Page last updated at 07:21 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Mansion house's new lease of life

Plas Glynllifion is being turned into a hotel

By Wena Alun Owen
BBC News

Seventy years ago Plas Glynllifon was privately owned by the family of Lord Newborough.

It was a typical local "big house" near Caernarfon, Gwynedd, and no-one entered "unless you had business to be there", according to Nancy Jones, 84, who has lived close by in the village of Llandwrog all her life.

Now the house is being turned into a hotel, and people are - for the first time - being positively encouraged to walk in the door.

The wall which surrounds the Glynllifon estate is 10 ft (3m) high and eight miles long (12 km) and a local landmark.

The main road from Caernarfon to Pwllheli also passes alongside, making it a familiar sight to thousands of tourists who holiday on the Lleyn peninsula.

Inside the wall there are numerous houses, an agricultural college, a country park, and the main Glynllifon mansion.

The house itself is featured in the book Forgotten Welsh Houses which showcases buildings - some grand, all of them historic - which have fallen on hard times.

Nancy Jones
I remember when I was nine or ten that we'd go up there and have a party, a present, and there was always a conjurer
Nancy Jones, local resident

The fact that Glynllifon is so big - it has 102 rooms - has meant that any future use was always somewhat limited - although a rock star did once try to buy it.

According to the book's co-author Mark Baker, the fact that the Plas has a new lease of life is "amazing".

"I'm glad it's being given a new lease of life as it's such a lovely building," he added.

Mrs Jones remembers the Plas of her childhood had plenty of staff.

"There were loads, all sorts, a butler a chauffeur, loads of men looking after the horses."

There was also the Christmas party for the local schoolchildren.

Self-sufficient

"I remember when I was nine or 10 that we'd go up there and have a party, a present, and there was always a conjurer."

Life inside the estate was "very self-sufficient" and private.

"I was allowed to go to the estate to see my friend Iris, because her father was the head cowman, but I never went to the big house, apart from at Christmas.

"We did play in the garden if Lord Newborough was away though."

What probably saved the Plas, as it is today, was that it was taken on in 1954 by the local council, and used as offices and dormitories for the Glynllifon Agricultural College.

Pravin Jadeja
There is a great sense of satisfaction when a project comes together
Pravin Jadeja, owner

Present owners Pravin and Tara Jadeja bought the property from the council eight years ago.

Because of its Grade I listed status the first years were taken up with research and planning, before the work of restoring the fabric of the building could begin.

It is, according to Mr Jadeja, a project which they estimate will cost some 6m.

They have been able to attract 800,000 in grants from the European Regional Development Fund and help from Gwynedd council.

With a background in doing up old buildings, Mr Jadeja is realistic about the task ahead.

"My father did the same work and started me off sanding windows when I was as school - I used to hate the job," he said.

"You do however have to start somewhere, and there is a great sense of satisfaction when a project comes together.

"As soon as one room is finished it gives you the motivation to move to the next."

Resident ghost

Eventually the aim is for a spa-style top class hotel, employing around 80 staff.

The Plas is protected by its listed building status, and the couple have taken great care in how they approach the renovations.

"It's been really difficult as it's not a museum, and we have to look at it from a commercial point of view.

"But along the way we have become quite knowledgeable about the house, and the materials and colours used."

There is also the matter of the large bat colony which live in one of the two cellars under the building.

They represent 20% of the European population of lesser horseshoe bats, and the Countryside Council for Wales has provided advice on how to look after them. There is also a webcam so that bat lovers can see the roost.

All this is being watched over by the (apparently obligatory) resident ghost: Maria Stella was a young bride who came to the Plas from her Italian home in the 1700s to marry the then Lord Newborough.

"I haven't seen her myself, but a lot of people have had a 'feeling' here, a presence," said Mr Jadeja.

"It's not a bad spirit, though: it's a friendly house."

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