“Are you troubled by witches?” asked Gwilym ap Gwilym. “They come down and cast a spell on you which sends you to sleep. Then they take you away on their broomstick and you wake up in the morning not knowing where you are! I’ve often been troubled by witches while returning from the tavern!”
We had time-travelled back to the year of 1645 and Mr ap Gwilym was footman to Colonel Pritchard, the owner of the manor. He undertook other tasks too, such as showing visitors around although the estate surveyor, Stephen Matthias, did advise us that he sometimes confused his duties with that of ale and wine taster!
It was in the midst of the Civil War so the household was naturally suspicious of unknown visitors. Therefore, at the ticket office, we were given a letter of introduction addressed from the brother-in-law of the Colonel, Bussy Mansell. It asked him and his staff to welcome us into the house – a superior sort of entrance ticket!
Mr ap Gwilym greeted us at the front door. As with the other staff, he was dressed in accordance with what would have been worn in the 17th century. He showed us the ground floor, telling us tales of his life and activities, giving the firm impression that he was a bit of a scoundrel! He then handed over to Mr Matthias who took us upstairs to the courtroom and banqueting hall. Mr Matthias explained his role and how the rooms in the house were used. Children below the age of 12 were instructed to sit on the floor, as it would be inappropriate to sit on seats alongside their elders. Surprisingly, they all did as they were told without complaint, even my daughter F!
After listening to Mr Matthias, we went to see Colonel Pritchard’s sister, Elizabeth Mansell, in her bed chamber. The maid was with her, applying make-up. Mrs Mansell introduced the maid, whose name was Verity Jones. She informed us that a lady should look as pale as possible, to distinguish her from the poor bronzed women who had to work the land. A visitor walked in, who had obviously spent some time in a tanning salon, and the maid immediately exclaimed “I see you have fallen on hard times m’lady!” to much amusement. The main component of the make-up was white lead, which we were assured was very good for the skin.
When she had finished with the Colonel’s sister, Mrs Jones took us to the armoury. Houses such as this needed an armoury during the civil war and both men and women were trained to use weapons. This household was Royalist, although later that year the Colonel would switch sides. When Mrs Jones asked for a volunteer to dress up in armour, F’s hand went up like a shot, but she was just beaten by a little boy. The maid explained the purpose of all the weapons, as well as the defensive attire.
After checking out the indoor privies (there were 2 – a sure sign of wealth), it was time to take our leave and head to the gift shop. F enjoyed the whole experience immensely and the actors did a great job in bringing the history to life. My wife S also enjoyed herself, which was just as well as it was Mother’s Day! I too had a great time, but I resisted the temptation to buy some mead there. After all, I don’t want any trouble with witches!
Llancaiach Fawr Manor is on the B4254 just outside Nelson in South Wales, UK, about 18 miles north of Cardiff.
The nearest main road is the A470 dual carriageway, from where it is signposted.
The nearest train station is Ystrad Mynach, from where it is a 20 minute onward journey by bus.
As well as the manor house, Llancaiach Fawr has a garden, gift shop and cafe. Special events are often held such as ghost tours.