The Lost Houses Of Wales A Survey Of Country Houses In Wales Demolished Since c.1900 by Thomas Lloyd. SAVE Britain’s Heritage, London, 1986, revised 1989.
This important book is more than simply a valuable reference work, it contains a message that shocks, and almost every one of the 356 buildings depicted either no longer exists, or is in a severely ruinous state. According to a brief survey, the situation has only improved for approximately twenty of the smaller properties since. In addition, there are more buildings of equal value in Wales not included in Thomas Lloyd’s survey. Compare this, for example, with France or Germany, and other countries, or even England, where such buildings are given much greater consideration for their historical or aesthetic value, and of course tourist potential. There is no denying even buildings have to earn their way..
There is also no denying a similar tale may be told of other places. It does seem though, that Wales has lost a greater proportion of notable houses, and the situation has not been recognized until recently. Compare the numbers and quality of properties in the care of the National Trust in England and Scotland with Wales. Organisations such as SAVE Britain’s Heritage would concur. In publishing ‘The Lost Houses of Wales’ their aim was three-fold. Create a permanent record of what has been lost, demonstrate that Wales has (or had) an architectural heritage of greater merit than previously realised, and to encourage a greater awareness of the need to conserve what is left.
The losses can be largely attributed to lack of income; through falling land rents and agricultural decline, death duties, but also sheer neglect. Some have survived as hotels, schools, or some other public use, but in reality, many are in remote locations, or are simply unsuitable or uneconomic for various reasons. In Wales, it is only since devolution and the Welsh Assembly government that the people have a fuller say on how public money is spent, but health, education and essential public services understandably come first. It seems likely that at least a proportion of the houses under threat were built by outsiders, and local people may have felt little sympathy for financing their rescue. One could have said the same about the Welsh castles built by Edward I of England. In defense of ruined houses, beyond their obvious tourist value, they mostly share the characteristics of ‘ornamenting the landscape’, and many of our public spaces originated as private estates, and a visit, even to the site, can bring to life otherwise dry history.
Each section of the book, divided neatly into the old Welsh counties so often preferred by the same people who appreciate the old buildings, and gives a general description of building patterns followed by photographs and accounts of the houses themselves. It would be good to see a new edition with all this information brought up to date.
The book also provides a detailed look at the development of the country house in Wales. The houses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often reflected imported English tastes rather than a native tradition, and several of the demolitions have revealed an older house within a fashionable new façade. There is a careful examination of the reasons why, on the whole, Welsh country houses were smaller than their counterparts in England, but also he presents the reasons they are no less interesting, for example, Llanerchaeron , now in the care of the National Trust . Several notable English architects are represented, but this has not saved houses such as Wenvoe, ascribed to Robert Adam. Now there is no other example of his work in Wales.
Thomas Lloyd himself describes it as an appalling catalogue of destruction, and you cannot fail to sense the loss on reading it. There is as well a certain pleasure to be gained by contemplating the ruins, in the spirit of Rose Macaulay, author of The Pleasure of ruins.
A personal note: since it is near impossible to obtain this book, and indeed benefit from the picture twenty-five years later, a new edition would be very welcome, not to say profitable.