'The country people say, that it was built by the devil, in one night, and that the architect still preserves an apartment in it’.
Thomas Pennant, ‘A Tour in Wales’ (1778-81)
Bachegraig House had something of an evil reputation. Built in 1567 for Sir Richard Clough, it was reputed to be the earliest brick built home in Wales. Perhaps it was the odd appearance of such a building that caused the superstitions of those that lived nearby to claim it had actually been built by the devil. Yet, it was not just the bricks that caused suspicion, but the pyramidal roof and curious chimneys, built by Flemish craftsmen that seemed so frightfully alien. Thomas Pennant visited the house and described it thus,
‘not far from Tremeirchion, lies, half-buried in the wood, the singular house of Bachegraig; now the property of Seignior Piozzi', Bachegraig. in right of his wife Hester Lynch, widow of Henry Thrale esq; and daughter and heiress of the late John Salushury esq. It consists of a mansion, and three sides, inclosing a square court. The first consists of a vast hall, and parlour : the rest of it rises into six wonderful stories, including the cupola, and forms from the second floor the figure of a pyramid : the rooms are small, and inconvenient. In the windows of the parlour are several pieces of painted glass, of the arms of the knight of the holy sepulchre; as his own with a heart at the 1567. bottom, including the letters H. C. his and his S. wife's initials, and beneath them, cor unum, via una; the arms of Elystan Glodrydd’.
A well-travelled and open minded individual, Clough had earned his fortune through dealings on the continent, and had been introduced to such architecture in Belgium. He also helped to establish the London Royal Exchange, and was as famous, unusually for the time, for having been Katherine of Berain’s, ‘Mam Cymru’, second husband.
Clough was interested in astrology, and was said to have had an observatory at Bachegraig House. It was believed that he spent many hours in this observatory with the devil himself, discussing things that should not be spoken of. His wife, presumably Katherine, became suspicious of these absences, and despite instructions not to dabble in his businesses in the observatory, she peered through the keyhole of the room one evening, to find him in conversation with a tall, black clothed man.
Bursting into the room, she saw the man in black more clearly, and noticed to her horror that the man wore no shoes, since it is notoriously difficult to find well-fitting shoes for cloven hooves. In surprise, both occupants leapt up. The devil, for it was none other, roared in anger, took hold of Richard Clough and disappeared in an explosion of sulphurous fume.
Hester Thrale, friend of Dr Johnson, undertook a tour of North Wales with the venerable man of letters, largely in order to take ownership of Bachegraig Hall, which she had inherited after the death of her uncle. By the time the two arrived at the House, it was in a state of neglect.
‘We went to Bachycraig where we found an old house built 1567 in an uncommon and incommodious form. My mistress chattered about tiring, but I prevailed on her to go to the top. The floors have been stolen; the windows are stopped. The house was less than I seemed to expect.’
Dr Johnson, ‘Tour in North Wales’ 1774
Despite Hester’s second husband, Piozzi refurbishing the house for a tenant, it was finally demolished in 1817. However, the gatehouse still stands, testimony to the shock of the new.