was authorised to kill the potential witness. In doing so, he recognised Vaughan’s last remaining son and with some glee cut off the dying man’s hand with its Vaughan ring. This he presented to Vaughan, and we can only imagine his reaction when he held his dead son’s bloody hand with its family ring.  Walter Vaughan never recovered and reputedly died mad and alone.

 In 1642 it was sold the Wyndhams who held it well into the C20th . In the C19th the family, like so many Victorians, built something grand.

And there, the story ends, C20th shenanigans destroying a heritage. The fine Victorian mansion with its castellated walls became a refuge for soldiers in the two World Wars. After World War II it became a WTA Guest House (Workers Travel Association) and when they couldn’t afford the lease the Wyndhams proposed turning the grounds into a caravan park holding 800 caravans.  Glamorgan mercifully refused planning permission, and so, in 1963, the entire building was razed to the ground by the Wyndhams through penury or pique? I don’t know.  

What remains are remnants and a lovingly preserved walled kitchen garden

Aspects of the Kitchen Garden including views of the sea, and old greenhouse, castellated walls, ornamental pool and a Victorian ice house
The ghost of a Blue Lady is said to haunt the grounds but I failed to get a picture.

 That fine 'Norman' tower in the distance is a Victorian Ice House.

And finally, because we all love cottages

For more detail


Maria Zannini said...

What sad stories all the way around. There might not be ghosts but the area was truly haunted in more ways than one.

Mike Keyton said...

I'm sure there was happiness there, too. I hear it was a hoot in the Jurassic :)

LD Masterson said...

Old English history almost feels like legend or fiction to me. Perhaps it's because our own National history doesn't go back nearly as far so it's hard for me to imagine being able to trace back to the early 1000's. But it's always fascinating. Thanks for this piece.

Mike Keyton said...

As always, thanks for reading, Linda. Truthfully, I grew up when the 'old west' captured the minds of every young child in Britain. Cowboys and Indians were real in our mind. Perhaps, mistakenly, I'd have happily traded our history for blood red western skies and redskins bedecked in eagle feathers. I\d better stop before I end up taking up my old capstick pistol and alarming my wife.