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Margam Castle
Port Talbot

 

 

HISTORY:

Margam Castle is a Tudor Gothic Grade I listed mansion situated in the grounds of Margam Country Park.

It was the invention of Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot.

The Margam estate had been in his family since 1536, and his father, Thomas Mansel Talbot, who resided at Penrice, had demolished the original mansion house, the historic home of his Mansel forebears in 1787 and replaced it with the Orangery.

Margam Abbey, which was acquired by Sir Rice Mansel in 1540, was once the centre of Christian worship. It took over 40 years to build and was the largest and wealthiest in Wales in the 12 th century.

The south side of the Abbey contains tombs of the Rice Mansel Talbot family.

The ancient ruins of the Cistercian cloisters which were founded in 1147 are situated to the right of the Abbey.

On the hilltop above Margam Abbey is the stone ruin of Chapel Mair, which was built in the 15 th century.

TIMELINE

1747 - Thomas Mansel Talbot was born. He married Lady Mary Lucy Fox Strangeways. They had 6 children:

1795 - First Child - Mary was born, she died in 1861.

1796 - Second Child - Jane Harriet was born, she later married John Nichol Esq of Merthyr Mawr.

1798 - Third Child - Christina Barbara was born, she died in 1808.

1800 - Fourth Child - Charlotte Louise was born, she later married Rev. John M. Treherne.

1801 - Fifth Child - Eleanor Sybilla was born, she died in 1810.

1803 - Sixth Child - Christopher Rice Mansel was born on 10 th May.

1813 - Thomas Rice Mansel Talbot died. His only son and heir, Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot, inherited the estate of Margam.

1830 - Work began on building Margam Castle.

1835 - December 28 th Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot married Lady Charlotte Butler, who was the daughter of the 1 st Earl of Glengall. They had 4 children.

1839 - First Child - Theodore Mansel was born, he died in 1876 through receiving injuries after an accident while out fox hunting.

1840 - Second Child - Emily Charlotte was born, she died in 1918 (she was the last of the Talbots of Margam).

1841 - Third Child - Bertha Isabella was born, she later married John Fletcher Esq. of Satoun Hall, Haddingtonshire. Bertha died in 1913.

1842 - Fourth Child - Olive Emma was born, she died in 1894.

1846 - Lady Charlotte died of consumption.

1890 - Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot died in January aged 87 years. The estate passed to his eldest daughter, Emily Charlotte.

1918 - Emily Charlotte died leaving the estate to her nephew, John Theodore Talbot Fletcher, whose father was Captain Andrew Mansel Talbot Fletcher.

1941 - The Fletcher's returned to Soltoun Hall.

1942 - The estate was acquired by Sir David Evan-Bevan, owner of the Vale of Neath Brewery.

1973 - The estate, which had been empty and subject to vandals for some time, was acquired by the then Glamorgan County Council, who organised reconstruction work.

1977 - A fire destroyed the interior and roof of the castle.

THE HISTORY 

Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot was born at Penrice situated in the Gower, and was the only son of Thomas Mansel Talbot and Lady Mary Talbot.

His early years was spent at Penrice before attending Harrow private school in Winbourne, Dorset during 1814.

By 1820, he attended Oriel College, Oxford, and graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Mathematics in 1824. That same year he came of age and inherited his vast estates. Later that year he cruised the Meditaranean as well as several European cities where he acquired a number of art pieces to add to the family collection housed at Penrice.

Returning to Britain, C.R.M. focussed his attention on the management and improvement of his estates.

By around 1827, he had great plans for a new mansion at Margam, and set about sorting his finances to achieve this plan.

During the 1830's work had began on building the mansion.

There were two architects that were involved with the design and building of the mansion. Thomas Hopper and Edward Haycock, who worked alongside CRM Talbot.

It was the influence of two family homes that inspired him to create the mansion, Lackock Abbey in Wiltshire, which was the ancestral home of the Talbot's and residence of his cousin, W.H.Fox Talbot (pioneer of photography), and Melbury House in Dorset, the home of his mother's family, the Fox-Strangeways, Earls of Illchester.

The castle is built around three courtyards, one of which is in the centre of the main block, and two former serving courts to the east. There are two main storey's, with a gabled third storey, and many carvings, sculptured heraldic panels and a number of shields and coat of arms of the Mansel family.

In 1835, CRM married Lady Charlotte Butler. They had four children before Lady Charlotte died of consumption in Malta during 1846. Two years later CRM was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan.

By the spring of 1836, Margam had replaced Penrice as Talbot's residence. Most of the main building work had been completed in 1836 and so attention was now focussed on the interior work. The gothic style continued in the entrance and staircase halls, with a stone staircase leading to the first two storey's of the tower.

There was a spacious Library, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Study and Monument Room. The staircase was fitted with a Fleu-de-lys and riband carpet in pink on a rich brown.

Later, a set of gothic stalls were installed around the edge of the staircase hall, each carved with a back panel set with monograms of CRM. Talbot. Above were carved life-like figures of the animals seen in the park.

