What is Piercefield ?
Piercefied was a "Country Seat", situated in its own parkland setting near the River Wye near Chepstow. It was once visited by Admiral Lord Nelson; and later was the property of a man whose father was an American slave owner and whose mother was one of his father's slaves. Like most "big houses", the house had a chequered career.
In 1999, there was a WebSite set up that had a WebPage on Piercefield,
but Alas that has now gone. However, the text was captured :-
Dominating Piercefield Park are the ruins of Piercefield House, now only a shadow of its former glory which, though stark and gaunt, is a reminder of the days when the mansion was the fulcrum of the estate.
Records since the 14th century refer variously to Peerfield, Peersfield, Persfield and Piersfield and local historians report an enlargement of the house in the early 1600's.
The park and Mansion was sold in 1727 for £33,665.6d to a Thomas Rous and when he died, twelve years later, his son decided not to keep the estate. In 1740 the Morris Family brought Piercefield for £8,250 and Valentine Morris soon added to the magnificant splendor of the state by landscaping the park that was so much admired at the end of the 18th century.
In 1784 Piercefield was sold again, this time for £26,200 - to one George Smith. He prepared plans for a new Mansion incorporating Valentine Morris's house at the rear. The new three story stone building had slowly reached roof level when he found himself in financial difficulties and had to sell Piercefield in 1794 to Colonel Mark Wood.
Nathaniel Wells bought it in 1801 and the next owner was John Russell, who completed the purchase in 1856. Five years later the 1300 acre estate was bought by Henry Clay for £60,000. His son, also Henry, moved into the house in 1872 and inherited the estate on his father's death in 1874. But when he died in 1921 the Mansion and land, which he left to his son, Henry Hastings Clay, stood empty.
In 1925 part of Piercefield was sold to the newly formed Chepstow Racecourse Company and the country's youngest Racecourse was born.The first race on the track was staged on 6th August 1926, and the first National Hunt race on 2 March 1927. In recent years it has established itself as one of our leading Jump courses, but it will always have a place in turf history for the feat achieved on the flat by Gordon Richards in 1933. He won all six races on October 6th and five the following day to set a record that will surely stand forever.
In 1861, the Estate was bought by Henry Clay (1796-1874), then aged 65.
The last resident owner was Henry's son, Henry Clay (1825-1921), who inherited the estate upon his father's death in 1874.
The house was requisitioned during the Firt World War, and was in a sorry state when it was released after the war. Upon this Henry's death in 1921, his two sons, Henry Hastings Clay (1864–1943) and Charles Leigh Clay (1867–1950) formed a company and built the Chepstow racecourse in the park. The company has changed hands several times since, but the company still owns the estate. In 1999 their WebSite (now dead) had a Page for Piercefield Park.
When his father died in 1921, Hastings was 67 and his young brother Charles Leigh was 54 and they inherited the property. Hastings had been living for many years in his own house, Oak Grove (now a Stud Farm) just across the road - in 1911 they had four servants, a gardener, and a Governess for their 11-year-old daughter.
In 1921, three years after the end of WW1, the country was deeply in debt, and the Government had imposed severe "Death Duties". Piercefield by then was very down-at-heel, and had no running water; it needed expensive total refurbishment / modernisation. However, Hastings and Charles were saddled with death duties due on the death of his father, so the house was finally abandond and stripped of everything that could be sold - much (including the Adam fireplaces), after auction, went to the United States of America. Charles used some of his share to build a new "Art Deco" house that he called "Wyndcliffe",just north of the village of St, Arvan.
The racecourse was commandeered in the Second World War as an airfield for bombers, and was known as "RAF Chepstow".
The Internet has a great many references to Piercefield; perhaps the most interesting and comprehensive collection may be found here, a splendid Page that includes over 200 references (with Links) to visitors' accounts of Piercefield , from 1756-1900, several of them extensive; and also pictures and maps.
On 11th August 2013, The Daily Mail published an interesting article about the house.
A WebSite called "My Wales" has a page on Piercefield, as does the WebSite of the "Wye Valley Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty" - AONB.
There is more about the house and park on this very good, but Alas! now deceased WebSite here and there is a Wikipedia entry here.
Why "Clay of Piercefield" ?
Because Henry Clay, when he retired and left Burton-on-Trent, bought the property. The family had been "in trade" since Joseph Clay of Burton had arrived in that town and bought a pub. Successive generations had "bettered themselves", and done very well financially, but had always been rather looked down on as "upstarts" and "nouveau riche" by the local Landed Gentry. Henry wanted to join "the upper class", and didn't do too badly, since one of his grand-daughters married an Earl, and a great grand-daughter married the Queen Mother's brother.
And now ?
By 1906, the house still had no bathroom, and no running water save in the kitchen. Slipper baths and chamber pots were still the order of the day - but these needed servants; after the First World War, these were scarce. Henry Clay, the son of the purchaser, was born on 4th August, 1825, and died on 3rd March, 1921, aged 96, and was known as "The Grand Old Man of Monmouthshire". By this time, the house was in need of serious "re-furbishment", but with Henry Clay's death, the new inheritors were a third Henry and his brother Charles, the sons of that Henry, and grandsons of the Henry who had bought the house. This third Henry was always known by his second name, Hastings. He was now 57, and had owned his own house for many years. Hastings was now faced with heavy Death Duties, so the family decided to abandon Piercefield. The house was stripped of anything of value, and most (such as the Adam fireplaces) went to America. Chepstow Racecourse was created in the Park and opened in 1926. The Company Directors were all members of the family, and the Company still owns the ruin and the rest of the Park - but the Company has changed hands several times in the years since, and the family now has no involvement at all.
The house, now Listed Grade II*, remains a ruin. In 2005 the ruin and park (now a Grade I listed historic landscape) were put up for sale, with the expectation that the Estate would be restored to its former grandeur. but by 2012 the one prospective buyer had dropped out, and no other was found.
At that time, when there was "interest" in the building, a WebSite was created, but this did not survive. The archived version can be found here.