The Pennants, the former owners of Penrhyn Castle, originate from Flintshire. They descend from Thomas Pennant (d.1522), Abbot of Basingwerk Abbey, Holywell (pictured).
The Pennants in Jamaica
The first Pennant in Jamaica was Gifford (d. 1676-7), grandson of Abbot Thomas. Jamaica had been taken from the Spanish by Oliver Cromwell's forces in 1655. Gifford, a captain of a company of horse, was garrisoned on the island from around 1656-8.
To develop Jamaica as a sugar-producing colony quickly, generous land grants were made available. These attracted both opportunists from Britain and many of the soldiers on the island to become planters (owners of sugar plantations). Gifford took full advantage of the grants and he bought and sold land rapidly, acquiring 18 times the average holding. Other families, such as the Beckfords and the Barretts, had larger plantations but the considerable size of the Pennant estates and the early settlement of the family in Jamaica placed them at the centre of Britain's sugar industry.
Gifford's son Edward (1672-1736) increased his father's landholdings and became a significant figure in the Jamaican establishment, becoming Chief Justice and a member of the governing council. On his death, Edward's large estate was divided among his three sons John, Samuel and Henry. His will ensured that a fourth son was adequately cared for until his death, he being unable to inherit until he 'came to his senses'.
While Jamaican plantations made many of their owners extremely rich, the island itself was difficult to live on. Island residents had to cope with tropical storms and diseases, the constant threat of slave rebellion, alcohol abuse and the overwhelming brutality of daily life in a slave-based society. Like many wealthy planters, the Pennant brothers left the running of their estates in the hands of agents and by the 1730s all three were settled in Britain.
The Pennants in Britain
Their wealth enabled them to move into British society at the highest level. Samuel (1709-50) was knighted and became Lord Mayor of London in 1749. He died after contracting 'gaol fever' (typhus) while presiding over a case at the Old Bailey. Both he and Henry died without children, leaving their estates to their brother John.
John Pennant (d. 1781) was a successful West India merchant in Liverpool, Britain's largest slaving port. He also invested in the salt industry, going into partnership with Colonel Hugh Warburton of Winnington, Cheshire, who, through his wife, owned half of what had been the medieval Penrhyn estate in North Wales. John and his son Richard (pictured) began buying the remainder of the estate, reuniting it when Richard married Colonel Warburton's daughter in 1767.
Edward's son George Sholto Douglas-Pennant, 2nd Lord Penrhyn, (pictured) took over the running of the estate in 1884, two years before his father's death. George married twice, producing 15 children, 12 of whom were daughters.
He was a man of strong convictions. In particular, he had little time for the developing trades union movement. His single-minded approach to the management of his slate quarry led to a devastating and long-lasting strike between 1900-03.
Perhaps because of local bitterness towards the family following the strike, the 3rd Lord Penrhyn, Edward Sholto Douglas-Pennant (1864-1927) spent little time at Penrhyn. He preferred to live with his wife at their other estate, Wicken Park in Northamptonshire. Penrhyn was not left empty, however, as many of his sisters remained unmarried and continued to consider it their home.
War and change
The Pennants, like many families, suffered great losses during the 1st World War. The 3rd lord's two brothers, George and Charles, along with his son and heir Alan, were killed in the conflict. Alan's younger brother Hugh Napier (1894-1949) became 4th Lord Penrhyn on his father's death.
Hugh Napier Douglas-Pennant served as a magistrate in Caernarfonshire and was a keen breeder of Welsh black cattle. He sold the last of the family's Jamaican plantations, Pennants, in 1940.
Never coming to terms with the loss of so many close family members, he turned to alcohol for solace. His wife Lady Sybil (pictured), however, was a great entertainer, bringing the castle to life with weekend parties. She was also an active fund raiser for Allied troops during the 2nd World War. Lady Sybil eventually divorced her husband, and he died alone in Penrhyn Castle in 1949.
The Pennants now
1. Why there are two 1st Lord Penrhyns: In 1783 Richard was made Baron (Lord) Penrhyn of County Louth, Ireland. While providing him with the much-desired title, this did not allow him to sit in the House of Lords. It was also a title that died with him as he had no issue. In 1866, however, Edward Gordon was elevated to the full British peerage as Baron Penrhyn of Llandygai, enabling him to take his place in parliament's upper chamber.