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Welsh estate with same family for 600 years up for sale

By George Herd
BBC News

Published
image copyrightAct Studios/Finest Properties
image captionThe estate lies on the southern tip of the Snowdonia National Park, near Tywyn

It has been handed down through the same family for at least 600 years - if not a few centuries more - but now a Welsh country estate is up for sale.

There are claims the descendants of Llanfendigaid can trace their lineage to an 11th Century king of Gwynedd and Powys.

But its current owner Will Garton-Jones says he does not want his three daughters to face the challenge that comes with inheriting an estate.

Instead, it could be yours - for £2m.

The former Army officer inherited the house and estate when he was just 23 in the early 1980s, in his final year at university before taking up his Army commission.

"With 20/20 hindsight I would have refused point blank to do it now," said Mr Garton-Jones.

Suddenly, he had to focus on both a military career and breathing life back into the ageing estate - and the enormous costs that involved.

"If you inherit a massive bill you have got to work out rather rapidly how to pay it, and that gives a tremendous spur to one's efforts," he reflected.

image copyrightWill Garton-Jones
image captionWilliam Garton-Jones inherited the estate when he was still at university

The estate once stretched across 50,000 acres (20,234 hectares) of Gwynedd and lies on the southern tip of the Snowdonia National Park, near Tywyn.

The oldest document the family has seen mentions the house's name in 1241.

Other documents show the estate was with the family from about the 16th Century - though "probably much earlier than that" said Mr Garton-Jones.

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In Welsh, the name of the estate could be translated as Church of Blessed or Blessed Parish, though one place-name expert who has written about the house was unable to find any historical records of a church on the site.

"Whatever the truth, it's a very old site, and you can see why - they clearly picked the best spot," said Mr Garton-Jones, who lives in Wiltshire.

"It's a lovely site, it has got a microclimate that you get in those parts, sticking out into Cardigan Bay.

"It often has a blue loop over it, where everywhere else is cloudy or raining and you've got sunshine - it's most peculiar."

Map: Location of Llanfendigaid in Gwynedd, near Tywyn

Almost as peculiar is the story of how the house came to be in his branch of the family.

The estate had belonged to the Nanney-Wynn family over the past few centuries, one of the wealthiest of the landed gentry in the region, with the Nanney side tracing their lineage back to Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, the king of Gwynedd and Powys who died in 1075.

image copyrightWill Garton-Jones
image captionThen: Will Garton-Jones's Kirkby family at the house in 1886 - his great-grandfather is second from right in the back row
image copyrightWill Garton-Jones
image captionNow: The family celebrating the wedding of Will Garton-Jones's daughter Daisy at the house

William Nanney-Wynn was the first to take the family name in about 1750, and his portrait still hangs in the manor house today.

It was at the end of the 19th Century that Mr Garton-Jones's family came to be firmly associated with Llanfendigaid.

Among them was his great-grandfather, Edward William Kirkby, one of 10 children brought up in the house.

He was a veteran of the Boer War, shot through the spine in a skirmish at Hammanskraal in South Africa in 1900, and used a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

image copyrightAct Studios/Finest Properties
image captionThe family coat of arms hangs above the fireplace inside the main house

He became the land agent for the estate and two others, Maes-y-Neuadd and Maes-y-Pandy, and was asked to sell them in the 1920s.

"My great-grandfather's cousin had inherited the estates but decided that Australia was a better bet than Wales, and instructed my great-grandfather to sell everything and send him the money.

"He duly did that - with my great-grandfather negotiating a very good price with himself to buy the Llanfendigaid estate."

When his grandfather died, the estate came to him, and he has spent the past three decades turning it into a successful holiday destination, renovating much of it by hand.

He said he took up roles in technology and finance to "pay the bills" for Llanfendigaid, and now was the time to reflect on what had been achieved and to move on.

"History can be quite weighty and if you get it dumped on you, it can become quite a burden," he said.

"The question is then, do you want to dump it on the next generation?"

image copyrightAct Studios/Finest Properties
image captionAs well as the manor house, buildings like the old cowshed have been developed as holiday locations

Add into the mix the Covid pandemic, and Mr Garton-Jones said it was the right time to put it on the market.

It would mean he is the last of 40 generations to own the house and estate and admits it has been a difficult decision, tinged with emotions.

"The one solid thing in my life, the place we always came back to was Llanfendigaid. It's been a great anchor," he said.

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