The Elizabethan townhouse, Plas Mawr (Great Hall), in the town of Conwy, dates from 1576-1585, although there has been restoration of the building since then. It was built in three phases for a Welsh merchant, Robert Wynn (1520-1598) in the Tudor Renaissance style. He used the house to proclaim his wealth and position in Welsh society. The exterior of the house has pedimented windows, crow-stepped gables, and a Ďlook-out towerí.
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Robertís grandfather was the lease holder of 13th century Dolwyddelan castle, which he converted into a home. Robertís father inherited it and surrounding lands and added the lands of the Cistercian abbey of Aberconwy to his portfolio after the dissolution of the monasteries. Robert, the 3rd son, was sent to serve in the house of the lieutenant of the Tower of London. From there he moved to Herefordshire to serve Philip Hoby, who served in Henry VIIIís privy chamber, helped lead his Scottish campaigns, and became an ambassador for several countries before dying in 1558.
During his service of 20 years Robert Wynn undoubtedly accumulated money. He moved to north Wales and kept the ownership of the leases of Dolwyddelan and surrounding land. The rents made him wealthy. He didnít marry until the age of 50 and built Plas Mawr for his bride. He married a second time in 1588, his first bride only surviving a year. They had two sons and five daughters.
A house already existed on the property where Plas Mawr was built, thus the existing mansion was added to. First built was the north range of the house in 1576. This section contained two bedrooms, a parlour, kitchen-brewhouse, and servant rooms. In 1580 the central and southern ranges were added, and the original house was demolished. In 1585 a gatehouse was added along with a new entry doorway. The gatehouse held a suite of rooms for the steward and a room for the porter alongside the passage. A dairy house and gardens followed.
The house is noted for the original colourful plasterwork interiors which have been restored and repainted in the true heraldic colours. Five rooms have decorated ceilings, friezes, and overmantels. Both original furniture and copies of furniture of the times are in the house interior. Wall hangings copied from historical records make the rooms come to life.
Visitors entered through the gatehouse on the ground floor and went through the courtyard into the hall. On the same level the servant rooms (there were between 11 and 20), including the kitchen, pantry and brewhouse can be seen. In the north-east corner is a family parlour. In the parlour and two upper chambers are 22 different heraldic emblems, some of the princes of Gwyned.
The first floor holds the principal family rooms with the great chamber in the center. Above the great chamberís plaster ceiling are decorated arched-braced collar trusses. Two rows of pegs were used at the joints, an unusual feature. Over the fireplace in the great chamber, and also in the parlour, in plasterwork are the royal arms and the garter. The great chamber, used to entertain guests, had the richest furnishings. One of the notable pieces of furniture is a Tudor cupboard (original in Burrell Collection, Glasgow; replica in the house) that was made for Robertís father c1545. Silver and gilt plate would be set out on its shelf for an important meal, then stored in its drawers.
In the south range are the red and white chambers, while the north range holds two main bedrooms. Between the bedroom pairs are apartments for servants. The attic level consisted of bedchambers for the household servants, but in the 1700s these were converted to tenement accommodation when Plas Mawr was rented out and used for various businesses and a school, even into the 1800s. It was this sad fact that resulted in much of the contents being stolen or removed from the house. Its fortunes looked up in 1887 when it was taken over by the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art. In 1993 Cadw took over the house and its restoration and conservation.
High St, Conwy
via A55 or B5106
North Wales Coast and Borders
Tel. 0 1492 580 167 (info line)
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 9am-5pm; Oct, daily, 9.30am-4pm
Cadw property; use town car park nearby; AV tour; shop
Photo of house exterior courtesy Cadw
Other photos © by Barbara Ballard