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17:57 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 18:57 UK

Plas Tanybwlch mansion's secrets

Plas Tanybwlch

Plas Tanybwlch is based near South Beach in Aberystwyth and has a long and colourful history. Eoin Garland recounts the history of the mansion and the surrounding area.

Situated in the parish of Llanychaiarn, Plas Tanybwlch was built in 1825 by Major General Lewis Davies. Lewis Davies was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, and had served under Wellington in Spain and Portugal.

The house was built as a family home and on General Major Lewis` death his eldest son Mathew Vaughan Davies inherited the lands and the estate.

Mathew Vaughan Davies married Miss Emma Davies (1804-1872) who was the daughter of John Davies of Strawberry Hill.

"Prince George, who was at the time attending the Royal Welsh Show, had his plane land in the fields of the estate"

Eoin Garland

They lived at Plas Tanybwlch and in 1840 their eldest son, Mathew Lewis Vaughan Davies, the most famous Davies of Tanybwlch was born.

He is most closely associated with Plas Tanybwlch in the minds of the local people in the Aberystwyth area as Baron Ystwyth and had an interesting political career.

He was by no means a stereotypical gentleman of land and estate and is remembered for his rough manner and ability to use colourful language at any occasion and in any place, not least the House of Commons and The House of Lords.

It was in 1885 that Vaughan Davies started his political career after a largely leaderless and concerned group of Conservatives asked for his help.


The misfortunes of Nanteos and Trawscoed estates had forced them into the position of seeking Vaughan Davies' help as a figurehead within the Welsh Conservative Party.

Unmarried at the time, Vaughan Davies was viewed by many as an "impoverished squireen". The new Domesday book of 1873 shows that his Tanybwlch estate measured at some 3,674 acres took only £974 in rent per annum.

Davies first stood for parliament in 1885, as a Tory candidate, but he lost to a Liberal, David Davies of Llandinam (considered by many as the railway king of Wales) who triumphed over Vaughan Davies by more than 2,000 votes.

It is believed that Vaughan Davies stood mainly in the hope of receiving a baronetcy from Alkers-Douglas, the conservative patronage secretary, a title that was to elude him for many years to come.

He lost the election badly and this was mainly due to the strength of his opposition and that he did not have the backing of any of the leading country families.

In 1889 Vaughan Davies married Mary Powell and such is the power of marriage that after the couple were wed, Vaughan Davies announced his express intention to change political affiliation and stand as the Liberal Party candidate for Cardiganshire.

He was selected to the surprise of many, not least because he had been a staunch Conservative.

Despite all of the charges of unsuitability levied against him and his previous political connections, Vaughan Davies was accepted by the Liberals and elected Liberal member for Cardiganshire in 1895.

At this time, Vaughan Davies also made extensive alterations to Plas Tanybwlch. In 1890 a large extension was built on the southern side of the mansion and the stables, situated to the right of the oddly shaped diamond gardens, were also built .

He managed to keep his seat for some 15 years after 1895 and in 1921 he achieved one of his life's ambitions when he was created Baron Ystwyth.

He never left Plas Tanybwlch and is noted for his lack of activity in the House of Commons, an approach he carried through to the House of Lords.

Garden parties

During the 1930s infrequent garden parties were held in the grounds of the sea cottage, which was a small summer cottage built on the shoreline of Tanybwlch beach. The cottage itself has since been demolished but was used to house smallpox victims in the mid 1940s.

In 1933, Prince George, who was due to attend the Royal Welsh Show, had his plane land in the fields of the estate, and before proceeding to the show he was entertained by Lord Ystwyth.

Mathew Lewis Vaughan Davies, Baron Ystwyth passed away on 21 August 1935 after retiring from politics some years earlier. He was 94 when he died and never lost his vigour and strength of body and will. Baron Ystwyth is buried in Llanychaiarn church not far from the house where he spent nearly all of his long life.

In 1936 the entire contents of the mansion and the surrounding lands were sold off and the hold of the Davies family name at Plas Tanybwlch came to an end.

In 1937 the local county council made the decision that there needed to be a bigger and better isolation hospital than the one they already had by the entrance to Tanybwlch beach.


They began to make plans to purchase Tanybwlch mansion which had remained uninhabited since Lord Ystwyth's death. Doubts were raised by the Ministry of Health as to the suitability of the Mansion and due to these doubts and the outbreak of World War Two purchase was delayed until January 1946.

In July of the same year Typhoid broke out in the area and Plas Tanybwlch played a major role in curbing the epidemic, and it became an isolation hospital.

It employed a staff of 10 in the late 1940s which grew to around 30 in the late 1950s. The hospital was retained until the opening of Bronglais Hospital in 1966 when Tanybwlch was deemed surplus to requirements.

At the same time the College of Librarianship saved Plas Tanybwlch from possible dereliction by acquiring it and turning it into halls of residence.

But by the mid 1980s the mansion was again left without an owner and the halls of residence were closed.

Once again it was rescued by yet another college, this time Coleg Ceredigion, which transformed the mansion into a catering college.

In 1996 the mansion once again faced an uncertain future as financial constraints forced Coleg Ceredigion to sell Plas Tanybwlch.

But salvation came in the form of an unlikely source. Uli Jon Roth, former guitarist with German rock band, The Scorpions, bought the mansion.

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