South East Wales

Dyffryn House to open to public from Easter 2013

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Media captionCharlotte Dubenskij reports for BBC Wales Today

A Victorian house which has been largely hidden from public view will finally reveal some of its secrets to the public in 2013.

Dyffryn House in the Vale of Glamorgan is officially handed over to the care of the National Trust on Friday.

The Grade II-listed house's impressive gardens, the creation of the Cory coal family, have long been an attraction.

But from Easter visitors will be able to tour some of the rooms inside the house itself.

Dyffryn Gardens has been run by the Vale of Glamorgan Council and used as a conference centre since 1996, although the Grade-1 registered Edwardian gardens have long been open for visitors to enjoy.

But now the estate's property manager Geraldine Donovan said the Trust, which is operating the attraction on a 50-year lease, is looking forward to welcoming about 60,000 visitors in 2013.

"We are right on Cardiff's doorstep and it's remarkable the number of people who still don't know we are here," she said.

Dyffryn House and gardens were the creation of the wealthy coal mining Cory family who moulded it as a secluded family home within commuting distance of their business interests across south Wales.

The Cory family relocated to the area from Bideford, Devon and their business interests in Wales expanded through ship owning and coal exporting into the ownership of several collieries.

Image caption This stained glass window depicting Elizabeth I at Tilbury is one of the features of Dyffryn's Great Hall

John Cory was one of the coal owners responsible for the opening of the Barry docks in 1889 - a direct rival of the nearby Cardiff docks which by the outbreak of World War I had surpassed Cardiff as the county's largest coal exporting port.

It was, according to Ms Donovan, John's son Reginald and daughter Florence who moved with their parents to Dyffryn in 1891 who were responsible for shaping the estate into its Edwardian grandeur.

"The estate was bequeathed to Florence, but it was Reginald who was mad about the gardens and horticulture in general who made the gardens what they are today," she said.

"The garden is considered to be the best Edwardian garden in Wales and was the result of a creative collaboration between Thomas Hayton Mawson, one of the most influential garden designers of the early 20th Century, and Reginald Cory," she said.

Cory went all over the world on plant hunting expeditions to populate the garden, and his dedication to Dyffryn and to horticulture led to him having the largest bonsai collection in private ownership in 1912.

The 55-acre gardens, including unusual garden rooms, have long been popular with visitors but the opening up of a handful of the 52 rooms in the mansion will give them a real insight into how the Cory family lived.

Image caption Archive: view of Dyffryn House and Gardens

The gardens have recently been upgraded with £6.15m of Heritage Lottery Funding including the opening of the glasshouse in July 2011.

Building work has been going on to improve the house interiors following the plans to convert the building into a luxury hotel during the 1990s, said Ms Donovan

"The great hall, blue and red drawing rooms and billiard room are among the rooms which will be open on the ground floor," she said.

"And on the first floor Reginald Cory's bedroom, with its fine view over the gardens, will be turned into a plant hunter's room."

She added: "This gives us a glimpse into the opulence of the late Victorian and Edwardian times."

As part of the garden's move to National Trust control, Ms Donovan said they are recruiting about 100 volunteers, including costume guides, to help improve the visitor experience.

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