A BRIEF HISTORY OF LLWYN Y BRAIN
When Dr John Hughes M.D., a naval surgeon about the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, bought the farm in1808, the main residence was the little house below the present house to the north-west. It is built on a pediment of boulders and dates from about 1700. It is now called Ty Popty (Bake House). It has a huge chimney place into which was built a large oven. A fire was made inside the heat retaining walls. The two small sheds with low entrances were called ‘Curtiad Mulod’ mule sheds. There is evidence of the foundations of earlier buildings in the level part of the field opposite the house in the shelter from the prevailing winds. The remnants of an old mill can be seen by the huge boulders up the stream and the foundations of the sunken water wheel near the house. One of the main sources of income at the time was butter and waterpower was used for churning. Finally, within this field by the north-west corner of the mule shed, is the remains of the sawpit onto the logs were rolled.
The oldest feature left by previous generations is the remnants of the Neolithic burial grounds in the field beside the circular wall that was part of the landscaping of around 1860. This mound still has some of the peripheral stones built to protect the customary jar containing the ashes of an important person who died 3 or 4 thousand years ago. In 1909 the Breen-Turners found it an ideal putting green for golf course. There is a tradition that the old Celtic churches were built so that the altar faced the setting sun on the day of its patron saint. Dr John Hughes must have had this in mind when he built the house to face the sunset on mid-summer’s day. It would have been convenient to build it with a shorter drive nearer the road but he seems to have chosen the only spot from which he could see the summit of Snowdon.
By about 1810, drills had been invented to dress the stones but even so, elaborate block and tackle systems had to be used to raise the large stones. It is said that neighbours were often called in to help with this difficult task. The limestone lintels and sills were probably inserted during the alternations and improvements of about 1850-60. The Anglesey Marble (polished limestone) fireplaces were probably fitted at this time too.
The porch was added about 1860 and the façade covered with the then fashionable stucco. His naval duties kept Dr Hughes away for long periods but his parents continued to live there and are buried in Llanrug.
The original approach to the house was down the narrow old road from Pengreuor. The new road from Llanrug to Caernarfon was built in 1820 and both the lodge and new drive with its gentle slope were built much later.
The farmhouse, which is now the restaurant, and the stone built farm building which is now the library complex, were also built in this period with the beams of yellow pine imported by ship to Caernarfon. The lake beside the Llewelyn Suite is the millpond.
The ruin at the top of this field to the South of the main house is called Bryn y Fedwen (Birch Hill), sheltered recusants at the time of Oliver Cromwell. There are interesting remains to the South of the house of a circus, a circular walled area 24 yards in diameter used for training horses. The person would stand in the middle while the horse went round and round. In front of the house is a large stone suitable as a mounting stone. Many of these boulders are said to have been carried across from Scotland in the ice age.
There is also an interesting old house at Glan Seiont., one of the few remaining that shows direct access from the living room to the cow shed. Among the many interesting people who lived at Llwyn y Brain (the Grove of the Crows) mention must be made of Berta Ruck the novelist, who has scratched her name and date on a windowpane in the large front room. Her father Colonel Arthur Ruck had served with the 8th Kings Regiment in the Afghan campaign of 1875-80 and who, on retirement was appointed Chief Constable of Caernarfonshire.
In her autobiography, the storyteller gave herself away as she recalls her happy childhood playing in the stream and of family picnics down by the river. Her mother used to complain “these children must be made to visit other places and play with other children or they will never get married”.
She also remembered the saying “Rosemary thrives when a woman is in command of a house”. Before the Bucks a very old lady lived in the house and when she died the big Rosemary bush in the garden also died.
Sir Goronwy and Lady Owen bought the house in the late 1920s and Sir Goronwy who was awarded the D.S.O. in the war was liberal M.P. for the Caernarfon Boroughs. In 1935 Mr H Belisha, the Minister of Transport came to stay when opening the new road at Penmaenmawr. . So as to create work for the nearby granite quarry at Trefor, Lady Owen had a 3ft square patch of cobble stones built in front of the house and arranged for the chauffeur to brake the car over them to demonstrate their road holding properties. She was successful in obtaining a large order for the quarry.
Lady Goronwy Owen, whose sister was the wife of Gwilym Lloyd George, 1st Viscount Tenley, took a great interest in the garden and was the first Lady High Sheriff of Caernarfonshire. In their last few years they were able to buy the farm and once again the estate became a single unit of about 70 acres. This they sold in 1957 to Francis and Mair Humphreys-Jones, he being a dental practitioner in Caernarfon. They brought with them their two young daughters and Mrs Williams, Mair’s Mother, from their farm in Chwilog. Mr Robert Parry and his family lived in the farmhouse. Mr Humpreys-Jones was High Sheriff of Caernarfonshire in 1970-1.
During the following 30 years they saw great changes in the practice and economics of farming. Here the labour intensive systems of pedigree Friesian milking cows, pigs and hens and the tedious making of hay were replaced gradually by a suckle herd rearing Charolais calves that were out wintered on silage and finished on the fertile free draining land.
The River Board used big machinery to move the boulders in the river Seiont (the name is derived from the Roman word Sceo-stone) to form five Salmon restraining pools by the weir. The Seiont is a healthy river with salmon, sea trout and white breasted dipper birds enjoying the abundant wealth of insects and aquatic creatures that live on its stony bed.
The estate was landscaped in about 1856 and most of the trees felled during the Great War. The chestnut trees by the present car park survived to the joy of generations of small boys who come from Llanrug every year to gather ‘conkers’. In 1958 the Forestry Commission planted the coppice of silka spruce by the railway. Upon their advice two rows of Japanese larches were planted along the edge to lower the risk of fire from the steam trains. In succeeding years small areas were fenced and planted as amenity areas to encourage bird life as well as celebrating family events. After 25 years some of the sites were felled to expose overgrown and delicate strands of Sussex Oaks.
In 1986 Mr & Mrs John Evans bought the estate and adapted the stone built farm building as nucleus and built the Seiont Manor Hotel. Mrs Evans travelled extensively in the East and bought beautiful furnishings for the hotel rooms.
In 1989 they sold the estate to Leading Leisure Hotels who then sold it to Welsh Water who brought in Virgin Hotels to manage Seiont Manor. In 1997 Virgin Hotels bought Seiont Manor and its 150 acres of beautiful farmland. The majority of the farmland is still used as a working farm by Mr Jones of Llanrug, whose family has farmed this land for generations.
In August 1999, Hand Picked Hotels bought some of Virgin-owned hotels in the UK, including Seiont Manor.
You are welcome to walk around the grounds but please remember to close any gates you use and respect both the land and livestock in the fields. Enclosed at the back of this compendium you will find a copy of the ‘Jogging Track’ route, which offers a short and pleasant walk around the hotel grounds.
Grateful thanks to Mr Humphreys-Jones for his assistance in putting together this history of Seiont Manor Hotel.