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Walks in Wales

Piercefield House, Chepstow

A simple dog walk at Chepstow racecourse led me to this wonderfull find, a Neoclassical Grade II*- listed ruined mansion called Piercefield House. This once fine Georgian building was commissioned in 1785 by a Durham banker named George Smith with the central main building of the house designed by a young Sir John Soane, who became the Professor of architecture at the Royal Academy.

The blue line shows today’s racecourse.

The original house dates from the 17th century and was enlarged and altered a number of times by various owners before becoming the property of Valentine Morris in the mid 18th century. The house stood in a large parkland which was landscaped by Morris who developed it into an example of a picturesque landscape of national reputation. He laid out walks through the woodland eventually opening it up to visitors. During the late 18th century after Morris became bankrupt the unfinished house (it had no roof) and grounds were acquired by George Smith in 1784. It was Smith who commissioned John Sloane to design a new mansion incorporating Morris’ original house. The new house was built of Bath limestone ashlar with internal walls of red brick.

A year after work began on the new 3 storey mansion in 1792, Smith also found himself in financial difficulties and once again the house was sold. Work continued on the mansion with a new architect, Joseph Bonomi, who modified the portico and wings. At the turn of the 19th century the estate was sold again and enlarged to almost 3000 acres.

Piercefield House shortly before being abandoned in the mid 1920s.

In 1925 the house and estate were finally sold to the Chepstow Racecourse Company, the house was abandoned and stripped and gradually over the years became derelict. During the second world war the park was requisitioned and the house (probably roofless by this time) was further damaged by American troops camping in the park. Most of the estate was eventually sold off but the mansion, today just an empty shell, is still owned by the racecourse company.

Today the mansion, which was listed in 1970, just about stands as a derelict shell in 129 acres of parkland. The entire roof and floors have disappeared long ago. One Roman Tuscan column survives from the 4 columned portico which Bonomi designed, the rest of it has gone. Still evident are the two alcoves built for statues on either side of the main entrance. Four of the original five chimney stacks are still in place, although the single stack on the Western side of the house is now leaning dangerously outward and surely can’t survive many more winter storms. The two Bonomi designed attached pavilions which once housed the library and music rooms are no longer attached and have been listed separately.

In 2008 the racecourse spent a considerable amount of money to try and preserve the building’s walls, many of the windows now have scaffolding in place to stop them from collapsing and the whole area is fenced off to keep out intruders. The house is open to offers but it is estimated that a further tens of millions would be required to restore it to its former glory.




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