The library, drawing room and dining room were decorated with carved woodwork and panelling, stained glass windows, gilded plasterwork and beautiful marbled fireplaces.

Bedrooms suites were decorated in various styles. One had a Chinese theme, another had been decorated with tapestries and contained fireplaces of the popular local Mumbles Marble. Gold leaf, carved marble, fine furniture, French rococo panelling, crystal chandeliers, Chinese laquer screens, porcelain vases, paintings by Rubens and Canaletto all completed the opulent furnishings of the rooms.

The east of the main block are Grade II service buildings. The entrance to the courtyard is through a higher archway topped with a heraldic panel. Kitchen and domestic offices, including laundry, bake house and brewery are ranged around all but the south side, which is bound by a wall with a door leading to a smaller yard of stores and larders.

To the east is a boiler house, laundry maids sitting room and gun room, to the south of which is a long, single storey gothic building with arch doorways in the end walls and small three-light windows with small buttresses between them.

Further to the east is the main stable court, an L-shaped area with an entrance on the north side and a bounding wall on the south.

The castle is mainly built of local sandstone, Pyle ashlars.

Both oak and pine were used as rafters and flooring, and cast iron railway lines were used to support the stone landings on the main staircase.

As his attention turned to politics, CRM was responsible for introducing and supporting a bill of 1834, for the improvement of the old harbour of Aberavon. A later bill of 1836, allowed further expansion and changed the name to Port Talbot in his honour.

The development of Swansea Docks was actively encouraged and it was his daughter, Emily Charlotte, who performed the opening ceremony of the new south dock in 1859.

In 1838, CRM had purchased the Copper works at Taibach and later sold it to Messrs Vivian and Sons.

CRM was a pioneer in the introduction of railways to South Wales, and became Chairman and major shareholder in The South Wales Railway. When in 1849 the proposed line was halted for lack of funds, he provided the whole of the capital to complete the project, estimated at £500,000.

During June 1850, the line was completed from the outskirts of Swansea to Hagloe, 12 miles from Gloucestershire. When the South Wales Railway merged with the Great Western Railway in 1863, Talbot became a director and persuaded the board to purchase the Vale of Neath Railway.

The Mansel-Talbot's had, from an early date, had involved themselves in industrial enterprises, granting numerous leases on their lands for iron and copper works and the extraction of coal, iron and limestone.

One of CRM Talbot's hobbies was Yachting, owning and racing several yachts. In 1823 he was elected a member of the Royal Yacht Club and became its Vice Commodore during 1851-1861.

Hunting, Riding and shooting were other favourite pastimes, with large numbers of pheasants being reared at Margam and Penrice for the annual 3-4 day shoots.

Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot died aged 87 years in January 1890, having served Liberal Member of Parliament of Glamorgan for an uninterrupted 59 years.

His eldest daughter, Emily Charlotte, inherited the estates at Margam and Penrice, together with an estimated £6 million.

Emily would donate large amounts of money to the church and other bodies and made several changes to Margam. New Bathrooms and plumbing's were installed, the heating improved, and in 1891, electricity was installed. The Billiard room was added, built over a small inner courtyard.

Emily would hold large house parties in the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, and so maintained a large amount of servants in the house and on the estate.

With the death of Miss Emily Charlotte in 1918, the mansion and estate were passed to her great nephew, John Theodore Talbot Fletcher, whose father was Captain Andrew Mansel Talbot Fletcher.

The Captain was a frequent resident at Margam during the 1920's and 30's, and very little change was made to the mansion, apart from converting the old stable block into a squash court and garage in 1930.

Following the outbreak of the war in 1939, the government requisitioned the Orangery and part of the mansion. The trustees decided to sell the larger part of the property, where the Captain and his family then returned to their Scottish estate at Saltoun.

During October 27 th - 30 th 1941, a four day auction organised by Christies in London, saw items from the mansion being sold, where many are now housed in museums. One item which did not sell was a life-sized statue of an obscure Roman Emperor called Lucius Verus, which is now housed inside the Orangery.

During the war years, both British and American troops were housed at Margam Castle.

During 1942, the estate was sold to Sir David Evan -Bevan. He never actually lives at the castle, where it eventually fell pray to vandals and thieves.

By 1973, the castle and estate were acquired by Glamorgan County Council, who began restoration work.

In August 1977, a fire broke out within the castle, completely destroying the interior and roof.

The restoration project at Margam Castle continues to this day, where the north wing has been converted into a residential centre for education purposes and Field Study Centre, housing dormitories and laboratories, where school parties and adult courses take place.

HAUNTINGS:

Both the castle and grounds are reputed to be haunted.

The castle is said to have the ghost of a ‘White Lady', who has also been seen in the grounds. It is believed she had once worked at the castle and had taken her own life after becoming pregnant. It is not known who this women was or who the father of the unborn child may have been.

There are reports of one particular monk, that has been witnessed regularly in the Abbey and nearby ruined cloisters.

It is also believed that several monks wander around the estate, along with a gentleman who has been described as a ‘well to do' type of man.

 

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