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Penrhyn Castle

 

The Penrhyn Castle we see today is an early 19th-century stately home, built between 1818-1838. It was built for the wealthy Pennant family (later the Douglas-Pennants) on the profits of two industries - Jamaican sugar and Welsh slate.

The castle stands on the site of a medieval hall, which formed part of a large landed estate dating back to the time of the Welsh princes. Over the centuries the estate became divided, and it was not until the middle of the 18th century that it came - with the Pennants - under single ownership again.

The Pennants

Under the Pennants, the medieval hall underwent two phases of reconstruction within 40 years. Richard Pennant, 1st Lord Penrhyn, commissioned Samuel Wyatt (of the famous Wyatt family of architects) to remodel the old hall into a fashionable stately home, designed as a crenellated mock castle. This building lasted less than 40 years, as, from 1818, Richard's heir, George Hay Dawkins Pennant, began re-building the castle as it now appears.

Thomas Hopper, the castle's architect, also designed the interior, using neo-Norman styling inside and out. A combination of enthusiasm and huge amounts of capital ensured a spectacular building. Of the medieval hall, only a small section of spiral staircase can be seen internally. No visible evidence of Richard's house remains.

The last of the family to live in the castle was Hugh Napier Douglas-Pennant, 4th Lord Penrhyn. He died in 1949. His niece and heir Lady Janet gave Penrhyn Castle to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The castle has been open to the public under the care of the Trust since 1951.
 

The paintings

The castle houses a remarkable art collection. Most of the paintings were bought by Edward Gordon Douglas-Pennant during the middle years of the 19th century. The collection includes mostly 16th century Venetian and 17th century Dutch and Spanish works.

Eight paintings are different - these are of Jamaica. Six are general landscapes and include areas such as Flat Bridge, and two are of the family plantations named Pennants and Denbigh (shown here).

These were produced in 1870 and therefore outside of the period of colonial slavery. The paintings represent an idealised image of plantation sugar production as working conditions, even after slavery, were harsh, requiring large numbers of workers in a heavily industrialised process.

 After the 1730s few, if any, of the Pennants ever visited Jamaica and so these pictures would have been the only images the family saw of their plantations.

Compensation

On the abolition of slavery in 1833, slave owners received compensation from the British government for the loss of their human chattels. The Pennants received £14,683 17s 2d (around £1,562,000 today) for the freeing of 764 people. This money arrived into the wallets of the Pennants just as Penrhyn Castle was in its final stages of being fitted out with costly decoration, and it was also the time when the family began collecting its paintings.

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