The alarm rang at 6.30am and after almost four hours of driving through some of the most beautiful scenery that North Wales has to offer, I arrived along a country road and was greeted by the gate house. I slowed down to have a good look, excited by this sight. I drove on with mounting anticipation, catching glimpses through the trees of the red brick tower that adorns the east side of the mansion .
A little further and I arrived at Hafodunos; a fantastic property that was a victim of deliberate arson in late 2004.
I pulled into a car parking space behind the main house, and my first impression was ‘WOW’. Although the hall is roofless, the walls still stand and the gables and chimneys are all pretty much accounted for. Scaffolding was clinging around the tower and the chimneys and was protecting the Grade I Listed walls. It was a warm day and after I got out of the car and was greeted by the owner we stood facing the hall. Questions continuously rolled off my tongue. He told me some history of the hall, and about his plans for it and described the jungle that was the grounds when he first bought the place.
It was brilliant to meet an owner with such a passion for his property and the project of restoration as a whole. When I asked him how long he thought it would be before the roof was put back on, he said it would take about three years to renovate the walls of the structure, but then probably another additional year for the roof, as he was planning to do as much of the work as he could himself. He regards the restoration as a long term project that he will be ‘hands on’ with throughout the process. He said that the structure of the building was still sound and after further inspection I could see that he was right. I was amazed at how strong it still looks after having suffered such a huge fire. Only a few charred beams remain as a reminder of the sad fate of this house.
I walked around to the gardens on the south side of the property and looked up. The house was perched high up above a brick and stone retaining wall with an impressive set of stone steps leading up to it. The gardens have already received a lot of attention and replanting was well underway. A stream runs through the grounds with two bridges crossing it, and eventually it runs into a pond. I was surprised to see two swans swimming on the surface unperturbed by the activity around them. I sheltered from a sudden downpour under a yew tree and took in the sheer beauty of the grounds.
Then I walked up the stone steps to have a closer look at the conservatories. In their own way these are also very impressive, and, thankfully, they had escaped the fire of 2004.
Up to twenty years ago Hafodunos Hall was still lived in. It was designed by George Gilbert Scott,(the same architect who designed the London station of St. Pancras), for the wealthy Sandbatch family, who retained ownership of the house up until the 1930’s. It then became first, a school, then an accountants college, in fact in one of the outbuildings there is a blackboard on which there are still some written calculations! The house then had a stint as a care home, but when it became unviable it was shut down. It then sadly became a breeding ground for dry rot. It was sold to a local property developer, who had plans for a hotel and log cabins in the grounds. But then in October 2004 the house was deliberately set alight devastating the main block of the house
Thankfully the future of the hall now looks safe. It will take years of hard work and determination, but I am sure that with the amount of enthusiasm the owner has for the house, he will get there. The plan is that the house will have to pay its way like all houses of this size need to do. Weddings and events will be held in the grounds and I am sure it will become a very popular venue. The owner plans to have open days at the house so people have the opportunity to see the progress being made towards full restoration.
Written in 2013